Oak vs Cedar – Woods Compared

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When looking for suitable wood for your next project, two kinds of wood that come to mind are oak and cedar. Oak is a warm, hard, and strong wood. Cedar is also strong, among the harder softwoods, and they both exude a pleasant aroma.

Oak and cedar are both popular woods for construction, furniture, and a variety of other applications. Although oak is a hardwood and cedar a softwood, both types find a variety of uses in the woodworking field. It is useful to know about both kinds of wood to get the best out of each one for a woodworking project.

Oak vs Cedar

Oak is a grainy hardwood, which comes from European countries and various parts of the United States. There are over 600 species of oak out of which red oak and white oak are the most abundant.

In contrast, cedar is a smooth softwood that we also find all over the United States. It is much softer than oak, but the fine grain patterns and smooth texture coupled with its resinous aroma make it a popular choice for making furniture and use as a flooring material.

Oak: Background


The oak is a tree that takes a long time to grow, sometimes even more than 100 years. It becomes a challenge to find oak trees suitable for producing lumber. Due to its long growing time, the wood from the oak tree is solid, dense, and strong.

Oakwood exhibits a unique and attractive wood grain pattern. Due to this reason, we favor a clear or semi-transparent finish, to enhance the wood grain’s natural beauty.

The dark, dignified texture of oak is what attracts most people to this wood. However, those who seek a lighter, more contemporary look may prefer a lighter wood. However, oak enjoys great popularity in making furniture and flooring due to its high durability and resistance to moisture and humidity.

Cedar: Background

A gigantic old growth red cedar tree

Cedar comes in many types, but western red cedar is the commonest variety in the United States. It is reddish-brown and is quite soft and easy to work with. Cedar exudes a faint, resinous aroma when freshly cut.

Western red cedar will not rot easily and resists insect attack quite well. The softness and considerable durability of this type of wood make it a suitable choice for outdoor applications like decks, exterior railings, picnic tables, and so on.

You will also find western red cedar used for making various indoor furniture, and also for interior flooring. It also makes some very smart cabinets. Although cedar takes finish well, if used indoors, you need to keep it away from high-traffic areas to prevent it from getting dented and scratched. If you’re considering cedar but cannot find it in your area or it’s cost-prohibitive, check out these red cedar alternatives.

Oak vs Cedar: Appearance

There are many types of Oakwood in a variety of colors and grains. The outstanding feature of this wood is the beautiful grain pattern. Each section of oak wood is different from the other in appearance. With oak, as a woodworker, you can test your creative skills while applying a finish to oak.

Western red cedar is also typically reddish-brown, but the heartwood can also be a much lighter, pinkish-brown. You may occasionally see darker streaks and bands in the wood. The pale-yellow sapwood doesn’t differentiate itself much from the heartwood.

The grain pattern of this wood like oak is coarse, but with a natural luster. There is not much variation in the color of cedar between species.

Oak vs Cedar: Durability

Red oak does not resist the effects of moisture very well and it can develop watermarks easily on its surface. We consider this species non-durable. White oak is a species that resists decay due to moisture and we make boats with it due to this water-resistant property.

In terms of hardness, red oak is a moderate hardwood with a Janka hardness rating of 1,220 lbf. The high density and moderate hardness of oak make it a preferred choice for use as a flooring material.

Cedar possesses a natural resistance to insects thanks to the copious quantities of resin that it produces. It makes the wood resistant to rot and moisture as well. Cedar enjoys the status of being durable to highly durable.

The high durability of cedar makes it a useful wood for outdoor applications. Cedar is extremely soft compared to oak with a Janka hardness rating of lbf. We cannot use it to make furniture and flooring in high-traffic areas even if it is indoors.

Oak vs Cedar: Maintenance

Coming to maintenance, you will find oak relatively easy to maintain. It washes well with a bit of soap and water, providing you rinse it well. However, it is advisable to not wash the wood too frequently, to prevent wearing down the finish prematurely.

You will need to refinish oak wood every few years  Stripping down the finish and reapplying it can be a tedious process, and you could get some professional help for the job.

Although we consider western red cedar as adequately durable, you will need to perform some basic maintenance every so often. The wood tends to accumulate mildew, mold, and dirt over time.

Oak vs Cedar: Workability and Uses

Master bedroom in suburban home with oak wood furniture

Oak is a hard, dense wood and you will find it tough going using tools on it for cutting or carving. It takes nails and screws well, although you may need to drill pilot holes before driving in screws. You can stain this wood quite easily, but the stain may take a long time to dry.

This is a brittle wood, which easily splinters, cracks or chips while working on it. You will need to use very sharp blades while working oak. However, with suitable tools, you can get satisfactory results from oak wood.

Oak makes excellent furniture and flooring, and panels on walls, doors, and windows in oak are second to none.

A rich red pouch of tobacco and Spanish cedar humidor

Western red cedar is a much easier proposition when it comes to working with it, but be aware of the softness of the wood as you need to treat it with care to avoid damage to the surface.

Cedar takes nails, screws, and glues well and you can also get satisfactory results by applying a finish to this wood.

Western red cedar is suitable for outdoor applications and we use it in boat building, decking, posts, fences, and shingles. You will also find crates, boxes, patio furniture, and musical instruments made from western red cedar.

Oak vs Cedar: Price

Oak trees take a long time to grow. The wood is dense, heavy, and difficult to transport. In the United States, there are many imported varieties. These factors cause the price of oak to rise considerably.

In contrast, western red cedar is a wood species that you will find all over the United States. It is native to this country, and you would expect it to cost less. Although it DOES cost less than oak, its high demand results in a higher price than many other softwoods and even hardwoods.

Oak vs Cedar: Sustainability

You need to be a bit careful in buying oak in the United States, especially with the imported variety. If the oak comes from Britain or anywhere in Europe, ensure that it is FSC-certified so that you know that it is legally procured and sold.

Western red cedar doesn’t feature in the CITES Appendices. It is also considered by the IUCN as being a wood species of least concern.

Oak vs Cedar: Any Other characteristics

Other than making good furniture, flooring, and paneling, oak is well-known for its use in making whiskey barrels. The wood imbibes a characteristic flavor to the whiskey that improves as it ages.

Oak also finds wide use in the tannery industry due to the presence of a substance called tannin which goes into the process of making leather.

Cedar is an aromatic wood but does not possess any such unique characteristics.

Oak vs Cedar: Comparison Table


Oak (Red)

Western Red Cedar

Botanical name Quercus rubra Thuja plicata 
Color Light to medium brown with a reddish tint Pinkish to reddish-brown
Durability Highly durable Highly durable
Hardness (Janka Scale) 1,220 lbf.  350 lbf.
Strength Extremely strong Strong wood
Maintenance Less maintenance than cedar Needs regular maintenance
Price Expensive to highly expensive Moderately priced
Suitability for outdoors No Yes
Suitability for wood carving Yes Yes
Workability Yes Easy to work with
Smell Characteristic odor strong, lingering, aromatic scent while working on it
Availability Abundantly available Easily available
Special features if any Used in the tannery and brewery industries No special features


By reading this post, you should now have a better idea about these two widely different but extremely useful woods. Having sound knowledge of when and where to use either oak or cedar will add to your woodworker skills.