Cedar and pine have a variety of subspecies scattered around the world, but the majority of both species is harvested domestically in the Northwest U.S. Cedar and pine are used in the building industry for trim, furniture and structural lumber. Pine and cedar are prized by woodworkers for different reasons, but the two species do share some similarities of purpose.
Hard or Soft
Pine and cedar are both softwoods or conifers. On the Janka scale -- a scale that ranks all wood for hardness -- white pine, one of the most common varieties, ranks 420. Yellow pine ranks 870, while cedar comes in at an even 900. For the sake of comparison, red oak ranks 1,290 on the Janka scale.
White pine could be considered an all-purpose wood. It's affordable, available, light, easy to work with and finishes nicely. Somewhat soft, white pine is primarily used for door and window casings, trim moldings, and to a lesser degree, cabinetry . White pine is slightly flexible; moldings and trim can bend to fit walls that are sometimes less than straight. White pine typically doesn't need to be drilled before nailing or driving screws, and it's not prone to cracking if fasteners are located more than 3/4 inch from the edges. It's easy to cope or cut by hand or with any power tool. White pine is widely used for beginner or student woodworking classes because it's affordable, easy to cut, glue, sand and it accepts stain, clear finishes or paint equally well.
Yellow pine is much harder than white pine. It looks similar with a straight-grain amber color, but yellow pine is typically used as a construction or structural building material. Yellow pine studs and beams used in framing are comparable in strength and stiffness to Douglas fir. Sometimes referred to as Southern pine, the straight-grain strength and resiliency lends itself to exterior window and door trim, fascia and other exterior trim. Although yellow pine lacks the weather-resistant qualities of cedar, it performs well when sealed and maintained on a regular basis. Pressure-treated yellow pine is used commercially for permanent wood foundations and marine applications, such as piers and bridges.
Cedar is dimensionally stable, and resists shrinking and swelling. Cedar is resistant to weathering, decay and insect infestation. This natural resistance to the elements makes it perfect for siding, fencing and exterior trim. Cedar is used in home building when humidity and fluctuating temperatures are common. Rough-surfaced, or rough-sawn cedar has a rough, fibrous appearance. The rugged beauty of rough-sawn cedar lends a rustic, lodge-like appearance to the exterior of any building when used as trim or siding. Other exterior uses include shingles, decking, fencing and other outdoor fixtures, including furniture. Cedar can be left natural, or can be stained or painted.
Aromatic and Clear
Clear cedar is rough-sawn cedar that has been surfaced flat and clean. Suffused with reddish-brown swirls and knots, clear cedar is an attractive trim material for interior decorating. Furniture makers use clear cedar for Adirondack chairs, tables and other outdoor furniture, while luthiers sometimes use clear cedar for acoustical guitar soundboards. Clear cedar has a pleasant aroma when cut. However, another type of cedar -- aromatic cedar -- produces the trademark scent prized by woodworkers for lining cedar chests, drawers and closets. The aromatic scent repels moths and produces that waft of clean, clear aroma every time the door is opened. As a bonus, aromatic cedar holds up well in high-moisture environments such as the sauna.