If you are planning on building anything out of solid wood, then you are on the right track. Solid wood is far better than engineered wood in most regards, but that said, there are many different types of solid lumber to choose from. Two very popular trees or types of wood to use for various construction projects include cedar and cypress.
Both are great options to consider, but there are quite a few differences between them, so let’s figure out what those are.
What Is Cypress?
First, we have cypress, which is a type of softwood and coniferous tree, also known as an evergreen tree, which means that it has needles instead of leaves, and features cones that bear seeds. This type of tree generally grows in areas that are very wet and swampy.
Cypress trees can be found primarily in the southeastern United States, as well as along the Atlantic coastal plain, in the Mississippi river valley, and along the Gulf of Mexico. There are a few different types of cypress trees, with the bald cypress being the most common, although swamp cypress and red cypress are quite common too. The bald cypress is the one most commonly found in the USA.
What is interesting to note is that, while the bald cypress is technically coniferous, it does lose its needles during the winter, hence why it is called the bald cypress. Because many cypress trees grow in swamps, they have roots that often grow vertically above the water line, to help prevent the root system from becoming waterlogged.
Cypress has heartwood that is a light yellow to medium brown, with the sapwood being almost white. Cypress wood is quite lightweight, has a relatively low density, and is very rot resistant, all of which make it ideal for things like outdoor furniture.
Cypress wood has an average Janka rating of 510 lbf. Cypress wood usually has a straight grain, although the grain may sometimes be uneven, with a medium or coarse texture. This wood may also have a good deal of knots in it. Cypress wood is often used for exterior furniture, boats and docks, interior trim and veneer, and for all sorts of outdoor construction too.
What Is Cedar?
We then have cedar, which is also a type of softwood tree, as well as a coniferous or evergreen tree. Yes, the cedar tree does have needles instead of leaves, which it never loses, as well as seed-bearing cones for the purposes of reproduction.
This is a tree that can be found in the Mediterranean, the western Himalayas, and predominantly in the pacific northwest, both in Canada and the USA. One of the most common types of cedar that we are familiar with in North America is the Western red cedar, which happens to have a Janka hardness rating of 350 lbf. These trees can grow extremely large, up to 200’ tall with trunks reaching up to 13’ in diameter.
Cedar is quite a popular type of wood to use for a number of applications, as it has a beautiful appearance with a straight grain and few knots, a nice reddish-brown color, and great rot resistance too. Cedar is often used for a variety of outdoor projects, including outdoor furniture, decking, trim, siding, and more.
Cypress vs. Cedar: What Are the Differences?
Now that we know what both cypress and cedar wood are, let’s take a closer look at all of the major differences between them.
Appearance and Grain
One of the main differences between cedar and cypress is that they look quite different. On one hand, cedar tends to have a very straight grain, albeit with a relatively coarse texture, but it usually has little or no knots. Cedar wood is usually also pinkish-red-brown in color.
Cypress, on the other hand, is much lighter in color, with the sapwood being nearly white, and heartwood that is yellowish-brown. Cypress usually has a straight grain, although it can sometimes be a bit twisted, complete with a medium to coarse texture, and may also have a sizeable amount of knots in it.
One thing to note here is that cypress wood can be quite difficult to work with. The grain can be irregular, the texture relatively coarse, and the wood can be somewhat dense. The result here is that it can be difficult to saw, particularly because of all of the knots, and yes, this wood is known to dull saw blades relatively quickly. Also, keep in mind that cypress is definitely not the best option for bending.
Cedar, on the other hand, while it does have a coarse texture, usually has a very straight grain, plus it also has very little or no knots. This is combined with the fact that it is not overly hard or dense. This means that cedar is quite easy to work with, as sawing and planing are easily done. Although not the first choice for bending, cedar is somewhat flexible.
Durability and Density
Something that can be said about cedar is the fact that it is decently durable. In terms of weight and density, it comes in at around 500 kg per cubic meter. However, also keep in mind that Western red cedar has a Janka hardness rating of just 350 lbf, which does make it fairly soft. Due to this, although cedar can hold its own, it’s not quite as durable as some other woods out there. That said, cedar is somewhat flexible, which means that it does have good impact resistance.
On the other hand, cypress wood is just slightly denser and harder, coming in at a density of up to 550 kg per cubic meter. Although the density and weight are almost the same as with cedar, it is much harder, with a Janka hardness rating of up to 550 lbf. Due to this, it is harder and more durable, although not quite as flexible, so it may not be quite as impact-resistant.
Moisture and Pest Resistance
Perhaps one of the biggest differences here is that cypress wood is more resistant to moisture, pests, and rotting than cedar. This is due to a couple of reasons. First of all, cypress is harder, which means that pests and moisture have a more difficult time penetrating it than cedar.
However, the bigger difference is that cypress is a tree known for growing in swampy areas, and this means that it naturally has a lot of oils in it that allow for great pest and moisture resistance. It’s definitely the better option for applications that involve moisture.
In terms of how long these types of lumber will last, particularly for outdoor use, due to the fact that cypress is harder and more moisture resistant, it will last much longer while also requiring less maintenance. You can expect outdoor cedar furniture to last for about 10 or 15 years at most, whereas cypress furniture and outdoor projects can easily last 20 years or longer.
In terms of drying, cedar does take a long time to dry but usually does quite well, as it has a low chance of deformation. Cypress, on the other hand, while it does also need to be dried slowly, does come with the risk of bending or warping as it dries.
If you are worried about scent, you should know that cypress has a spicy, fresh, and herbaceous smell with a bit of woodiness mixed in. Cedar has a soft, prickly, and cooling scent, somewhat camphoraceous, and a bit like mothballs.
Although this depends on exactly where you live, particularly in the USA, cypress does tend to be a bit more expensive than cedar, anywhere from 5% to 30% more expensive.
When to Use Cypress Wood?
If you are planning on building something for outdoor use, particularly if you live in an area where there is plenty of moisture, then cypress is undoubtedly the better option to go with. Sure, cypress might be a bit pricey and hard to work with, but it also looks nice, is very durable, and is pest and moisture resistant too. This is why it is often used for boat and dock building.
When to Use Cedar Wood?
If you want something that is a bit more affordable, more pliable, and easy to work with, but also fairly durable, then cedar is the way to go. Cedar may not be quite as moisture or pest-resistant as cypress, but many people do prefer its appearance over cypress wood.
Alternatives to Cypress and Cedar Wood
Both cedar and cypress are not the hardest of woods. If you are looking for a good hardwood to use, something that is super dense and durable, then ones such as walnut, birch, bamboo, maple, and oak are all great options to consider. If you are looking for the most moisture-resistant types of wood around, ones such as pine, Douglas fir, and chestnut are all great.
Before making a decision, you might also want to read my comparisons of cedar with Douglas fir, mahogany, pine, and redwood.
As you can see, although both cedar and cypress have some big benefits and useful applications, they are quite different in the grand scheme of things, so choose wisely!