As a homeowner passionate about interior design, I often face a critical choice: pine or cedar wood for my DIY projects. These two popular woods possess unique characteristics and advantages.
In this article, I’ll share insights on pine vs cedar wood to help you choose the ideal material for your home projects, ensuring your designs are both visually appealing and long-lasting.
Pine vs Cedar Wood
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.
Pine Wood Overview
Species in the evergreen genus Pinus yield pine. Originally from the Northern Hemisphere, pine species are now commonly cultivated worldwide. Pine is considered a softwood because it’s from an evergreen genus, and the wood is generally soft.
The pine trees, including southern pine, 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.
Pine comes in four main types:
- Soft pine
- Hard pine (Southern and Western yellow pines)
- Red pines, and
The last two are not commercially important, so I’ll concentrate on the soft and 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. Soft pines weigh 25 to 28 pounds per cubic foot.
Hard pine weighs 28 to 42 pounds per cubic foot and comes in two main variants:
- Southern yellow
- Western yellow
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 pattern is straight, and the wood has a medium texture—the end grain shows numerous medium-sized resin canals. Pine has a distinctive resinous odor.
Cedar Wood Overview
Woodworkers apply the classification “cedar” to more than a dozen hardwood and softwood genera species. Nevertheless, cedars have some properties in common:
- Cedars have aromatic wood with a lingering scent
- Cedar is rot and pest-resistant, so woodworkers often use it for exterior applications
- Cedar is relatively lightweight and soft, so it’s easily worked
- Cedar is generally reddish-brown, with notable exceptions such as yellow cedar or Northern white cedar
Types of Cedar Wood
You will only commonly encounter two cedar species in North America:
- Western red cedar (Thuja plicata)
- Eastern red cedar or aromatic cedar (Juniperus virginiana)
Western Red Cedar
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. Western red cedar smells like sharpening wooden pencils. Western red cedar weighs approximately 23 pounds per cubic foot.
Eastern Red Cedar
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. Eastern red cedar smells like closet liners and birdhouses. Eastern red cedar weighs 33 pounds per cubic foot.
Pros and Cons of Pine vs. Cedar
Pine and cedar have several benefits and downsides, and here’s a comparison table to detail some of those aspects.
|Maintenance||Requires less maintenance||Requires more maintenance|
|Availability||Difficult to find in home improvement stores||Easy to find in home improvement stores|
|Soil Resistant?||Not very soil resistant||Can resist decay when buried in soil|
|Form and Structure||Maintains form and structure despite changing conditions||Changes in form and structure with changing temperature|
|Color||Has an attractive natural color||Has a pale yellow color that might not suit all aesthetics|
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 compared to the durability of 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.
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 enamel.
Pine works reasonably easily, but the resin clogs cutters and adheres to machine tables. It nails and screws well and glues moderately well. It gives good results with stain, polish, and paint.
Availability and Sustainability
Both cedar and pine 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 lists these various species as threatened.
However, be aware that other cedars, such as Spanish cedar, are species of concern.
Cedar wood has significantly lower maintenance needs, which I believe somehow makes up for its high price. Since it has impressive damp and pest-resistant qualities, you only have to focus on maintaining it annually. To avoid a mold problem, clean with soapy water if it’s close to plants.
On the other hand, pressure-treated pine doesn’t demand much either, and yearly maintenance should also be sufficient. Before using it for fencing or decking, I’m assuming you would have put adequate protection measures in place, like applying a good sealant.
With pine, you may have to replace rotting boards annually, so do this while cleaning and carrying out chemical treatment afresh during your annual inspection. It’s important to note that wood generally rots; however, various wood rots at different rates. The more durable wood rots slower compared to other wood.
Pressure-treated 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.
As you can see, pine is relatively inexpensive compared to cedar. Also, note that the board foot measures volume while the linear foot measures just length, which makes the board foot more ideal here.
Which Is Best for Your Home?
Cedar and pine offer various great qualities. They are both excellent DIY project choices; however, the two main factors determining which to use for many homeowners are the nature of the project and how much proper maintenance you’re willing to do over time.
Which Is Better for Furniture?
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?
Soft pine is generally too soft for the wear that floors must withstand, but hard pine species are an excellent, cheap option for such applications. Cedar is advantageous in terms of rot and resistance to pests.
Which is Better for Walls?
For walls, I’d opt for pine because of the natural and rustic look that it is capable of delivering. This isn’t to say that you couldn’t use cedar for decorative wall paneling; however, it doesn’t quite stand out like pine does.
On the other hand, if we’re dealing with an exterior wall, then cedar is my go-to because of its durability and moisture resistance qualities.
Now, back to interior walls – considering daily wear and tear, both kinds of wood can withstand that reasonably. The only time pine gets damaged is in the case of heavy impacts to the wood, which isn’t an issue in the home. So, pine is popular and is one of the most demanded peel-and-stick woods.
However, highlight durability and mention that there is a good chance that your pine planks would require replacement earlier than cedar would have. Using cedar for fence posts or an outdoor project and door frames works great, unlike woods like beech.
Which Is Better for Cabinetry?
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.
Which is Better for Ceilings?
In this case, I consider a clear case of cost vs. durability. Pine isn’t priced very high and, as such, is a go-to for covering large areas. Conversely, cedar is more durable; however, covering the same place would cost way more than pine.
The apparent benefit, of course, is that your cedar ceiling would last longer than your pine and would also require lower maintenance. Impact damage is also minimized since it is on the top, and there would be fewer occurrences of cracking and splitting.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Cedar Harder Than Pine?
Yes, cedar is harder than pine. For instance, on the Janka scale, which measures the wood’s relative hardness, aromatic red cedar has a Janka rating of 900. Yellow pine has a rating of 690. This clearly indicates that pine is softer than cedar on this scale.
What Is the Longevity of Pine vs. Cedar?
Pine can last as long as 10 to 15 years, depending on whether it is pressure-treated and how well it’s maintained. Conversely, cedar can last up to 25 years if maintained correctly despite weather exposure. This clearly indicates that Cedar is more durable and has a longer lifespan.
Is Cedar Stronger Than Treated Pine?
Yes, cedar is stronger than treated pine. Treated pine is still the softer of the two wood types on the Janka scale, and pine can only last up to 15 years if pressure-treated and maintained correctly. Cedar, on the other hand, is stronger on the Janka scale and lasts longer when used also.
When choosing between cedar and pine 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 case.