Is Cedar a Hardwood or Softwood?

Cedarwood is famous for its beautiful colors and unique scent. Is this hardwood or softwood, and what is it used for?

Is Cedar a Hardwood or Softwood?

Is Cedar a Hardwood?

No, cedar is not a hardwood in botanical terms. All species of Cedar are softwood except the Spanish Cedar.  The Spanish cedar (Cedrela odorata) is not a true cedar and is a deciduous tree from the Meliaceae family.

Note: Hardwood and softwood don’t actually refer to the wood’s hardness or durability. Instead, it refers to whether the tree is categorized as a gymnosperm or dicot sperm. 
Softwood encompasses conifer trees that have needles, like Pine and Douglas fir. These are gymnosperms. Conversely, dicot sperms, or hardwood trees, are leafy, like maple, cherry, red oak, white oak, and walnut. (more info here)

In North America, the Eastern and Western red cedar wood falls within the gymnosperm category and is thus seen as softwood. Note that the red cedars rank highly on the Janka scale, and are thus incredibly strong and durable, even though it’s technically a softwood.

Properties of Cedarwood

Cedarwood has many outstanding characteristics, adding to its popularity. Here’s an overview of the most prominent ones.


Cedarwood is strong and durable but not as hard as hardwood species such as white oak or hickory. Some varieties are suitable for flooring applications, while others will get dented too easily under heavy foot traffic.

Janka Hardness

Janka hardness is a test that determines the wood’s resistance to denting and scratching. Here, the force needed to partially embed a small steel ball in the wood’s surface is measured.

Cedarwood scores very high on the Janka rating, with Eastern white cedar at 320 Janka, Western red cedar at 350 Janka, yellow cedar at 580 Janka, and Spanish cedar at 600 Janka. This is comparable with chestnut and red alder wood, both hard and durable woods.

The Eastern red cedar tree has the highest Janka rating of all the cedarwoods, clocking in at 900. While this is very high, it’s still below most species of wood typically used to manufacture furniture and floors and used in construction.

The Janka hardness shows that cedar wood is moderately hard as far as workability and wear resistance is concerned.

Rot Resistance

Cedarwood is one of the most weather-resistant domestic softwoods. It does exceptionally well in damp conditions, making it resilient to rot and other moisture-related wear, such as warping, swelling, and shrinking.


Cedarwood has a low density compared to other woods. It has the lowest density of all domestic timber types, hence its suitability for boat building.

Wood Grain Pattern

Since the cedar tree is a gymnosperm, the grain is often straight and knotty. There are instances where cedarwood shows a figured grain too.


Cedarwood is typically pinkish-red, while a purple tone is sometimes visible. It changes color with age, fading to a dignified silver or gray over time. This color change occurs due to environmental exposure and chemical reactions between the oil or extractives, wood, and the environment. In cedar logs, this change can happen quite quickly.

Cedarwood is also unique in its color change. While other wood colors mellow over time, cedarwood changes color completely, from red to silver.

Advantages of Cedar

Cedarwood is naturally insect and rot-resistant and is sound resistant too. It is also beautiful in its natural state, with striking colors and a heady scent.

Types of Cedarwood

Types of Cedar
You can get different varieties of cedarwood, each with some unique characteristics.  Some varieties are considered hardwoods, while others are softwoods. So, cedarwood can be both.

Here is a brief overview.

Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)

The Eastern red cedar has gorgeous reddish-pink hues with the occasional cream, amber and brown swirls. It typically has a straight grain but can sometimes have knots and swirls in the grain.

Northern White Cedar

This beautiful wood naturally combines light and dark hues in a striking combination. This straight-grained wood has small knots similar to knotty pine.

Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens)

This durable, weather-resistant, North American wood is light brown with red streaks and gives off a heady aroma. The grain is tight and not prone to splintering, making it ideal for building clothing chests and pencils.

Port Oxford Cedar

The Port Oxford cedar species is rare, only growing in Oregon and Northern California. This expensive wood has a unique spicy, lemony scent, making it popular for use as candlesticks and toys.

Alaskan Yellow Cedar

This straight-grained wood has a creamy yellow color. It is strong, durable, and weather-resistant, making it ideal for outdoor use.

Spanish Cedar (Cedrela odorata)

This false cedar is only the hardwood on our list. This deciduous tree from South America belongs to the Mahogany family and is not a true Cedar species. 

Uses of Cedarwood

Cedarwood is used in various applications. Since it is naturally resistant to rot and insects, it is often used in outdoor applications, including decking, fencing, cedar furniture, roofing, and siding. It is also frequently used to create indoor furniture, like tables and chests, where its unique color and pleasing aroma is best enjoyed.

Here are some of the common uses.

  • Furniture: Cedar wood is a popular choice for furniture, especially outdoor furniture, because of its rot resistance, durability, stability, and natural beauty. It is commonly used to make outdoor chairs and tables, as well as indoor furniture, such as chests, dressers, and armoires.
  • Fence: I have used pressure treated pine and cedar to build fences, and I prefer Cedar over the engineered lumber. For me, the wood looks beautiful after applying the finish and lasted much longer.
  • Construction: This timber is used for construction because it is strong and resistant to decay and insect infestations. It is widely used for exterior applications such as building deck, roofing shingles, siding panels, etc.
  • Closet and Wooden storage systems: Cedarwood is a natural insect repellent and is often used for making closets and storage systems to keep clothes and other items fresh and free from moths and other pests.
  • Essential oils: Do you know that aromatic Cedar wood oil is an ingredient in aromatherapy and beauty products, such as soaps and shampoos?
  • Garden Mulch: Cedar wood chips are often used as mulch in gardens and landscaping. They help to suppress weeds and repel insects while retaining moisture in the soil.
  • Grilling: Try using cedar planks for grilling and smoking food, such as salmon and other fish. I love the smoky, woodsy flavor they impart to the food, and the planks can be reused several times.
  • Wood Carving: The wood is excellent for carving. The straight grain of this softwood makes carving smooth and easy. Its natural beauty and high rot resistance make it a favorite among artisans.

Some varieties of cedarwood are used to build canoes, boats, musical instruments, and other small objects. 

The most common uses of cedarwood include tongue and groove paneling, log siding, railings, timber trusses, staircases, trim, and corners, heavy timber beams, and board and batten siding.


Most Cedarwood can be categorized as softwood but is a strong and durable wood. This beautiful wood is versatile and ideal for use in damp climates.