The short answer: both are naturally durable and perform equally well for exterior projects. Your choice will come down to which you prefer the look of, and whether you’re running a budget — douglas fir typically comes in at a slightly cheaper price point than western red cedar.
For more detail, let’s dive a little deeper.
Western Red Cedar vs. Douglas Fir: Appearance
Western red cedar is usually a reddish-brown, with occasional salmon pinks and darker chocolate hues. This striking colour variation offers warmth and natural beauty — an incredibly versatile contemporary design choice.
Douglas fir typically shows a light brown-soft yellow colour, sometimes with hints of red. It has a mixed, wild grain pattern that adds a sense of character and is mostly knot free.
It’s important to note that both species will slowly attain a silvery-grey appearance after around a year of being exposed outdoors. This process is the result of moisture and the sun’s UV stripping the wood of its cellulose.
This ‘bleaching’ process can be offset, and the wood’s natural colour preserved, by applying a water repellent finish (like Owatrol H4 Wood) or a semi-transparent stain (we’d recommend something like Owatrol Textrol HES).
Western Red Cedar vs. Douglas Fir: Properties
There’s not much to separate western red cedar and douglas fir when it comes to durability — natural substances in the wood help to protect them from destructive outdoor forces like insects and fungal attack.
Wood is a breathable material that reacts to its surroundings, contracting and expanding when it gets humid. This is not a huge issue with cedar and fir; they’re both fairly dimensionally stable. This is why both are favourites for exterior projects like cladding and fencing.
Despite this, you may still want to apply some treatments; this can help to offset any moisture-related damage like cracking, warping or splitting. Fortunately, we’ve written a couple of dedicated guides on precisely that topic!
Both species are very pleasant to work with, boasting solid machining, ease of fixing, glueing and finishing properties.
Douglas fir slightly edges out western red cedar when it comes to hardness (fir scores 660 lbf on the Janka hardness test compared to 330 lbf for cedar). That said, people don’t usually opt for either species as a result of their density or scratch resistance; they’re both softwoods that are somewhat prone to damage from excessive knocks, bumps and abrasion. For this reason, it’s less common to see the species applied for decking.
Western Red Cedar vs. Douglas Fir: Cost
Cost is one area where these two timbers differ: western red cedar typically commands a premium compared to douglas fir.
Let’s say you’re wanting to clad a garden room with the following dimensions: 3.8 length x 2.4m width, 2.2m height. To cover all walls in a V-groove cladding profile and allow for an 8’ bifold door, you’ll need in the region of 22m² of cladding. Allowing for approximately 10% for waste on top, the total required would be 24m².
- Western red cedar — approx. £1,512 (£63 per m²)
- Douglas fir — approx £1,272 (£53 per m²)
Of course, this doesn’t include any costs if you were to hire a contractor to install the cladding.
For a slatted fencing project, western red cedar currently fetches around £2.75 + VAT per m2 with 45 x 70mm slats. This compares to £1.75 + VAT for the equivalent in douglas fir — making it around a third cheaper.
These cost differences are purely the result of market forces — demand for cedar outstrips that of fir.
If you’re running a tighter budget, then douglas fir might be the one for you. It can always be stained to look similar to cedar; we’d recommend a product like Owatrol Textrol HES.
Note: all costs are accurate as of September 2023 and are subject to change.
Western Red Cedar vs. Douglas Fir: Sustainability
Western red cedar and douglas fir are rated as ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Both species are softwoods with relatively quick growth times, making them easier to manage sustainably.
Since they can be replanted, trees are a 100% renewable resource. But this doesn’t mean they’re sustainable — if woodland is managed irresponsibly and trees aren’t given the opportunity to replenish, then we have a problem.
When sourced sustainably, wood is an excellent choice for a building material from an environmental perspective. Trees sequester carbon dioxide — the principal greenhouse gas — from the atmosphere during their growth.
When you buy your timber, be sure it’s from a merchant with a clear environmental commitment and rigorous purchasing policy.
Made your mind up?
Whether you end up with western red cedar or douglas fir, you’ve made a fabulous choice — trust us. Both are incredibly durable, naturally stunning timbers.
All of our timber is sustainably sourced and imported from northwest North America before being machined to profile by us, right here in North Yorkshire! We’re able to deliver right across the UK.
To discuss your next project, drop us a line by clicking the button below or messaging through our website contact page.