Whitewood vs. Cedar: Which One to Use?

Whitewood vs. Cedar: Which One to Use?

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If you are planning to build some furniture around the home, or anything else out of wood for that matter, deciding on the type of lumber to use can be difficult. Two popular types of lumber that you might be interested in are whitewood and cedar. Both are commonly used for a number of applications but are quite different from each other.

So, should you use whitewood or cedar for your next project?

What Is Whitewood?

First, we have whitewood, which refers to the lumber that comes from the tulip tree, otherwise known as the American tulip tree, or sometimes even yellow poplar. Whitewood or American tulip trees can be found in the eastern half of North America, particularly in Canada and the USA, all the way from Ontario down to the Mississippi River, although rarely further south than that.

These are known for being the tallest eastern hardwood tree, as they can grow up to 160’ or taller. This type of lumber is often used to make furniture, small items such as knife handles, cabinetry, and other such basic projects. This is a popular type of wood because it grows fast, is sustainable, and is not very expensive either.

Whitewood features a creamy white color with a relatively straight grain, although it can contain a good deal of knots and gaps. Whitewood is a hardwood, although it is fairly soft and flexible, and not overly dense either, which is why it is so popular. Its flexibility allows it to be crafted into virtually any shape. Although whitewood does have good pest resistance, it’s not very moisture resistant.

Learn more about whitewood

What Is Cedar?

We then have cedar, a type of hardwood that grows on the east and west coast of the USA and Canada, with eastern and western red cedar being the two most common types. Another type that can be found in stores is the Alaskan yellow cedar (see how it compares with red cedar).

Technically speaking, eastern cedar is a coniferous tree, which means it has needles. Most people think that it is a hardwood, but it is actually just a fairly hard softwood. It’s not the most impact or scratch-resistant wood out there, so it does need to be treated with care.

This wood usually features a reddish-brown color with a straight grain and can contain a good deal of knots. Cedar may also develop a gray tint over time. This type of wood is quite popular for furniture making, cabinetry, doors and windows, and other small items as well. One reason for this is that cedar wood is quite insect, fungus, and moisture-resistant.

Whitewood vs. Cedar: What Are the Differences?

Now that we know what both whitewood and cedar are, let’s take a look at what makes them different from each other.

1. Hardness

One of the main differences is that whitewood is a little bit harder than cedar, with cedar coming in at between 320 and 350 lbf on the Janka hardness scale, and whitewood coming in at 540 lbf. Due to this difference in hardness, whitewood is a bit more resistant to impact, denting, and scratching than cedar.

2. Density

Another difference is that whitewood is a bit heavier and denser than cedar, with cedar coming in at roughly 19-21 lbs per square foot, whereas whitewood weighs around 29 lbs per square foot. This does make whitewood a bit more solid, although also a bit harder to work with.

3. Pest Resistance

Due to its hardness and density, as well as some natural oils found in it, whitewood is very resistant to pests and fungi. While cedar is also somewhat resistant to pests, it is not as pest resistant as whitewood.

4. Moisture Resistance

One of the big advantages that you get with cedar is that it is relatively moisture resistant, and can therefore be used for outdoor furniture. Whitewood on the other hand is not nearly as moisture resistant, and it has a tendency to absorb moisture unless it is properly sealed. It’s definitely not the best choice for outdoor use.

5. Overall Strength

When it comes down to it, whitewood is a bit stronger than cedar, which is not only due to its hardness and density, but also because it is more flexible. Its flexibility also makes whitewood more versatile.

I wrote in detail about cedar’s strength here.

6. Appearance – Color and Grain

As the name implies, whitewood has a creamy white color with a relatively straight grain and quite a few knots and gaps. Cedar, on the other hand, is a reddish-brown color, also has a straight grain, and also has some knots, although not quite as much as whitewood. Most people would agree that cedar is the better-looking option.

7. Workability

Due to its hardness, density, weight, and knots, whitewood is a bit harder to work with than cedar. Whitewood may cause your saw blades to dull and may cause the blades to get stuck.

In fact, one of the main advantages of cedar – and the reason it’s popular – is not only its abundance but also its workability.

8. Cost

Whitewood is going to come in at anywhere between $3 and $7 per board foot, whereas cedar will cost at least $10 per board foot.

When to Use Whitewood?

If you plan on making indoor furniture or small objects, such as knife handles, or even guitars, coffins, and anything in between, then whitewood is an affordable and decent-looking option to go with. Just don’t try using it for outdoor furniture, because it’s not very moisture-resistant.

When to Use Cedar?

If you plan on making either indoor or outdoor furniture that is very moisture-resistant and looks downright beautiful, then cedar is the way to go.

Alternatives to Whitewood and Cedar

If you need wood that is extremely strong and hard, ones such as red oak, hickory, walnut, ebony, and olivewood are all good options to consider.

For more information, read our article about cedar alternatives.


Now that you know what the main differences between whitewood and cedar are, you can make an informed decision between the two.