Birch vs Cedar Wood Compared

If you purchase a product through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission. Details

When you are looking for suitable wood for your woodworking projects, birch and cedar are two types of wood that are popular and commonly used throughout the United States. It is good to know about these two kinds of wood and how to use them.

Birch is a hardwood and is readily available all over the United States. Many species of birch make good plywood. Cedar on the other hand is a hardwood. It is also widely popular and easily available in the United States. Birch and cedar have similar properties, but a few unique differences as they are two completely different kinds of wood.

Birch vs Cedar

The two main varieties of birch that you will find in the United States are yellow birch and white birch, and we use them commonly for building purposes. Yellow birch ranges from pale yellow to white and the heartwood is reddish-brown, while white birch is paler. It is an odorless wood.

The commonest form of cedar is western red cedar. It is softwood and is another popular form of wood for construction purposes. It is characteristically pinkish to reddish-brown. Western red cedar has an aromatic scent, especially when freshly cut.

Birch: Background

Flowers of a Yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis)

A unique distinguishing factor of birch trees is the light-cored bark, with long, horizontal papery streams. After due processing into lumber, birch resembles maple making it a challenge to set one apart from the other.

Yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) grows in the northeast of the United States. Yellow birch trees grow to a height of 100 feet, and the tree trunks reach diameters of up to 3 feet.

Although it is difficult to distinguish birch from maple which it resembles closely, distinguishing features of some species of birch make it possible. For example, the birch that grows in temperate parts of Asia, Europe, and North America have looser wood grain than maple.

Birch also tends to hold a stain better than cedar, and you will find birch more in the form of plywood, which is not the case with cedar. Birch has a variety of uses in making furniture, cabinets, carved items, and more.

Cedar: Background

Sunburst with Western Red Cedar, Thuja plicata, at Jurassic Grove, Vancouver Island, BC Canada

You will find western red cedar (Thuja plicata) growing in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States and Canada. The trees are gigantic and grow up to 200 feet with trunk diameters as much as 13 feet!

The growth of western red cedar is extremely slow, yielding knotty and surprisingly narrow planks. The heartwood is reddish or purplish-brown with pale-yellow sapwood. It gives a resinous aroma, and the wood is resistant to rot and decay.

Western red cedar provides great value in the construction field because of its durability. Due to this reason, we not only use this wood indoors but also extensively outdoors, for fence posts, wood shingles, and a variety of other outdoor applications. Learn more about the different kinds of cedar here.

Birch vs Cedar: Appearance

Birch is characterized by the long, horizontal grain pattern and papery bark on the logs. While the sapwood is pale, almost white, the heartwood is reddish-brown. You might see occasional curly patterns, but there is not much difference between the annual growth rings giving them a dull appearance.

Western red cedar ranges from pinkish-brown to reddish-brown, punctuated with random streaks and bands of areas of darker shades. The sapwood is pale yellow, with not much contrast between the heartwood and sapwood.

The wood has a straight grain pattern with a coarse texture and a smooth, natural luster.

Birch vs Cedar: Durability

Birch is listed as a perishable variety of wood. It is prone to rot and decay when exposed to the elements. It does not withstand insect attack. Therefore, you will find woodworkers using birch for indoor use only.

Cedar, on the other hand, produces large quantities of aromatic resin that repels insects and protects the wood from rot, moisture, and the vagaries of nature. We classify this wood as ranging from durable to very durable.

Birch vs Cedar: Maintenance

You may find birch an easy wood to maintain, but you will need to stabilize the wood with a stabilizer. You can wash the wood with mild detergent. Avoid using hard-bristled brushes while wiping or washing birch, to avoid damaging the surface.

Despite the durability of western red cedar, you need to maintain it from time to time. The wood will accumulate dirt, mold, and mildew if not maintained adequately. Even if a finish was applied previously, it will gradually erode over time.

Click HERE to know more about how to maintain western red cedar.

Birch vs Cedar: Workability and Uses

John Lennon's guitar, Imagine room replica of the Beatles Story museum
Image Credit: Ronald Saunders via Creative Commons

Birch gives satisfactory results when you use hand or machine tools but you need to take care of sections that contain aberrations in the grains. At such sections, grain tearout can occur, causing damage to the wood. Birch takes glue and finishes well.

We use birch for making interior trim, turned objects, boxes and crates. But the primary use for birch is for making veneer and plywood.

Western red cedar is also easy to work with, you need to take care to protect it from scratches and dents because the wood is so soft.

This type of wood takes glue well and you will also get good results after applying a finish.


We use western red cedar for a variety of outdoor applications boatbuilding, shingles, posts, and decking. We also use it for indoor applications like making crates and boxes, decking, and patio furniture. It also makes good musical instruments.

Birch vs Cedar: Price and Availability

If you buy plain lumber, birch is cheap, in the price range of oak and maple. You can also get figured, birch boards. These will cost more, and in plywood form also, birch is more costly.

Construction grade western red cedar is moderately priced. You can also get some grades of lumber that are quartersawn or with straight-grained patterns. These will be more expensive.

Both birch and western red cedar are commonly available types of wood throughout the United States.

Birch vs Cedar: Sustainability

Neither birch nor western red cedar features on the lists of endangered wood species. We can conclude that both of these woods are sustainable.

Birch vs Cedar: Any other characteristics

Birch is well-known across the globe for its use in making veneer and plywood. Otherwise, it makes good furniture like many other types of wood.

Western red cedar is primarily used in the construction industry but does not have any special features.

Birch vs Cedar: Comparison Table




Botanical name Betula alleghaniensis Thuja plicata 
Color White to reddish-brown Pinkish to reddish-brown
Durability Not durable Highly durable
Hardness (Janka Scale) 1,260 lbf.  350 lbf.
Strength Strong wood Strong wood
Maintenance Easy to maintain Needs regular maintenance
Price Cheap Moderately priced
Suitable for outdoors No Yes
Suitability for wood carving Yes Yes
Workability Easy to work with Easy to work with
Smell Odorless Strong, lingering, aromatic scent while working on it
Availability  Easily available Easily available
Special features if any  Well-known for making plywood No special features


Here are two kinds of wood with widely diverse features. However, they share some common factors. You would have to carefully consider the type of project you are undertaking to decide which one to use.

From our discussions here on birch vs cedar, one thing that is very clear is that you can’t use birch for outdoor applications. Alternatively, if you have a project that will be located in the open air, then cedar would be your preferred choice.

Other factors also come into play like appearance, cost, and the type of finish you require. With the information provided here, you should now be able to make a suitable choice whether to use birch or cedar for your next woodworking project.

See Also:

Birch vs Cherry

Birch vs Maple