If you are looking to build something around your home, whether indoor or outdoor furniture, doors, decks, fences, cabinets, or anything in between, there is rarely a better option than solid wood.
Today, we are here to compare two very popular types of solid wood, walnut and cedar. Let’s figure out what makes walnut and cedar wood different from each other, and which one is best for your next big woodworking project.
What Is Walnut?
First, we have the walnut tree, the eastern black walnut tree to be specific. This is a tree that grows all throughout the eastern United States as well as in eastern Canada. This tree can grow up to 8’ in diameter and 150’ tall, making them very large.
Walnut wood usually has a very straight and tight grain, although it can sometimes have some curves, combined with voids, gaps, and knots, although not a huge amount of them. As for the color, walnut features a very deep brown color, something like coffee or chocolate.
This is the only type of wood in North America that grows naturally very dark, and unlike other types of wood that usually get darker over time, walnut will usually get lighter.
This is a very dense and hard type of wood, which means that it does have great physical resistance to scratching and denting, plus it also has some natural oils, so it is fairly resistant to moisture, pests, and fungus.
It is decent for outdoor use, although is generally better considered for indoor purposes. It is ideal for making gunstocks, carvings, furniture, cabinets, flooring, and anything else of the sort.
It is, however, one of the more expensive types of hardwood in North America due to the fact that it grows fairly slowly.
What Is Cedar?
We then have the cedar tree which comes in multiple varieties, most commonly the western red cedar. This is a large coniferous tree that can be found in the USA and Canada, and all through the Pacific Northwest, although it can sometimes also be found in the western Himalayas and in the Mediterranean. Cedar is technically a part of the cypress tree family.
These trees can get quite large, growing up to 13’ in diameter and 200’ tall. Cedar wood is also quite fragrant. This wood features a reddish-brown color that is usually a bit darker brown than it is red, combined with a very straight and smooth grain, although it may have some waves or irregularities.
Cedar is one of those types of softwood that is known for having many gaps and knots. Western red cedar is also a fairly soft type of wood that isn’t very dense, and it’s not resistant to denting or scratching.
However, one big advantage that you get with cedar is that it is very resistant to insects, decay, and moisture, therefore making it ideal for outdoor use, whether it be making tools, outdoor furniture, totem poles, boxes, canoes, or anything else of the sort.
Walnut vs. Cedar: What Are the Differences?
Now that we know what both walnut wood and cedar are, let’s figure out what makes them different from each other.
One of the major differences here is that walnut wood is much harder than western red cedar. Walnut wood comes in at 1010 lbf on the Janka hardness scale, whereas western red cedar comes in at just 350 lbf, meaning that walnut wood is about three times harder than western red cedar.
This means that it is much more physically resistant to all sorts of damage, including denting and scratching. If you need something that is hard, durable, and structurally sound, it is walnut that you should choose.
Density and Weight
Another big difference here is that walnut wood is also much denser and heavier than western red cedar. Walnut wood comes in at roughly 43 lbs per cubic foot, whereas western red cedar comes in at just 31 lbs per cubic foot.
Walnut wood is therefore more structurally sound, denser, and more durable in this sense, but it is also much heavier, and therefore a bit harder to maneuver and work with.
Resistance to the Elements
Something that does need to be said here is that cedar is one of the best types of wood to use for outdoor use, as it is extremely resistant to pests, fungus, rotting, moisture, and decay.
On the other hand, although walnut wood can be used for outdoor purposes, it’s not nearly as resistant to the elements and is generally reserved for indoor purposes. If you need a type of work that is great for outdoor use, it is cedar that you should go with.
Overall Strength and Durability
Unless we are talking about resistance to the elements, which cedar definitely has the advantage with, the more durable and stronger of the two types of wood is walnut. If you need something that is structurally sound, physically durable, and impact resistant, then it is walnut that you should choose.
How hard these two types of wood are to work with generally depends on the exact specimen. The reason for this is that generally speaking, walnut is much harder, heavier, and denser than cedar, which means that it is harder to saw and cut.
With that being said, cedar does often have many knots and gaps, which can be problematic. However, because cedar is softer, it does tend to take on paint and stain a bit better than walnut.
Appearance – Color and Grain
Walnut has a very dark brown color, like chocolate or coffee, and it will usually lighten over time. Although cedar is also fairly dark in color, it tends to be a little redder than walnut, which is a bit browner.
Both of these types of wood do have a fairly straight and tight grain, although cedar is known for having many more knots and imperfections. Therefore, if you are going for the perfect specimen of wood, walnut is probably the better option, although cedar does generally have a richer color.
Due to its slow growth and sustainability issues, walnut wood may cost you up to $25 per board foot, if not more. Cedar, on the other hand, is one of the more affordable types of food out there, and it’s usually going to cost you anywhere between $5 and $15 per board foot.
When to Use Walnut Wood?
If you are looking to build something indoors, such as furniture, cabinets, knickknacks, gunstocks, and other such things, then walnut is always a good option to go with.
This is especially the case if you need something extremely durable, hard, dense, and something that has a rich dark brown color.
When to Use Cedar Wood?
If you prefer wood that is a little more red than brown, and you don’t need it to be overly durable, but you do need a great deal of resistance to the elements, particularly pests and moisture, then cedar wood is a great option.
This wood is great for purposes such as building outdoor furniture, fences, and cabins.
Alternatives to Walnut and Cedar Wood
If you are looking for the best types of wood to use for outdoor furniture, ones such as ipe, mahogany, and teak all make for great options. However, if you are looking for a type of hardwood that is not going to cost you much money, ones such as maple, poplar, alder, white oak, and ash, are all good options to consider.
For more ideas, read our articles about alternatives to cedar wood and alternatives to walnut wood.
As you can see, these differences here have to do with hardness, density, appearance, and moisture resistance. Walnut is the better option for indoor use, whereas cedar is the better option for outdoor use.
Now that you know exactly what makes walnut wood and cedar wood different from each other, you can choose the best one for your next big woodworking project.