If you are planning on building something out of solid lumber in or around your home, there are a few really good choices to consider. Two very common and popular types of wood that you might come across include cedar and oak.
Both of these types of wood are commonly used for many different applications, but they do have some major differences between them. Today, we are going to determine exactly what makes cedar and oak different, and which one is best for your next big project.
What Is Cedar?
First, we have the cedar tree, which is a very large softwood evergreen or coniferous tree that is found all throughout the Pacific Northwest, particularly in the USA and Canada. There are also some types of cedar trees that grow in the western Himalayas and in the Mediterranean.
An interesting note here is that although we do refer to it as cedar, it is technically a part of the cypress tree family. Cedar trees are some of the largest ones out there, with trunks measuring up to 13’ in diameter and up to 200’ tall.
One of the most attractive features of cedar wood is that it is known for producing extremely fragrant timber. This wood is well known for its reddish-brown color and is usually more brown than red. It also has a fairly straight and smooth grain, although it can sometimes have some waves or irregularities. Cedar is also known for having many gaps and knots.
Cedar is a somewhat soft type of wood that also isn’t very dense, so it’s definitely not the most impact, scratch, or dent-resistant type of wood out there. Although it may not be resistant to physical damage, it is extremely resistant to moisture, insect damage, and decay. Cedar wood is often used for making things like tools, totem poles, boxes, canoes, paddles, other items that need to be water resistant, and outdoor furniture too.
What Is Oak?
We then have the oak tree, which is a deciduous hardwood tree that can be found in various locations in the northern hemisphere of the world. This tree can be found in various northern locations in North America, Asia, Europe, and North Africa. In North America, there are over 160 different types of oak trees.
Oak wood is very dense, hard, and heavy, which leads to it being extremely durable. It also contains some natural oils, which combined with its hardness and density, make it very water-resistant, fungus-resistant, and pest-resistant. For this reason, oak is a fantastic option for both indoor and outdoor applications and it can be used for many different projects.
This wood is often used for flooring and furniture building, as well as both interior and exterior doors. As for appearance, oak wood usually has a very straight grain with a somewhat uneven or coarse texture. Oak wood can be anywhere from beige to brownish-red in color. Do keep in mind that you will usually find some gaps and knots, although probably not as much as in cedar.
Cedar vs. Oak: What Are the Differences?
Now that we know what both oak and cedar are, let’s figure out what makes them different from each other.
One of the main differences between oak and cedar is that oak is a hardwood and cedar is a softwood, which means that oak is much harder than cedar. On the Janka hardness scale, oak comes in at nearly 1300 lbf, while cedar comes in at just 350 lbf. This means that oak is many times harder than cedar and is therefore far more resistant to all types of physical damage, including impacts, scratching, and denting.
Density and Weight
Another difference to consider here is that oak is also much denser and heavier than cedar. Cedar comes in at roughly 31 lbs per cubic foot. On the other hand, oak can weigh as much as 56 lbs per cubic foot, therefore making it almost twice as dense and heavy as cedar. Its increased weight and density lead to it being more durable and having better impermeability towards the elements, although it is also much heavier and harder to work with.
Overall, there is simply no question about the fact that oak is much more durable than cedar, and this is true on virtually all fronts. Yes, cedar may be a bit more flexible and able to easily bend into shape, although it’s still not nearly as durable as oak.
Resistance to the Elements
What can be said about both oak and cedar is that they are both extremely resistant to the elements. Now, as far as oak is concerned, the reason why it is so resistant to moisture, pests, and fungus, is that it is so hard and dense.
On the other hand, although cedar is not nearly as hard or dense as oak, it does have a lot more natural oils and resin that make it very resistant to the elements. Those natural oils repel moisture and pests very well. Therefore, although both are pretty close, cedar is more moisture-resistant and is better suited for outdoor use.
Appearance – Color and Grain
On one hand, we have oak, which is usually pretty straight-grained with an uneven and slightly coarse texture. This wood also tends to have a fair amount of knots and gaps. Moreover, oak can be anywhere from light beige in color to reddish-brown. Now, cedar does also have a relatively straight grain with a somewhat coarse texture, although it has more of a natural luster than oak does. At the same time, cedar also has many more imperfections, such as knots and gaps. Cedar also tends to be more pinkish-red in color. Most people would agree that oak is the far better looking of the two.
You might think that because oak has fewer knots and gaps, it is easier to work with, although this just isn’t true. Because oak is so hard, dense, and heavy, it is very hard to lift up and can also wreak havoc on those saw blades, as well as can be difficult to paint and stain. On the other hand, because it is much softer, it’s not going to wear out your saw blades as much, and it does have a bit of an easier time taking on paint and stain.
Although providing you with exact lumber prices is very difficult at this moment due to the situation around the world, you can rest assured that oak is going to be many times more expensive than cedar. It looks better, it’s more durable, and it’s much more popular.
When to Use Cedar Wood?
What it really all comes down to here is that cedar is extremely moisture resistant, which means that it is a very suitable choice for outdoor use. Cedar is a great option for fencing, decks, outdoor furniture, and for anything that is going to be constantly exposed to moisture. Yes, it is also a good option for indoor furniture, particularly because it looks nice and is cost-effective. Although its water resistance does make it an ideal choice for flooring in wet areas, do keep in mind that it is not very resistant to physical impacts.
When to Use Oak Wood?
If you are planning on building anything that needs to withstand the test of time, especially in terms of physical durability, then oak is the way to go. Oak is just super hard, dense, durable, and very beautiful too. For this reason, it makes for a good option if you need to build something that needs to be resistant to physical damage. However, keep in mind that oak is also moisture resistant, so although cedar might be the better option for outdoor use, oak is perfectly fine too. Just remember that oak is fairly expensive, so it is generally reserved for higher-end or luxury applications where appearances matter.
Alternatives to Cedar and Oak Wood
If you need wood that is very hard (much harder than oak) such as for floors, walls, and other applications that require great physical durability, then there are some good alternatives to look into. Some of the hardest types of wood include snakewood, ebony, blackwood, olivewood, marblewood, hickory, and eucalyptus.
For more information, read our article about cedar alternatives.
The bottom line here is that oak and cedar really could not be more different from each other. Cedar is very moisture-resistant and cost-effective, but not very resistant to physical damage. Oak, on the other hand, is not quite as moisture-resistant, yet has far better resilience to physical damage. Most people would say that oak looks much better than cedar too, although it is also far more expensive. Now that you know what the major differences between them are, you can make an informed choice between them for your next woodworking project.