Does Juniper Wood Resist Rot?


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Woodworkers are ever in search of a wood that resists rot adequately. All types of wood are prone to rot to a greater or lesser extent, but some resist it better than others. Juniper, specifically western juniper has proven to be a reasonably rot-resistant wood.

Does juniper resist rot? Yes, juniper has a high resistance to decay. It also combats fungal and insect attacks in various climates and weather conditions. Because of these durable qualities, juniper emerges as a suitable choice for outdoor use. We also use it for indoor applications like making furniture, flooring, paneling, and so on.

Background

Texture of cross section wood logs.

Juniper has been described as a wood that checks all the boxes. When we consider a particular type of wood, we look for particular qualities that make it a preferred choice over other types of wood.

The most popular and widely-used variety of juniper is western juniper. You will find it growing in the western United States. The trees are not very tall and grow up to 50 feet with tree trunk diameters of up to 3 feet.

Juniper has several desirable characteristics with a few downsides. One of the primary considerations for preferring juniper for various applications is its resistance to rot.

Other than resistance to rot, we look at various aspects of wood such as appearance, maintenance, workability, price, and sustainability. Juniper has several good qualities but how does it compare with so many other types of wood? Let us go into the finer details of this wood species.

Western Juniper: Resistance to Rot and Decay

Western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) branches and needles.
Image Credit: Dcrjsr via Creative Commons

As our primary query is whether juniper is resistant to rot, let us first take a closer look at the qualities of this particular type of wood. One of the indicators that juniper has superior durability is that today we consider it an alternative to pressure-treated wood.

We generally use pressure-treated wood for under-floor framing. This is a part of building structures where the wood comes into contact with concrete under the floorboards.

Western juniper has a natural resistance to decay. Studies have revealed that fence posts made from juniper lasted for 30 years more than several other types of wood. The heartwood of Juniper is highly resistant to insect and fungal attacks.

Due to its natural resistance to decay, juniper plays a major role in making fence posts, fences, siding, decking, and patio furniture.

Western Juniper: Appearance

Juniper texture cut wood isolated on white background

Juniper has a pale pinkish heartwood that can also have orange hues to reddish-brown shades. The paler sapwood sometimes intermixes with the heartwood to create streaks. It has a fine, even texture.

Western Juniper: Maintenance

Juniper is a relatively easy wood to maintain. Because of its high resistance to rot and insect attack, it makes a good choice for outdoor applications. You can leave furniture and other wooden structures made from this wood outdoors without much significant deterioration over a considerable period.

However, if want to extend the lifespan of this wood and the items made from it thereof, a bit of maintenance surely wouldn’t go amiss. But that said, maintaining this wood is not too challenging. Just cleaning it regularly and re-applying the finish and perhaps adding a wood sealer is easily done and extends the life of the wood.

Western Juniper: Workability and Uses

Materials for yoga classes, mats, bricks and straps

Western juniper is well-suited for outdoor applications with its resistance to rot, fungal attack, and insect attacks. It also acts as a natural insecticide, so that the wood remains intact even in the ground for up to 50 years.

It outperforms pressure-treated wood on all counts and doesn’t contain harmful chemicals. The durability of this wood ends with the heartwood. The sapwood lacks durability. It is common to see a fence post stripped of its sapwood with only the heartwood intact. So, if you use western juniper, you should ensure to procure and use only the heartwood.

Western juniper is a short tree with narrow and gnarled trunks. It limits the size of boards that you can get for lumber. Younger wood also tends to warp and twist. Wastage can occur due to the high occurrence of knots and twists in the wood grain.

But these drawbacks are not necessarily reasons to reject this wood as a lumber source. Western juniper wood has excellent nail withdrawal strength making it a big advantage.

You can easily drive nails and screws into the wood without fear of splitting it. Further, the juniper will not exhibit “nail popping” on deck surfaces like some other wood species.

Juniper wood makes good retaining walls, fencing, siding, and decking. We also use it for garden boxes. There is a reasonable demand for high-end juniper wood for making butcher blocks, cabinets, and furniture.

Another lesser-known use of juniper is the oil that it produces, juniper oil. Being an aromatic softwood, juniper creates this aromatic natural oil which when extracted is used for fragrances and perfumes. This oil is also the reason why juniper is so resistant to pests.

Western Juniper: Price

Juniper wood is easily available throughout the United States, and primarily in northern California, Oregon, Nevada, and Idaho in particular. Therefore, it usually comes moderately priced and is commonly used as structural or utility lumber.

However, old-growth and some specialty grades of lumber may come at a relatively higher price. But if you view the price of this type of wood in its entirety, we generally consider it cheap-to-medium-priced lumber.

Western Juniper: Sustainability

Until the turn of the century, juniper was not mainstream lumber. As this species grew wild across the United States, it began to affect the environment adversely. It started to push out wildlife as it started to choke the grasses and bushes that were the staple diet of the native animals.

As the volumes of juniper reached unmanageable levels, a new solution emerged – to use it for lumber. That way, the population of this invasive species could come down. It would even put pressure off endangered wood species as a sustainable alternative.

The decision to convert juniper into a lumber source also served the purpose of creating rural jobs in the lumber and milling industries.

Western Juniper: Summary

Parameter Description
Botanical name Juniperus occidentalis
Common name Western juniper
Color Pale pink, orange, or reddish-brown
Durability Highly durable
Hardness (Janka Scale) 680 lbf
Strength  Moderately strong
Maintenance Medium effort required
Price Not expensive
Suitability for outdoors Yes
Suitability for wood carving Extremely suitable for wood carving
Workability Easy to work with
Smell Aromatic wood
Availability Easily available

Juniper on a wooden background

Conclusion

There is more than meets the eye with this humble wood species. Juniper, western juniper in particular is a type of wood that gradually found its way into the economic mainstream of the United States.

When we continually search for viable alternatives to non-sustainable wood species, western juniper is an excellent candidate. Does juniper wood rot? Well, that would depend on a variety of factors like where it is used, which part of the log the lumber comes from, and so on.

But we can generalize by saying that although juniper wood might rot under unfavorable circumstances, you can rely on it for overall durability in outdoor applications. So, the next time you look for a suitable type of wood to use for an outdoor project, you can seriously consider using juniper for satisfactory results.