Is cedar good for carving

is cedar good for carving

For many beginner whittlers or anyone inclined to experiment with new materials selecting the right wood is crucial. If you are as curious as me you may have wondered is cedar good for carving?

I did some research and consulted a few colleagues and indeed many agree that cedar is good for carving. However, not all cedars are created equal. There are specific characteristics that make particular species of cedar carving friendly.

Also, there are some species of cedar that are so brittle especially if kiln-dried. how to tell the difference? Let’s dive in and see how to Identify good cedar for carving from all the stubborn ones.

Why even consider cider for carving

As I have started cedar can be carved. However, not all species of cedar are that easy to carve. Most cedar species are quite soft and brittle characteristics that spell disaster in carving especially where great detail is required.

Can cedar be used for carving?
Canadian native cedar wood carving by the late famous Ray Wesley

There are however some characteristics that make cedar still an attractive choice for many whittlers and carvers. let’s go over a few of these characteristics below.

Cedar is very resistant to rot hence a good choice for outdoor carvings

Yes, Cedar is very resistant to rot. In fact, cedar is one of the most weather-resistant species of wood. the wood is parked with polyoxiphenols. These ‘phenols’ are natural oils that act as a finish and therefore make cedarwood water-resistant. The phenols also contain chemicals that act as insect repellants.

These properties make cedarwood quite attractive for carvers that want to display their creativity outdoor. Mostly the carved pieces are large therefore accommodating space for workable details. Chaincarvers are very fond of cedar and many have tried chain carving cedarwood.

The aromatic and beautiful color of cedar

most cedars have phenols these phenols are responsible for the iconic cedar aroma. As for color species like juniper and western cedar has very attractive red abstracted in a range of white to yellow. Such qualities are attractive to carvers that would like their carving to express in smell and or aesthetic.

Cedar is cheap and locally available not to mention very soft

Cedarwood is locally available which makes it cheaper than say Basswood. To add to this cedarwood is also soft. These facts are probably the main reason why many carvers consider using or experimenting with cedarwood in new projects.

We know we can basically carve any type of wood. the problem usually is not understanding wood well enough to demand from it what it cannot deliver. As you will see in the section below some cedar will be more satisfying when carving than others. knowing these types will help you know what to expect with each type.

Best type of cedar for carving

Not all cedars are created equal so not all cedars will respond well to your carving tools when you need them to. So what are the cedars that are good for carving?

Cedar Aromatic

Best type of cedar for carving
Eastern red cedar a.ka Red cedar

Botanical Name: Juniperus virginiana
Other Names: Red cedar, eastern red cedar, Tennessee red cedar, juniper.
Sources: Canada and the eastern U.S.A.
Straight grain; fine texture; reddish-brown; boards often have knots and bark inclusions.
Uses: Carving, linings of closets and chests, veneers, and pencils.
Workability: Generally good, but brittle; may break or chip if not careful.
Finishing: Accepts finishes well, except for turpentine-based products.
Weight: 30 Ib./cu. ft.
Price: Inexpensive.

Cedar Aromatic is a good cedar for carving perhaps the best of the cedar species. Technically though it’s not cedar but produces the phenols that give the cedar scent. This wood is a bit denser compared to its counterpart western red cedar. Western red cedar isn’t as reputable among carvers.

Cedar Aromatic is also very rich in red pigment which accounts for interesting natural patterns. Utilized well it can make a carving very appealing aesthetically.

Care should be taken when carving cedar. Mostly you want to work with heartwood regardless of the species of tree. heartwood is more compact than sapwood and therefore is the most valuable wood for a carver.

Alaska yellow

Best type of cedar for carving Alaska yellow cedar
Alaska yellow cedar a.k.a yellow cedar

botanical Name: Chamaecyparis nootkatensis
Other Names: Yellow cedar, Pacific Coast yellow cedar, Nootka false cypress, yellow cypress.
Source: Pacific Coast of North America.
Characteristics: Straight grain; fine texture; pale yellow.
Uses: Carving, Furniture, joinery, boat building, and veneers.
Workability: Very good; low dulling of cutters.
Finishing: Accepts finishes well.
Weight: 31 Ib./cu. ft.
Price: Moderate.

Alaska yellow is a very durable species of cedar. it has ideally been used in outdoor projects. Like most members of the cedar family, it has a distinct odor that fades gradually with time. it is a beat lighter than cedar aromatic but will still be carved without drama.

For people that are into rowing boats, you can carve your own paddle with this cedar as it is quite light and therefore Ideal.

Things to look out for when selecting Cedar.

The other two common cedars that are western red and white cedar are not so popular for carving. however, they may still be carved with great precaution. We will discuss some of the things to look out for when selecting any cedar for carving.


Avoid cedar timber with too many knots. cedar is quite brittle and working with it requires great control. Knots make this a problem as one has to use extended force to slice knots.

Heartwood vs sapwood

When selecting any wood we want to go for heartwood rather than sapwood. Heartwood is ultimately more dense and stable than sapwood. If your gonna have any luck with detailing using cedar then your best bet is working with heartwood.

Sanding cedar carvings

While sanding cedar makes sure to be in a well-ventilated area or more preferably outside. Additionally use a dust mask when sanding. Exposure to cedar dust may trigger asthmatic creation or cause a deterioration of lung function.

Wrapping up: is cedar good for whittling?

Cedar can be carved but not as easily as basswood. There are many types of cedar some are more carvable than others. remember cedar will be good if fine detailing is not required. some advantage of using cedar is its ability to withstand harsh weather making it attractive for carvings that are meant for outside.

Whittling with cedar is no different from carving but you want your designs to be as simple as possible. this will help prevent unwanted splinters and splits when trying to whittle details. All in all, pick up you piece of cedar and have fun. It’s not a question of whether you can carve cedar but what you can use to carve and still produce something beautiful. In the whittling cave, we think therefore we whittle! happy whittling.

Hadwin Fisher

I'm basically a "Hobby Whittler." Everything I make is for Personal use, gifts for others, or other Items for charity auctions or other "Causes" i.e. "Local Hospital" Etc. Some health issues are interfering with me doing any large-scale projects in my workshop at this Present Time. That said I can't stay idle, whittling, and writing about whittling with my Friend ken Read keeps me sane and happy!

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