Western red cedar lumber is an increasingly common choice for use as siding, trim, and timbers. Understanding the origins, attributes, and uses of this kind of wood can help you to appreciate its beauty and determine its suitability for your lumber needs.
The western red cedar (or “redcedar”) tree is an evergreen conifer that can reach heights up to 200 feet. These trees have trunks that can surpass 10 feet in diameter and are swollen and fluted at their bases. Their large, drooping branches may shade ferns, huckleberries, Devil’s club, and mosses and may reach out to touch neighboring western hemlock and Douglas firs, and spruces. Most western red cedars can be found along the Pacific Northwest coast of North America—particularly in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.
The Canadian province of British Columbia has the longest stretch of land that’s home to western red cedar trees; in fact, it’s the province’s official tree. It’s also been called “the cornerstone of Northwest Coast aboriginal culture,” due to its historic spiritual significance. Some of that significance is captured in its Latin name, arbor-vitae, which means “tree of life.” Indeed, coastal aborigines used the western red cedar for all parts of life. The wood was used to make dugout canoes as well as house planks and tools. The inner bark was used for rope, clothing, and baskets. Long branches could also be twisted to make rope and baskets.
Another way in which this tree deserves its title as “the tree of life” relates to the durability and longevity of its wood. Resistant to decay and insect damage, the wood of fallen western red cedars maintains its integrity for a full century! This resistance to insect damage and decay is caused, in part, by the wood’s natural oils that act as preservatives. Western red cedar that is finished properly and well-maintained will serve you well for decades.
Unlike many other durable woods, the western red cedar is also a lightweight wood. That feature makes it ideal for use as outdoor siding as well as interior paneling as well as exterior siding and outdoor furniture and fencing. Another reason western red cedar lumber is ideal for siding and paneling is that its low density increases its insulation value, making the red cedar the best thermal insulator among common softwoods. That same characteristic makes it relatively easy to transport and handle, too. If you’re a woodworker, you’ll enjoy the fact that western red cedar is easy to work with and to finish.
The J. Gibson McIlvain Company staff has members dedicated to softwood products, including western red cedar lumber, who can answer your questions about the best uses for western red cedar lumber in your next construction project.
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