Western Red Cedar vs. Alaskan Yellow Cedar: Which One to Use?

Western Red Cedar vs. Alaskan Yellow Cedar: Which One to Use?

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If you are planning to build something around your home, solid wood is always a fantastic material to use. That said, there are many different types of wood out there, so choosing the right one is essential.

Today, we want to compare two popular types of wood often used around the home, which are western red cedar and Alaskan yellow cedar. Today, we’re going to figure out what they are, what makes them different from each other, and which one is best used for which type of project.

What Is Western Red Cedar?

The western red cedar tree likes to grow in cool, mild, and moist climates, mainly in British Columbia, Canada, as well as in the Rocky Mountains, and other nearby areas. This is a coniferous softwood tree, which means that it is not overly hard. This tree generally grows to around 200’ tall and features a diameter of 8,’ and they often live for up to 1000 years or longer.

As mentioned before, the western red cedar is not overly hard, as it features a relatively low Janka hardness rating. This does mean that it is not the most durable type of softwood around, and it’s also relatively lightweight.

However, this type of lumber does contain many oils and tannins that lead to it having excellent insect and pest resistance. Thanks to those oils and tannins, this type of wood is also very resistant to moisture, rotting, and decay.

As for appearance, the western red cedar features colors anywhere from a light straw color to a pinkish-red, to a rich brown. The western red cedar features a straight grain with a relatively coarse texture, as well as a moderate natural luster.

This wood type may also have knots, gaps, and irregularities. Western red cedar is often used for making exterior siding, shingles, outdoor furniture, boat building, crates, boxes, and musical instruments.

What Is Alaskan Yellow Cedar?

We then have the Alaskan yellow cedar, which is relatively small compared to the red cedar, as it grows to only 120’ tall with a trunk of around 6’ in diameter. This tree also likes to grow in relatively cold climates, mainly on the northwest coast of North America, and as the name implies, specifically in Alaska.

Keep in mind that Alaskan yellow cedar is a softwood and it has a modern Janka hardness rating, so it is moderately durable. Although it is a little heavier than western red cedar, it’s still not overly heavy in the grand scheme of things.

In terms of appearance, this tree features a very light-yellow heartwood. This color does tend to darken over time. The grain of Alaskan yellow cedar is fairly straight, although it can sometimes have some waves. It also has a uniform medium-to-fine texture. This type of wood may have some knots, although not too many.

Alaskan yellow cedar is also known for being fairly resistant to moisture, pests, and decay. This wood is commonly used for making boxes and chests, utility construction applications, siding, flooring, decking, wood carvings, boat building, musical instruments, and outdoor furniture.

Western Red Cedar vs. Alaskan Yellow Cedar: What Are the Differences?

Now that we know what both western red cedar and Alaskan yellow cedar are, let’s figure out what makes them different from each other.

1. Hardness

One of the main differences here is that Alaskan yellow cedar is a bit harder and more durable than western red cedar. Alaskan yellow cedar features a Janka hardness rating of 580 lbf, whereas western red cedar features a Janka hardness rating of 350 lbf.

This means that Alaskan yellow cedar is substantially harder than western red cedar, which leads to it having more impact resistance, and being more resistant to scratching and denting.

2. Weight and Density

Alaskan yellow cedar is also much heavier than western red cedar. This wood comes in at 30 lbs per cubic foot, whereas western red cedar comes in at 25 lbs per cubic foot. This also leads to Alaskan yellow cedar being more physically durable and structurally sound, due to its higher weight and density. That said, due to its heavier weight, it can also be a bit more difficult to work with.

3. Moisture Resistance

Now, although Alaskan yellow cedar is harder and denser than western red cedar, it is not more moisture resistant. In fact, western red cedar is known for being one of the most moisture-resistant types of softwood lumber out there at this time.

This wood contains high amounts of tannins and oils that help to repel moisture and prevent rotting and decaying. At the same time, it is also more fungus and pest-resistant than Alaskan yellow cedar, therefore making western red cedar the better choice for outdoor use.

4. Overall Strength

When it comes down to it, especially for indoor use where physical durability is concerned, Alaskan yellow cedar is the winner. However, if we are talking about durability in terms of outdoor weather resistance, then it is western red cedar that you want to go with.

5. Appearance – Color and Grain

Alaskan yellow cedar is fairly light-yellow in color, whereas western red cedar tends to be much redder, and sometimes even brown. Western red cedar features a very straight and tight grain, whereas Alaskan yellow cedar might sometimes have waviness or irregularities.

Western red cedar is also coarser, and also has a bit more knots in it. That said, many people do prefer the deep red color of western red cedar.

6. Sustainability

Western red cedar grows faster and bigger than Alaskan yellow cedar and is also far more widespread, which therefore makes it the more sustainable of the two.

7. Cost

Alaskan yellow cedar can cost you anywhere between $10 and $15 per board foot. Depending on where you get it, western red cedar may cost you anywhere between $10 and $25 per board foot.

When to Use Western Red Cedar?

If you need something that is very resistant to moisture and decay, as well as pests, then it is western red cedar that you want to use.

When to Use Alaskan Yellow Cedar?

If you need something that is more physically durable, denser, and harder, then it is Alaskan yellow cedar that you want to use.

Alternatives to Western Red Cedar and Alaskan Yellow Cedar

If you need wood that is extremely hard and durable, you want to go for various types of hardwood, which include white oak, red oak, walnut, bamboo, maple, alder, and others.

You might also want to consider different types of cedar wood.


As you can see, both Alaskan yellow cedar and western red cedar are ideal types of wood to use for various purposes, although one is better used for indoor applications and the other for outdoor applications.