A classic timber choice. If you're after a gorgeous, natural finish to your interior or garden project, you can’t go far wrong with Western Red Cedar. Fashionable, durable and versatile, this species of timber is suitable for decking, fencing, cladding and more.
Western Red Cedar — or, to give it its scientific name, Thuja plicata — is native to the Pacific (northwest) coast of North America. It's since been introduced to Britain.
As well as retaining its size, Western Red Cedar is insect and rot resistant. That’s in addition to having, typically, a long life span. With its alluring warm, versatile reddish colour, it looks pretty good by itself and can complement almost any surrounding.
On top of this, Western Red Cedar has fantastic finish-retention qualities. You have three options for finishing your Western Red Cedar: untreated, stained or painted. The one you choose will most likely be determined by your aesthetic preference. Read on to find out more!
What happens if Western Red Cedar is left untreated?
Western Red Cedar is naturally rot resistant and still performs well without a finish, so if you want the weathered look, you don’t need to apply any treatment. Less time, effort and expenditure on staining, right? Especially for projects that are especially large or inaccessible… just let nature do its thing.
When left untreated and exposed to the sun’s UV light, Western Red Cedar fades to a beautiful silvery-grey finish. This change can happen quite quickly — so even a relatively new piece of Western Red Cedar can acquire this ‘weathered’ look.
In the UK, the moist climate can cause this weathering process happen unevenly, so be patient if dark grey patches appear quickly.
However, if you’re looking to retain the warmer tones of your new Western Red Cedar, then staining/painting your wood is a good idea. We’ve got some staining and painting inspiration below.
Different finishes for Western Red Cedar
Luckily, Western Red Cedar takes exterior finishes very well, especially Western Red Cedar that is smooth, as opposed to textured. Therefore, it you’re looking for longevity, look for planed Western Red Cedar. The amount of sunlight hitting your wood will also shorten the lifespan of the finish applied.
Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s individual guidelines.
A thorough coating or two of an acrylic-based paint is by far the most protective of the finishes on offer. It will shield the timber from moisture and weathering, but will completely conceal the wood’s colour and grain — so choose a paint of your desired colour.
- Typically lasts for: 8–12 years
2. Solid-colour stain
A solid-colour stain provides an opaque finish. This obscures a lot of the colour, but does retain some of the original texture. A solid-colour stain can be used to create a whole new colour for your wood, or can be used to mimic the original, non-weathered look.
Use a stain-blocking primer first and finish with a 100% acrylic latex-based top coat to maintain the look. Acrylic allows for shrinking and flexing as the wood changes due to temperature.
- Typically lasts for: 3–6 years
3. Natural or semi-transparent stain
Aside from acrylic, opaque finishes, there are ways to keep your Western Red Cedar looking natural, whilst still offering some preservational qualities.
Using a natural or semi-transparent stain will keep the wood in good condition. Cedar wood is pitch and resin-free, which means that finishes are held very well by the wood as long as they are applied before the weathering process has begun.
A good transparent or semi-transparent stain will have fungicides that inhibit the growth of mildew. That said, they don’t offer fantastic UV protection; they will need a reapplying every few years. However, for a natural look, a semi-transparent stain is your best choice.
- Typically lasts for: 2–4 years
4. Water-repellent preservative and oils
For an almost-natural finish with some modest protection, consider a coat of water-repellent preservative, or a bleaching oil. This will have to be reapplied periodically to keep the wood’s warm tones.
- Typically lasts for: 1–2 years
Applying a stain/paint to Western Red Cedar
Firstly, make sure the timber isn’t already weathered or wet — both of these factors will increase the risk of coating failure.
If your Western Red Cedar is already weathered, you’ll have to prepare the wood with a heavy-duty clean and restore.
Paint or solid colour stain application
When applying a paint or solid-colour stain, make sure to apply a primer coat before applying the main topcoat. If you’re adding two topcoats, allow the first to cure for the recommended period on the manufacturer’s instructions.
Semi-transparent or water-repellent application
Semi-transparent and oil-based stains are usually best applied with a brush, although this can be achieved with a roller, pad, spray or drip. A second layer can be added for extra protection, but only if the cedar will accept it.
Recoating my Western Red Cedar
After a few years, you might notice that your cedar’s finish is wearing slightly thin. At this point, decide whether you want it to acquire that natural look, or whether you want to give it a new lick.
If you’re looking to recoat Western Red Cedar, give it a gentle scrub with warm, soapy water to remove dirt and mildew, and then recoat. You might also want to invest in a dedicated cleaning product for the purpose — such as a deck cleaner. After the cedar is fully clean, reapply your finish as before.
If you want to recover the original colour of a well-weathered piece of cedar, you’ll need a heavy duty cleaner/restorer.
Tired of restoring your wood? If find you’re going to undesired lengths to keep the cedar looking good, consider buying treated timber. This keeps the wood looking like new for longer.
Ready to start your project?
If you’ve got a Western Red Cedar project in mind, our friendly team of timber experts would be delighted to help and advise. Get in touch to discuss your requirements!