If you are looking to build something out of solid wood, then you have quite a few different choices to consider. Two very common types of wood used around the house include cedar and spruce.
That being said, these materials are quite different. Today, we want to figure out what they both are, what makes them different from each other, and which one is best used for specific projects.
What Is Cedar?
First, we have cedar, which is a large evergreen tree that is found throughout the Pacific Northwest, mainly in Canada and the USA, as well as in some parts of the western Himalayas and in the Mediterranean. This is a softwood tree, and although it is called cedar, it is technically a part of the cypress tree family.
Cedar trees are some of the largest trees out there, measuring up to 200’ tall and 13’ wide. This wood is known for being extremely fragrant, which is one of its most attractive features.
In terms of color, cedar is reddish-brown, and it has a straight and smooth grain, although it may sometimes have some irregularities or waves.
This wood is known for having a lot of knots and gaps. It is a relatively soft type of wood that isn’t very dense and is not overly dent or scratch-resistant.
That said, it is very resistant to moisture, decay, and insect damage. Cedar is very often used for making tools, boxes, canoes, canoe paddles, totem poles, outdoor furniture, and anything else that needs to hold up against the elements.
What Is Spruce?
We then have the spruce tree, which is also a softwood evergreen tree. The spruce tree can be found in most northern temperate and boreal climates, such as in the northern parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. These trees can also grow to around 200’ tall.
This wood is both moderately hard and dense, so it can be quite resistant to physical damage. That said, spruce is only resistant to moisture over the short term, but not the long term. The wood may not absorb moisture or decay very quickly, although it will shrink and warp.
Spruce wood is also not very resistant to pests. As for the appearance, it features a relatively light reddish-brown heartwood. It also has a straight grain combined with a medium texture, as well as a limited amount of knots and gaps.
Cedar vs. Spruce: What Are the Differences?
Now that we know what both cedar and spruce are, let’s figure out what makes them different from each other.
One difference here is that cedar comes in at just 350 lbf on the Janka hardness scale, whereas spruce comes in at 490 lbf. This means that spruce is a good deal harder than cedar, and this leads to it being more durable in terms of impact resistance, as well as resistance to scratching and denting.
What is interesting to note is that although cedar is not as hard as spruce, it is actually a little bit heavier. Spruce comes in at roughly 30 lbs per cubic foot, whereas cedar comes in at roughly 32 lbs per cubic foot. This means that although cedar may be slightly more structurally sound to a certain degree, it’s also heavier and therefore harder to work with.
3. Moisture and Pest Resistance
One of the biggest differences here has to do with moisture and pest resistance, as cedar is well known for being one of the most resistant types of wood out there as far as the elements are concerned. On the other hand, spruce is not at all resistant to the elements. While this wood is slightly resistant to pests and fungus, it’s not very resistant to moisture at all.
Cedar is one of the best types of wood to use outdoors, whereas spruce is hands down one of the worst.
4. Overall Durability
Although spruce may be physically durable, it really doesn’t do well with moisture, which is one of its biggest downfalls. If you plan on using it indoors, then spruce will probably be more durable, although, for outdoor use, it’s not going to last at all.
If you get a nice piece of cedar, then the spruce is going to be a bit harder to cut, mainly due to its hardness. With that being said, cedar is often known for being full of knots and gaps, which can wreak havoc on saw blades.
Therefore, which of these is easier to work with really depends on the exact specimen in question. However, because spruce isn’t quite as dense as cedar, it does generally take on paint and stain a bit better.
6. Appearance – Grain and Color
Cedar has a relatively straight grain with a somewhat coarse texture and a bit of natural luster. This wood also has plenty of imperfections, along with a pinkish-reddish-brown color. Cedar generally has a slightly smoother texture than spruce, which can be quite coarse.
Spruce often has a straight grain, although there can be irregularities. Cedar also has more imperfections and is a slightly darker color than spruce.
Spruce is going to cost you between $3 and $7 per board foot. Although it depends on the supplier, cedar will usually cost between $5 and $15 per board foot.
When to Use Cedar?
If whatever you are building is going to be outdoors, then cedar is the clear winner. That said, this wood is also fine for indoor use.
When to Use Spruce?
If whatever you are building is going to be indoors, then spruce is probably the better option, particularly if you are going for physical durability.
Alternatives to Cedar and Spruce
If you need wood that is super hard and durable, ones such as walnut, pearwood, ebony, oak, alder, maple, and other types of hardwood are recommended.
For more details, you can also read my article about cedar alternatives.
Now that you know what the main differences between cedar and spruce are, you can make an informed decision between the two. What it really comes down to is if you are going to be building something indoors or outdoors.