Western Red Cedar Substitutes

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Cedar is one of the most durable softwoods that you can get on the market. All types of Cedar have natural preservatives that make them last longer than many other types of wood, even hardwoods. Cedar survives against the elements quite well.

The most popular type of cedar, western red cedar is widely used for construction and making furniture all across the United States. However, overharvesting and high demand have made it scarce. The good news is that there are several substitutes for western red cedar, some being other species of cedar and some that don’t belong to the cedar family.


cedar wood plank textured background - macro shot

Cedar has an open-cell structure, making it one of the least dense softwoods. This light structure makes it an easy wood to carry around from place to place.

Western red cedar is the most prized among all other varieties of cedar. Its even grain and consistent density make it a dimensionally stable wood. The appealing reddish-brown color ensures that it is sought after for making attractive wooden items.

You will also find western red cedar easy to work with, and it takes nails and screws quite well and glues adequately. But with so much going for this lumber, it can be expensive and you may not find it easily when you need it.

Western Red Cedar Substitutes

Fortunately, there are several other types of wood you can use as a substitute for western red cedar. When you plan your next fencing, decking, or framing project, perhaps you would like to consider using some of the western red cedar substitutes featured below:

Alaskan Yellow Cedar (Cupressus nootkatensis)

Cupressus nootkatensis (syn. Callitropsis nootkatensis)
Image Credit: Walter Siegmund (talk) via Creative Commons

Here is a wood that is closely related to western red cedar. It grows on the northwest coast of the United States. The trees grow as high as 120 feet with tree trunks of a maximum diameter of 6 feet.

The wood of Alaskan yellow cedar is a straight-grained and pale yellow, presenting some exciting possibilities for applying different shades and tints of stain. It also looks good with wood oils applied to it. The wood darkens over time and becomes silvery grey if exposed to the elements for extended periods.

Alaskan yellow cedar is a sustainable wood, so you can use it without any trepidation regarding environmental issues.

It is fairly soft with a Janka hardness rating of 480 lbf. You will find it easy to work with Alaskan yellow cedar, and it holds paint stains, glues, and finishes well.

We use Alaskan yellow cedar to make carvings, boats, siding, flooring, decking, outdoor furniture, musical instruments, boxes, and chests.

Heat-Treated Tulipwood (Thermo Tulipwood)

Tulip poplar tree

This western red cedar substitute is particularly useful for cladding. Tulipwood, also known as tulip poplar, yellow poplar, or merely poplar is treated with a thermal modification process that relieves the stress in the wood. The result is wood with great dimensional stability and making it more durable.

Heat-treated tulipwood has excellent insulation properties and a high degree of resistance to water and decay. The thermal process makes the wood darker than the original greenish-yellow. Unlike many western red cedar substitutes, Thermo tulipwood is a knot-free hardwood.

Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga Menziesii)

Wood surface, douglas-fir

Also known as Columbia pine, Oregon pine, and Douglas spruce, you will find Douglas fir in the western region of the United States. The trees grow to 330 feet in height and the trunks reach a diameter of 2 feet.

There are three varieties of Douglas fir – Mexican Douglas fir, coast Douglas fir, and mountain Douglas fir. The trees have an extremely long life and some have been known to live up to an age of 1,000 years.

Douglas fir is a bit harder than other softwoods with a Janka hardness rating of 620 lbf. The wood is creamy-yellow that mellows to a dark brown over time.

This wood is considerably resistant to decay and therefore finds wide use for making plywood, veneer, and construction.

Siberian Larch (Larix Sibirica)

siberian larch planks

This wood has a lustrous golden-yellow color that is in stark contrast to the reddish-brown shades of western red cedar. But it is still an attractive type of wood and will work well in any home improvement project.

Another desirable feature of Siberian larch is that it is extremely economically priced, therefore a viable alternative to western red cedar. As this wood comes from Siberia, you can well imagine that it is quite a hardy species.

This wood is high on resin and grows slowly, resulting in a denser, more scratch-resistant wood. This makes it suitable for cladding, fencing, and decking. It is one of the hardest softwoods in existence.

Northern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis)

Thuja occidentalis, Cupressaceae, Eastern Arborvitae, Northern Whitecedar, cones. Karlsruhe, Germany.
Image Credit: H. Zell via Creative Commons

You will find these trees growing in the northeast region of the United States. The trees aren’t very tall and may grow up to a maximum height of 65 feet with tree trunks growing to a maximum diameter of 2 feet.

The heartwood of northern white cedar is light brown with almost white but extremely white sapwood. You will find numerous knots in this wood, making it somewhat challenging to work with at times. The wood grain is straight and has a fine, even texture. The wood surface gives off a natural luster.

Northern white cedar has a high resistance to rot and insect attack. It is quite soft with a Janka hardness rating of 320 lbf.

The wood is easy to work with but you need to take care while driving screws and nails into it due to its extreme softness. We use northern white cedar to make fences, posts, piles, boats, outdoor furniture, railroad ties, and we also use it to make pulpwood.

An interesting fact about northern white cedar is that it is one of the softest and lightest woods in the United States, considered to be the nearest equivalent to balsa.

Spanish Cedar (Cedrela odorata)

Wood from the tropical rainforest - Suriname - Cedrela odorata

This variety of cedar also goes with its Spanish name, Cedro. It is not native to the United States but grows in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. The trees grow to a maximum height of 100 feet and the tree trunks reach up to a diameter of 5 feet.

The heartwood of Spanish cedar is light pink to reddish-brown and darkens over time. You will find isolated deposits of gum and natural oil while cutting it. The wood has an unremarkable grain pattern that is straight with slight interlocking. The wood surface gives off a moderate luster.

Spanish cedar exhibits moderate resistance to decay and also resists insect attack quite well. The older trees with slow growth yield more durable wood.

This wood is quite soft with a Janka hardness rating of 600 lbf. It is easy to work with using hand and machine tools. However, there is a tendency to develop fuzziness due to the extreme softness of the wood if cutting blades are not sharp enough. It can be remedied by sanding the surface.

Another issue that can arise while sanding and finishing the surface is that resin may come out of the pores and interfere with the cutting process. The odor that the resin emits makes this wood popular for making cigar boxes.

We use Spanish cedar for making musical instruments, boats, humidors, cabinets, plywood, and veneer.


If you cannot procure western red cedar for your next woodworking project, don’t despair. You can choose from the variety of western red cedar substitutes that we have featured here in this post.

The thing is that these woods are not in the category of “one size fits all.” There are limitations and benefits with each type of wood mentioned here. With the information we have provided, you can procure the most suitable substitute for western red cedar. You can still get more than satisfactory results, even if you can’t get the coveted western red cedar.