Monday, July 15, 2013

Aromatic Cedar

Aromatic cedar (usually the tree is called red cedar or red juniper, but the lumber is called aromatic cedar) is a North American species that grows from the east coast through to the eastern part of the Great Plains. It's distinctive for its distinctive fresh smell; if you ever smell it, you'll know.

It ended up being grown extensively in Oklahoma. One of my family's roots runs through the red soil of that state and my great grandfather's farm was home to many red cedars, which helped serve as windbreaks during the Dust Bowl.

More on this species after the jump...

By far the most distinctive thing about aromatic cedar is its smell. The aroma that comes from a freshly cut or unfinished piece of its lumber is both pleasant as well as drives away moths and other insects. For this reason the biggest applications of aromatic cedar are to line closets and to build cedar chests.

Typically to line a closet a person will take cedar boards at 1/2" to 5/8" thick (don't buy the Home Depot garbage at 1/4", they charge way more than they should and provide you with thin, crappy product to boot), rip them into uniform widths of 4" or 5", and then they mill a tongue and groove into the edges. This allows the boards to lock together edge to edge. Some of the bit sets used for milling will put a small bevel on the faces of the boards, which accentuates the appearance that the surface is made from multiple planks.

An example of two aromatic cedars joined via tongue and groove with a bevel.

Once you have a pile of tongue and grooved cedar planks, just line the closet with 'em. Voila, sweet smelling closet.

Cedar chests are usually very rustic and fit well in a cabin setting. The insides are left unfinished so you get the aroma. It's a good box to store linens in because of the fresh smell and insect resistance. Smaller cedar chests are sometimes called toy chests, and could be used for a child's toy storage, but I'd suggest against for the simple reason that aromatic cedar is fairly soft (900 lbf on the Janka Hardness Scale). Despite it's moderate scoring on the hardness scale, it's a very air-filled wood that mars easily.

Aromatic cedar has a highly variable appearance ranging from mostly light tan:

to violet-tinged red streaked with light color:

to more uniform areas of red and tan:

The wood is typically knotty, and in fact is part of its desired character.

When you put finish onto aromatic cedar the light tans take on a slightly more golden hue, and the red starts to overpower the violet and darkens to take on more brown character:

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