Both pine and cedar are common options used for building projects including furniture, flooring, and cabinetry. If you're torn between the two, here are their detailed differences so you can easily choose which wood will suit your project best.
Pine and cedar are readily available softwoods. But what exactly are pine and cedar, and which is better for furniture, flooring, and cabinets, pine or cedar?
Pine and cedar are both relatively easy to work, although the resins in pine can create problems. Cedar excels in applications that require rot and pest resistance, whereas pine is only moderately durable. Pine is an excellent option in terms of price and availability.
Let’s consider the differences between the different types of pine and cedar in more detail to understand better which wood you should choose.
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What is Pine Wood?
Species in the evergreen genus Pinus yield pine wood. Originally from the Northern Hemisphere, species of pine are now commonly cultivated worldwide.
Pine is considered a softwood, both because of being from an evergreen genus and because the wood is generally soft.
The trees typically grow faster than hardwood trees, leading to a steady supply of lumber. This fast growth makes pine the material of choice for many woodworking applications.
What is Cedar?
Woodworkers apply the classification “cedar” to more than a dozen species from both hardwood and softwood genera. Nevertheless, cedars have some properties in common:
- Cedars have aromatic wood with a lingering scent.
- Cedar is rot and pest resistant, and woodworkers, therefore, often use it for exterior applications.
- Cedar is relatively lightweight and soft, and therefore easily worked.
- Cedar is generally reddish-brown, with notable exceptions such as yellow cedar or Northern white cedar.
How are Pine and Cedar Different?
Now that we have considered what pine and cedar are, let’s look at what makes them different.
Description of Pine and Cedar
You will only commonly encounter two cedar species in North America: Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) and Eastern red cedar or aromatic cedar (Juniperus virginiana).
Western red cedar has reddish to pinkish-brown heartwood with striping and banding of darker wood and narrow, pale yellowish-white sapwood. The grain is coarse and straight.
Eastern red cedar has reddish or violet-brown heartwood, with pale yellow sapwood that can appear as stripes in the heartwood. This wood has a very fine, even texture, with a straight grain that is usually knotty.
Pine comes in four main types: soft pine, hard pine (southern yellow pines and western yellow pines), red pines, and pinyon.
The last two are not commercially important so that we will concentrate on the soft pines and the yellow pines.
Soft pine has a light brown heartwood and pale yellow to almost white sapwood. The grain is straight and even with a medium to coarse texture. Numerous resin canals are visible on the end grain and small brown streaks on flatsawn surfaces.
Southern yellow pine has a reddish-brown heartwood and yellowish-white sapwood. It is straight-grained, and the wood has a fine to medium texture. Numerous large resin canals are visible on the end grain.
Western yellow pine has light reddish to yellowish-brown heartwood and yellowish-white sapwood. Flatsawn surfaces show dimpling vaguely similar to birdseye maple.
The grain is straight, and the wood has a medium texture—the end grain shows numerous medium-sized resin canals.
Pine has a distinctive resinous odor. Western red cedar smells like sharpening wooden pencils; Eastern red cedar smells like closet liners and birdhouses.
Western red cedar weighs approximately 23lbs per cu. ft., soft pines 25 to 28lbs per cu. ft., hard pines 28 to 42lbs per cu. ft., and Eastern red cedar 33lbs per cu. ft.
Durability of Pine and Cedar
Cedar is highly durable against rot. Eastern red cedar is very resistant to pest attack, whereas Western red cedar has mixed resistance to pests.
Pine generally has moderate to low durability against decay and pests.
Mechanical Properties of Pine and Cedar
Cedar has medium crush strength, whereas pines have low crush strength. Cedar has low stiffness, making it suitable for steam bending, whereas pine is a reasonably stiff wood.
Pine is softer than Eastern red cedar, with a Janka hardness of 380 (soft pine), 480 (western yellow pine), and 690 (southern yellow pine) to Eastern red cedar’s 900. Western red cedar’s Janka hardness is a mere 350.
These are all softwoods, compared to woods such as oak and ash.
Seasoning of Pine and Cedar
Cedar kiln dries quickly and well, and air dries with little degradation. Pine dries well with little degradation.
Working Properties of Pine and Cedar
Cedar works easily with hand and power tools, and you can plane it to a very smooth finish. Cedar nails, screws, and glues excellently. It stains and polishes easily and holds hard enamels.
Pine works reasonably easily, but the resin tends to clog cutters and adhere to machine tables.
It nails and screws well and glues moderately well. It gives good results with stain, polish, and paint.
Availability and Sustainability of Pine and Cedar
Both pine and cedar are readily available. Large sections of Eastern red cedar free of knots are uncommon, but smaller, narrower boards with knots are readily available.
Neither the CITES Appendices nor the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species list these various species as threatened.
However, be aware that other cedars, such as Spanish cedar, are species of concern.
Cost Differences Between Pine and Cedar
Pine retails at around $2.33 per board foot, Eastern red cedar at around $6.29 per board foot, and Western red cedar at $14.00 per board foot.
Which is Better for Furniture, Pine or Cedar?
Because of its pest and rot repellent properties, woodworkers have favored cedar for closet lining and chest or dresser building.
The low cost of pine makes it an attractive option for cheaper pieces of furniture, and if adequately finished with a protective layer, it should last for many years.
Which is Better for Flooring, Pine or Cedar?
Soft pine is generally too soft for the wear that floors must stand up to, but hard pine species are an excellent, cheap option for such applications. Cedar is advantageous in terms of rot and pest resistance.
Which is Better for Cabinetry, Pine or Cedar?
Pine is a suitable option for cabinetry, provided you finish it adequately. The resins in unfinished pine would be undesirable in food. Cedar is far too aromatic for use with food.
When choosing between pine and cedar for furniture, cedar offers excellent rot and pest resistance and has applications for closets and drawers, but pine has the edge in price.
Hard pine is the most appropriate for flooring. For cabinetry, pine is the material of choice in this particular match-up.
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