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Redwood vs. Cedar for Decking and Fencing

Redwood and cedar are among the most popular woods for decking and fencing. Both are naturally resistant softwoods, which means they resist damage from insects and rot. They’re also 100% natural with options certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, so they’re excellent choices if you want to minimize your environmental impact.  Given their similarities, you may wonder which wood to choose for your next decking or fencing project. Our side-by-side comparison should help you make the right decision.

Color: Personal Preference

Most people gravitate toward different woods for their looks. Redwood and cedar have very different hues that are appealing in their own way. As you might guess given its name, redwood usually has a deep red-brown hue. There is a paler redwood, called redwood sapwood, with a pale golden hue. Sourced from the outside of the tree, it’s less durable and is seen as an inferior product to the redwood heartwood located near the heart of the tree.

Cedar is always paler with a more neutral appearance ranging from pink to golden to cream. Redwood makes a strong statement, while cedar is a little more subdued, making coordinating with any existing outdoor fixtures or color schemes easy. Which wood’s the winner is really a matter of personal preference.

Staining: Cedar

If you want to stain your wood, you’ll probably prefer cedar. Since it’s much paler than redwood, staining really enhances its natural grain, whereas redwood is much darker, and staining is far less noticeable on this wood. Of course, you can still stain redwood to add a protective layer that prevents it from taking in water and helps it resist staining in the sun. However, you probably won’t find the process as rewarding as you will staining the paler cedar.

Grain: Redwood for Smoothness

There are 30 grades of redwood and 10 grades of cedar, and both types of wood are available as smooth or more knotted lumber. Each line in the wood grain represents a year of the tree’s life. Both these trees grow steadily, and they have relatively even grains. Since cedar is a smaller, slower-growing tree, its grain is very close together. However, redwood grows very fast and tall, and the lines in its grain are farther apart. Both grains have a visual appeal, so it’s up to you what you prefer.

Since redwood typically comes from large old-growth trees, it usually has fewer knots than cedar. You can also readily purchase redwood in “clear” grades with no knots at all. A deck made from clear redwood will have a soft, smooth finish, so walking on it will feel like heaven.

You can also get clear cedar, but it’s much rarer and very expensive. Of course, knots can become a feature that makes the wood more interesting. Knotted wood is especially popular for fences, as the knots create a unique look that doesn’t impact usability. Consider your project before deciding which wood’s grain would suit it best.

Durability: Redwood, but Both Perform Well

The Janka hardness test is the gold standard, and on this scale, redwood is the clear winner. With a Janka rating of 450 pounds, it’s 23% stronger than cedar, which has a Janka rating of 350 pounds. No wonder redwood was the natural choice for public attractions such as the Redwood Sky Walk in Sequoia Park Zoo and Richardson Bay Bridge in California’s Marin County.

While redwood is undeniably impressive, that doesn’t mean cedar can’t handle your requirements. Cedar decks, which experience more wear than fences, usually last around 20 years, so you’ll enjoy several summers’ enjoyment before you need to think about replacing them. However, your cedar deck may show scratches and scuffs, especially if you have pets or they’re regularly used by people wearing heels.

Maintenance: Redwood by a Nose

Redwood and cedar are both easy to take care of, so it’s hard to separate them. Soap and water can clean most stains and dirt, while you can attack any mildew with water and bleach. The natural tannin in both kinds of wood helps them resist insect and rot damage. However, since redwood has higher levels of tannins, it may resist this damage a little better than cedar. While the statistics give redwood the victory here, in the real world, there’s likely to be little difference between both easy-care kinds of wood.

Reactivity: Cedar

The higher levels of tannins in redwood react with standard metal fasteners. You can avoid the ugly black stains that occur through tannin bleed by choosing non-reactive stainless-steel fasteners for your fencing or decking project. These fasteners are almost twice the price though, so they can put a real dent in your budget. You can avoid that added cost by choosing cedar, which doesn’t react with metal fasteners.

Availability: Cedar

Cedar is a plentiful wood available in most parts of the country. While you can usually find redwood on America’s West Coast, due to its proximity to California’s redwood forests, it’s much more uncommon on the East Coast and in middle America. Depending on your location, redwood may be unavailable to you or more expensive because of its limited supply.

Cost: Cedar

If you’re on a tight budget, cedar may be your best option. As cedar is more readily available, it’s usually a lot cheaper. Depending on your location, redwood may be between 15% to 20% more expensive than cedar. However, in California, which has the country’s largest redwood forests, redwood is only marginally more expensive than cedar. Crunch the numbers in your local area to see whether it’s worth spending more on redwood. Also, consider the different types of both kinds of wood when you’re calculating your budget. If you’re trying to save money, red cedar is your best bet.

Once you’ve decided on your wood and built your fence or deck, it’s important to maintain it to help the wood retain its color and keep it structurally sound. For deck refinishing and fence restoration in the Southern California area, trust Teak Master. We’re wood experts who understand the unique needs of different wood types, including redwood and cedar. Contact us online or via phone or email if you have any other questions about which wood is right for you or to schedule your next wood maintenance service.

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