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Newspaper Article, The Record

Western Red Cedar, Clear and Knotty Grade

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The majority of Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) used for decks, grows in the Pacific Northwest. This particular species of cedar is also be found in a number of other common exterior products for the home including, roof shakes, siding, saunas and hot tubs. Cedar is an ideal wood for high moisture conditions.

A warm palette of colors and attractive grain, cedar is perhaps one of the most colorful woods available for exterior projects. Colors range from a light pink hue to deep reddish browns. 

Performance Characteristics

Cedar contains natural oils (phenols) which help prevent decay and insect attack. The wood has a dense cell structure, about ten million cells per cubic inch. It shrinks and swells very little, stays flat and resists checking. It can be left untreated to weather naturally to a silvery gray color or a deck finish can be applied to preserve the wood's rich colors.

Lumber Grades

Cedar comes in several grades, the most common is Knotty and Clear. Clear Cedar has very few knots and blemishes and is considered prime choice when it comes to building decks.

Knotty Cedar also referred to as Tight Knot Cedar is a lower cost alternative to Clear Cedar. This grade of Cedar has many knots and grain variations. Most of the knots are from live branches, very few if any will ever fall out.

Life Expectancy

When properly maintained a Clear Cedar deck may last as long as 40 years.

Knotty Cedar is a popular alternative to Clear Cedar. The boards are often milled from younger trees and may not have fully developed the natural oils found in older growth forests. Knotty Cedar tends to last less than Clear Cedar.

Average Cost

A Clear Cedar deck can cost around $18 per square foot not include the substructure. 5/4x6 decking cost about $6 per square foot.

A Knotty Cedar deck cost about $14 per square foot which does not include the substructure. Deck boards cost about $2.50 per square foot.


Cedar tends to shrink less than other species of wood. Depending on the moisture content of the lumber, boards will generally shrink a small amount in length and in width. The preferred method is to install boards with a small 1/8 - 3/16 inch space between them.

Installed Cedar with stainless steel screws or stainless steel nails to avoid wood bleed. Wood bleed stains occur when cedar comes in contact with certain metals and moisture. This is a common problem among cedar and some other soft woods. For best results pre-drill and screw boards. Drilling helps prevent the wood from splitting and using screws as opposed to nails will eliminate the possibility of nail heads popping up and secure the boards better.

Resent studies have found no advantage in which side of the board is installed up. At one time it was suggested that the bark side of the board face up to help minimize the wood from cupping. This is no longer supported and standard construction practice is to put the best looking side up.


Cedar will darken and gray over time. Periodic applications of a deck sealer will help maintain the rich color of cedar. For additional information see our maintenance page.

Safety Concerns

Use protective clothing, dust mask and eye protection when working with wood.


Cedar is becoming a popular alternative to lumber that contains chemicals. It offers a beauty and warmth that cannot be compared to any other wood. Cedar comes in a variety of dimensions which makes it easy to use in many outdoor projects.

Western Red Cedar, Clear and Knotty Grade
Western Red Cedar
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