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CEDAR, WESTERN RED

Thuja plicata

Thuja plicata of the family Cupressaceae, the cypress family

The technically correct common name is western redcedar (no space between red and cedar) but in common use, that is almost never seen. The wood is soft, light, and somewhat aromatic (but not as much as eastern redcedar) and varies quite a bit in color as you'll see in the pics below. It is widely used for house shingles, among other outdoors uses.

TOXICITY ALERT Many woods can cause various kinds of bad reactions in some people (there is a toxicity chart linked to on the main page of this site) but western red cedar is the only one I am aware of that can actually CAUSE asthma to develop in people who breath the dust. I don't mean it will happen to everyone who breathes the dust, but it CAN happen so best to wear a mask if you're around the stuff at all.

Because of their close botanical relationship and heavy cross-use of several common names plus the similarity in characteristics and appearance between arborvitae and western red cedar, there is considerable possibility for confusion among these. There is a list of such names on the arborvitae page on this site.



my samples:


both sides of a plank of quartersawn Western red cedar / Thuja plicata --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. For more detail on this plank, see the sample directly below.


both sides of a sample plank of quartersawn Western red cedar / Thuja plicata --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. This sample was cut from the plank directly above.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


both sides of a sample plank of Western red cedar / Thuja plicata --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. Note that the vendor has correctly labeled this as "redcedar", not "red cedar"


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of Western red cedar / Thuja plicata --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. The vendor of this sample has it as "vertical grain" which is another way of saying quartersawn and that's just silly. This piece is rift cut.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of Western red cedar / Thuja plicata --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. Note that the vendor has correctly labeled this as "redcedar", not "red cedar" but he has incorrectly identified it as quartersawn when it is rift cut (although it is close to being quartersawn)


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of Western red cedar / Thuja plicata --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


sample plank and end grain --- note the very tight growth rings


end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


sample plank sold to me as Western red cedar / Thuja plicata


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


first face and the end grain of a sample of Western red cedar / Thuja plicata. This part of a collection which is discussed here: COLLECTION A


the second face, before and after sanding, showing how the patina from aging is only surface deep.


end grain closeup and END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above.


shot at Lowes at various times, these were just marked "cedar" but based on several of the specific pieces I saw (not necessarily the ones in these pics), I am sure these are all Western red cedar


4 small planks and end grain. I was told by my supplier that all 4 of these pieces came from the same tree, but based on the end grain I judge that to be impossible since the first one clearly has a much different growth rate than the other three. I think he was just trying to make the point that this wood has a lot of variety in grain and color.

The second piece from the left is perfectly flat cut and the other are all rift cut although some extremists might call the 3rd from the left quartersawn.


end grain closeups of the 4 pieces directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE of each of the four pieces directly above (the orientation is upside down relative to them but rightside up relative to the original group pic). The colors are accurate.


both sides of a chunk of Western red cedar that is 12"x5"x3". For both this and the pictures below, HUGE enlargements are present


end grain of the piece directly above


two end grain closeups of the piece directly above


both sides of a sample piece --- HUGE enlargements are present


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


plank shot at a lumber yard






three pairs of planks and a closeup of each pair. HUGE enlargements are present




We were discussing high ring count wood on The Wood Barter forum and Mike Stafford showed some Western red cedar that had one area that was so dense that in his pics you couldn't even SEE the rings they were so thin and dense. Mike sent me the 2 pieces below and as you can see the ring count is REALLY high, with the unusually dense area having 55 rings in ONE QUARTER OF AN INCH which is the highest ring count I've every heard of. These samples have the second highest ring count (across a full inch) on the site (the one that is higher is some old growth Douglas-fir). Thanks for the contribution to the site, Mike.


the pieces and one side of each (which turns out to be a quartersawn surface. HUGE enlargements are present for these and the other pics of these pieces.


closeups of a flat cut surface and a quartersawn surface. The quartersawn surface shows some rays which are easier to see in the enlargements.


end grain closeups. These are not my full "end grain update" with sanding to 1200 grit but rather sanded to 400 grit. The extra dense region of each piece cannot be distinguished even in the second enlargement but it DOES have distinct growth rings, which I could just barely make out with a 10X loupe. I very carefully laid out 10-ring lines on an enlargement of each end grain shot, verifying the dense count with the 10X loupe, and the results are show directly below.


this is the full END GRAIN UPDATE but didn't add much to my abilty to see the grain lines in that really crowded area ... I still had to use the 10X loupe to be sure my count was right.




one inch wide end grain cross section areas showing just how high the ring count is on these pieces. The little blue lines span 10 rings each except those that have a ring count directly above them. Both pieces have about 110 rings/inch, with one of them also having (and shown clearly in the first pic) that one area of 1/4" has 55 rings which prorates out to 220 rings/inch which is the highest ring count I have ever heard of and I would have found it hard to believe had I not done the counting myself. I actually have one piece one this site that has a higher ring count across a full inch (a piece of old growth Douglas-fir) but even it doesn't have any region with 55 rings in 1/4".



The Wood Book pics


flat cut, quartersawn, end grain
western red cedar (Thuja gigantea, also listed as giant cedar and shingle-wood) from The Wood Book --- both levels of enlargement are available for each of the 3 views



web pics:


a set of planks that give a little of the color variation in this species


planks listed as western red cedar / Thuja plicata


plank listed as canoe cedar / Thuja plicata


planks just listed as western red cedar


planks listed as giant arborvitae / Thuja plicata


long planks (the longest is 10 feet)


pen blanks


shingles


veneer listed as western red cedar / Thuja plicata


veneer just listed as western red cedar


picnic table


bowl of figured Western red cedar





the western red cedar piece at the front of this bowl pic was taken from the same plank as the 2nd of the 4 small planks shown in the same picture at the top of this page. This is one of the few woods where application of a finishing agent lessens rather than increases the beauty of the wood. The bold separation between early and late growth is muddied by the application of a coat of natural stain. And by the way, the growth rings show a slight edginess that is caused by image reduction and is not present in the enlargement. Speaking of cedar, the thin vertical piece at the left rear that shows both red and cream colors is red aromatic cedar with sapwood.


the small section of the board that was exposed from the inside of the bowl wall shows even worse muddying after the stain was applied