Redwood vs. Cedar: Which is Best for Fencing?


There are so many different types of wood you could use for your fence! Luckily, there are two main species that are commonly used for building fences: Redwood and Cedar. Should you, then, go with Redwood or with Cedar for your next fence?

Although Redwood is stronger, the best wood for building fences is Western Red Cedar, because it’s more economical and easier to stain than Redwood. However, in wetter climates, Redwood is the better option due to its natural ability to absorb and release large amounts of moisture without warping.

In order for you to decide if Cedar or Redwood really is the best for you, let’s get on with the showdown!

The Showdown: Redwood Vs. Cedar

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, one and all, to this momentous occasion! Today we are going to put two wooden behemoths together and have them fight it out for the prestigious title of “Best Wood To Build Fences With”!

In the left corner, coming in from the dense, sky-high forests of California, with a deep reddish-brown tint, we have Redwood!

And in the right corner, hailing from the peaceful forests of Western Canada, with the beautiful yellow color and red undertone, we have Western Red Cedar!

Before we get in too deep, it’s important that we know what we are judging each contender on. Let’s see what traits we desire in a good fence wood.

What Do You Need In a Fence Wood?

Accurately being able to determine if Redwood or Cedar is objectively better than the other depends on understanding what you need in the wood you are using to build a fence with.

Remember that an objective analysis doesn’t look at anything subjective. Of course, everyone will have their own opinion on whether Redwood or Cedar is better, and each opinion will be different, but what we are looking for here is which wood is objectively better overall. From there, you can decide for yourself which wood will be right for your fence.

When building fences, these are the main things we look for in the wood that we decide to use:

  • How strong is the wood?
  • How easy is it to maintain the wood?
  • How does the wood look?
  • How long will the wood last?
  • How much does the wood cost?

The winner of this epic battle will be the wood that wins more categories. Though, I must say, from the looks of things this will be a very close fight.

Oh! It appears as if they are already about to begin the first round of the fight! This round will focus on their individual strength as woods.

Round 1: Strength

Strength is an essential quality to any wood used in construction, but especially for fences. Wind can exert significant shear force on fences. If the wood is not strong enough, over time it could warp, bend, and even break!

Seeing as the majority of the force that is applied on fences is shear force, we will focus on each wood’s tolerance for the shear force applied parallel to the grain (or when something applies force perpendicular to the fence, such as wind).

Shear Tolerance Parallel To GrainRedwoodWestern Red Cedar
In Kilo Pascals (kPA)7,0506,800
In Pounds Per Square Inch (PSI)1,020990
Source
PSI numbers separately calculated

Well, there we have it. The numbers don’t lie.

Redwood is 3.55% more tolerant to shear force applied parallel to the grain than Western Red Cedar.

As a deck material, Redwood is actually around 20% stronger than its Cedar counterpart. But, the force exerted by people standing on a deck is significantly different than the force exerted by wind or a car hitting the side of the fence.

Because having a difference of 30 PSI tolerance is not extremely significant in real-world applications as a fence material, this round ends in a tie.

Redwood – 1 Cedar – 1

Round 2: Maintenance

Having wood that isn’t high-maintenance will save you a lot of time and money. Nobody wants to be constantly having to touch up their fence with varieties of chemicals and stains to keep the wood free of insects and looking nice.

Fortunately, these woods are both typically pretty easy to keep clean.

Should there be any stains or cleaning that needs to be done, a simple mixture of soap and water will do the trick. For anything harder to clean off, like mildew, just use some bleach with water.

Over time, both kinds of wood will have their color naturally lighten to a grayish-silver, which can be solved by staining the wood again.

There is no real significant difference between Redwood and Cedar in this aspect. They are fairly hands-off woods. As such, this round ends in a tie.

Redwood – 2 Cedar – 2

Round 3: Appearance

Fences are a prominent feature of a home and are quite visible to neighbors and the public eye. Therefore, making sure your fence looks good is extremely important. Though some prefer the natural look of the wood, many prefer to stain their fences for a specific color or appearance.

Redwood is a gorgeous red-brown color. Depending on the quality of heartwood chosen, it will also have very few knots and defects.

Redwood is also a very smooth wood. However, it is naturally a very oily type of wood. It is also quite a dark wood. Putting these two attributes together leads to a wood that is not very good for staining or for painting.

Should you desire to leave the natural beauty of the wood to do the talking, Redwood will likely suit your purposes better.

Western Red Cedar has a yellow color with a red undertone, making the wood appear almost orange at times. Cedar also naturally has a very pleasant aroma to it.

While also an oily wood, Cedar is not near as oily as Redwood. This quality, plus the lighter color of the wood, makes Cedar much easier to stain and paint.

Because Western Red Cedar is much easier to stain and paint, Cedar wins this round.

Redwood – 2 Cedar – 3

Round 4: Longevity

After you have built your fence (or paid to have someone build it for you), you are not going to want to have to go through that expense of time and money again for a long, long time (if ever). Some woods last longer than others as a result of their density, strength, and how rot and insect resistant they are.

Redwood and Western Red Cedar are both naturally highly resistant to rot and insects due to their naturally acidic woods and high levels of tannin. Tannin is a natural chemical that gives the woods their distinct colors. It also serves as a form of insect repellent.

Longevity is not a problem for either wood, as fences made out of either can last decades; lasting even more with proper and consistent maintenance.

An interesting quality of Redwood is that it has a natural ability to absorb and release large amounts of moisture, such as snow and rain, without warping. Because of this, Redwood can last longer than Cedar in wetter climates. However, Cedar will still last just as long as Redwood in most other environments.

Redwood, having the edge over Cedar with it’s ability to shed excess water, wins this round and takes the point.

Redwood – 3 Cedar – 3

Round 5: Cost

Here we are at the deciding round. Will it be yet another tie, or will one of the woods come out the victor?

When building a fence, one of the more important factors is your budget. It doesn’t matter which wood is best if your budget doesn’t allow for it. After all, in the end, wood is wood; it just works.

Western Red Cedar 4in x 4in x 4ft fence posts at Home Depot, as of the writing of this article, cost around $22 per post. Redwood posts of the same dimensions cost about $48 per post at Home Depot.

This is a staggering difference! Cedar costs less than half that of Redwood.

For this category, the winner will be the Western Red Cedar, the cheaper option by far.

Redwood – 3 Cedar – 4

Which Wood Comes Out On Top?

What a thrilling contest! Both contestants put up a great fight. However, in the end there was only one standing.

Western Red Cedar has now been crowned: “The Best Wood To Build Fences With”, at least between Redwood and Cedar.

Even though it was a close race the whole time, Western Red Cedar definitely pulled ahead there at the end. For such amazing materials, Western Red Cedar costing less than half the cost of its Redwood counterpart is absolute insanity.

This means that with Cedar you can build twice the fence with the same amount of money as you could with Redwood.

Of course, Redwood is definitely superior in climates that are consistently wet; such as the West Coast of North America. Redwood also tends to be slightly cheaper in those areas, but don’t expect Cedar level prices. Redwood is not quite as prevalent as Cedar, which is why it boasts a much higher price tag.

Which wood are you going to use for your next fence?

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