Two of the most robust and durable types of wood for outdoor use are Douglas fir and cedar. When you look for strength and durability in wood meant to be exposed to the elements, both these types of wood can serve well.
When we compare Douglas fir vs cedar, Douglas fir is superior in terms of structural stability. Cedar, on the other hand, has the upper hand when it comes to exterior durability. We use both Douglas fir and cedar for a variety of outdoor and indoor applications. It is worthwhile to be familiar with the general characteristics of both these kinds of wood.
Douglas Fir vs Cedar
Both Douglas fir and cedar are viable options for a variety of outdoor purposes. Douglas fir is stronger than the two and you can use it where you need wood for a long span or hold a heavy load.
Cedar on the other hand has high durability and rot resistance due to its high tannin content. You also get a wide variety of color tones with cedar, particularly western red cedar, which adds character to any projects made from this wood.
Douglas Fir: Background
The commonest types of Douglas fir are the coastal (the west coast) and the Rocky Mountain varieties. Neither of these qualifies as a true fir. Technically, they come from the hemlock family. The trees grow extremely tall, up to heights of 250 feet with tree trunk diameters of a maximum of 6 feet.
The wood takes on an orangish hue due to the reddish latewood and yellow earlywood.
The carefully dried Douglas fir lumber yields robust timber suitable for structural and marine use. Due to the varying hardness between the latewood and hardwood, you will need to sharpen milling tools frequently to prevent the wood from splintering.
We generally use Douglas fir for structural beams, exterior siding, and flooring. If you need larger timber you can procure the coastal variety.
Cedar, particularly western red cedar also comes from the Pacific Northwest region of the United States and also Canada. The trees grow up to heights of 200 feet with tree trunk diameters as wide as 13 feet!
Although we call this wood “cedar,” is a bit of a misnomer because western red cedar belongs to the cypress family. The Canadian government has measures to monitor the cultivation, harvesting, and trading of western red cedar.
Western red cedar is characterized by a high degree of resistance to rot, fewer knots, and high dimensional stability if dried properly. This wood is visually beautiful, with fine grain patterns.
We use western red cedar for a variety of outdoor applications like outdoor furniture, siding, exterior trim, and decking.
Douglas Fir vs Cedar: Appearance
Douglas fir has a wide color variation from reddish-brown to light-yellow. The color may vary between the latewood and earlywood.
Douglas fir has a distinctive grain pattern which varies according to how you cut the wood and the grain pattern will vary accordingly. It has a medium to fine texture and a striking appearance in any woodworking project.
The color variation of western red cedar is also quite distinct but perhaps not as much as Douglas fir. You will see reddish to pinkish-brown, accompanied by darker streaks.
While the sapwood is pale yellow, you will not see much contrast between the heartwood and sapwood. The wood is straight-grained and coarse, with a smooth, natural luster.
Douglas Fir vs Cedar: Durability
Douglas fir is soft, and lightweight, but also durable and flexible. The flexibility gives it the property of springing back to the original shape even when it shrinks or expands due to moisture.
The above characteristics of Douglas fir make it a suitable choice for woodworking and construction. The high dimensional stability of Douglas fir makes it possible to ship it out and use it even when still green.
Douglas fir exhibits a fair degree of resistance against insect attacks and fungus. It is relatively weather-resistant as well.
Although western red cedar is a moderately durable wood, it needs regular maintenance. It tends to accumulate mold, mildew, and dirt over time, which you need to deal with appropriately.
Even after applying a finish to western red cedar, it will deteriorate and you need to reapply a finish after cleaning it. You can read about how to maintain western red cedar by clicking HERE.
Douglas Fir vs Cedar: Maintenance
If you compare Douglas fir and western red cedar, Douglas fir is easier to maintain than western red cedar. We need to maintain both wood species in a similar manner, but Douglas fir needs less maintenance and lasts longer outdoors.
With western red cedar, you will always have challenges with maintaining the color. If you know a bit about how cedar wood weathers, you will be in a better position to maintain it.
How Cedar Wood Weathers
Cedarwood has a high level of natural oils, making it slow to deteriorate even when left exposed to the elements. Therefore, you will see cedar wood fences standing for years before needing to be replaced.
The weathering process of cedar wood begins almost immediately. But the interesting part is that it soon slumps. It may take several years before cedar wood deteriorates and needs to be replaced.
You need to clean both Douglas fir and western red cedar regularly. For this purpose, you can use a vacuum cleaner to clean loose debris and a soft-bristled brush with water and mild detergent to wash off stubborn grime and stains.
Douglas Fir vs Cedar: Workability and Uses
You will find it easy to machine Douglas fir. However, the wood has a slight blunting effect on cutting blades. It takes glues, finishes, and stains well. We use Douglas fir in the structural and construction fields. It makes good veneer and plywood. We also use it to make outdoor furniture, exterior siding, and flooring.
Woodworkers usually find western red cedar also an easy wood to work with. Due to its softness, you need to avoid it getting scratched and dented. It is easily glued, and you can get satisfactory results while applying a wood finish to it.
Western red cedar has multiple outdoor uses, such as posts, decking, outdoor furniture, shingles, and boatbuilding. Other applications include making boxes, crates, and patio furniture. Western red cedar also plays a prominent role in making musical instruments.
Douglas Fir vs Cedar: Price
Douglas fir and cedar are both moderately priced woods, although cedar can be more expensive than Douglas fir. We also get good-quality and reasonably-priced plywood from Douglas fir.
Construction grade cedar is reasonably-priced, but if you happen to get cedar lumber that has straight-grained patterns or if it is quartersawn, you may have to pay a considerably higher price.
Douglas Fir vs Cedar: Sustainability
There is a satisfactory replacement process for both Douglas fir and cedar, which are both relatively fast-growing wood species. For this reason, we can safely assume both these types of wood to be sustainable. Neither type of wood features on the lists of endangered wood species.
Douglas Fir vs Cedar: Comparison Table
|Botanical name||Pseudotsuga menziesii||Thuja plicata|
|Color||Light brown tinted with red or yellow||Pinkish to reddish-brown|
|Durability||More durable than Spruce||Highly durable|
|Hardness (Janka Scale)||620||350 lbf.|
|Maintenance||Needs extra care||Needs regular maintenance|
|Price||Cheaper than Spruce||Moderately priced|
|Suitability for outdoors||Yes, if treated||Yes|
|Suitability for wood carving||Yes||Yes|
|Workability||Cuts and machines well but tends to make blades blunt||Easy to work with|
|Smell||Distinct, resinous odor when being worked||strong, lingering, aromatic scent while working on it|
|Availability||Easily available||Easily available|
|Special features if any||No special features||No special features|
Although both these softwoods seem similar, they each have unique features worth knowing. They are both beneficial in specific ways. As a woodworker, you will find it useful to know about Douglas fir and Cedar and this information will tell you how to get the best out of each type of wood.
There are times when you need to use Douglas fir and sometimes you may need to use cedar. If you properly use either type of wood, you can get the best of each one and use them to great satisfaction in your woodworking projects.