Cypress wood and cedar wood are excellent choices for any building or woodworking project. When it comes to choosing the best wood, it can be a tough choice, as there are pros and very little cons to each. Both woods work well in home and building projects, and share weather-resistant qualities. With differences between them minimal, the choice between cedar and cypress can come down to three things: where you live, how much you're willing to spend and the exact need of your project.
Down South: Cypress and Swamps
Cypress is more common in the East. Cypress is a native of the southern United States, primarily growing along the Gulf of Mexico and in swampy areas along the Atlantic Coast. Bonus: these wet growing conditions are one reason cypress can handle moisture. Although cypress is softwood, it is usually grouped, milled and marketed along with hardwoods because it grows alongside hardwoods. It has needles instead of leaves -- typical of softwoods -- but drops its needles during the fall like a hardwood, giving it the "bald" cypress likeness. The grain of cypress is coarse, yellowish brown, with bold patterns.
Go West: Western Red Cedar
Cedar is more common in the West. Western red cedar is the most common type of cedar. Another type, Eastern red cedar, is not as widely distributed but is commonly sold as aromatic paneling for closets as well as some specialty applications. It's also used for cedar wood oil for fragrances and for wildlife habitat. The majority of Western red cedar is harvested in coastal forests along the Pacific Northwest and Canada. Cedar is a softwood. It's pinkish-brown, with coarse, closely spaced grain lines.
A Fungus Among Us
For once, a bit of typically gross fungus is not a bad thing. Cedar and cypress contain oils that give the wood weather-resistant qualities, but cedar contains a fungicide that protects it further from rotting. Cypress boards, lacking the protection against fungus, may have scattered pockets of fungus, showing up as dark pockets.
Durability: Which Is Stronger?
Western Red cedar has been rated as durable in regard to decay resistance but has a mixed resistance to insect attack. Old-growth cypress is rated as being very durable -- more durable than cedar -- but it's hard to find and expensive. Younger cypress is rated as moderately durable. Cedar has a pleasant, aromatic scent while being worked, while freshly cut cypress has a somewhat sour odor.
Ahead of the Curve: Density and Curves
Cedar dents and scratches easy due to its softness, while cypress is harder and won't dent or scratch as easily. Curvy grain patterns can make cypress boards twist. It's advisable to select the straightest boards -- such as deck boards -- when building with cypress lumber. Cedar boards are more consistently straight, with fewer variations, and hand selecting is not typically necessary.
How Does It Look? Aesthetics and Cost
Aesthetically, many designers, builders and furniture makers prefer cedar because of its uniform consistency and pleasing appearance. Construction workers and builders typically prefer cypress for structural beams, decking, fencing or anywhere high levels of moisture might compromise lumber. Cypress is usually less expensive, but it depends on where you live. If you live in the Northwest where cedar is readily available, cypress may be more expensive. If you live in the eastern United States where cypress is readily available, it's typically less expensive than cedar.
Specializing in hardwood furniture, trim carpentry, cabinets, home improvement and architectural millwork, Wade Shaddy has worked in homebuilding since 1972. Shaddy has also worked as a newspaper reporter and writer, and as a contributing writer for Bicycling Magazine. Shaddy began publishing in various magazines in 1992, and published a novel, “Dark Canyon,” in 2008.