Is Redwood A Hardwood or A Softwood?

Redwood is a premium construction lumber popular for its weather resistance. It’s especially common in fencing and decking applications. In addition, it’s the perfect wood species for outdoor furniture.

As a result, many woodworkers often wonder where it comes from, whether it’s hardwood or softwood, and how to use redwood lumber best.

This guide answers these and other common redwood timber questions.

Is Redwood a Hardwood or a Softwood?

No. Redwood isn’t hardwood. Instead, it’s a softwood with a Janka rating of 450 lbf (1868N). This is the mid-range for softwoods and way lower than most hardwoods. That said, it’s among the most weather-resistant woods. Indeed, redwood decks and furniture can last decades outdoors with little or no maintenance.

What is Redwood?

what is a redwood?

Sequoioideae, also known as redwoods, is a subcategory of coniferous trees within the Cupressaceae family.  The most common redwood species are;

  1. European Redwood
  2. Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens)
  3. California Redwood (Giant Sequoia)

The California redwood, the most common species in the US, is native to the north coast of California and southern Oregon.

It’s a massive tree that grows to a staggering 81 meters tall, with trunks as wide as 11 meters.

Is Redwood a Hardwood or a Softwood?

The redwood tree is a softwood specie. Its widespread application in construction often confuses woodworking beginners.

However, redwood trees are not hardwood trees. Instead, it’s a typical softwood comparable to cedar and Douglas fir. (see the battle of cedar vs Douglas fir)

You’re probably wondering what makes it a softwood when it’s such a strong, durable wood species. It all has to do with plant taxonomy.

Hardwoods are angiosperms, flowering plants that produce vibrant flowers once every few months or years. The flowers then produce fruits that house seeds for reproduction.

Also, they are characterized by vessels that transport water throughout the tree. These vessels appear as pores under a microscope.

On the other hand, softwoods are gymnosperms or cone-bearing plants. They don’t bear flowers. Instead, gymnosperms produce naked seeds without fruits.

Indeed, the term “gymnosperm” loosely translates to “naked seeds” in Greek. In addition, softwoods use medullary rays and tracheids (instead of pores) to transport water. They have no pores.

Another key difference between softwoods and hardwoods is that many hardwoods have broad leaves, while softwoods are typically narrow-leaved.

Also, hardwoods shed their leaves seasonally, while softwoods tend to keep their leaves throughout (thus the name evergreen).

A quick inspection finds that redwood has the physical properties of softwoods. Moreover, a 450 lbf rating puts it at home among popular softwoods like pine and fir.

Related read: Is ash a hardwood or a softwood?

Redwood Lumber Characteristics

Redwood is easily identifiable. The following are its common characteristics to help you determine whether it suits your next project.

  • Redwood appearance: Redwood is a beautiful wood with a light pinkish brown to deep reddish brown color that, left unfinished, weathers to a silver-grey color. It has a fine texture and straight grains, though figured redwood isn’t uncommon.
  • Weather resistance: Redwood is a highly weather-resistant soft wood. Its natural oils repel moisture and protect the wood from UV rays.
  • Decay resistance: The tree’s natural tannins further protect it from decay-causing fungi, making redwood highly durable.
  • Others: Redwood is sustainable, fire resistant, and insect resistant. It’s also strong and durable.

Is Redwood Strong? Yes, redwood is strong. It’s not as strong as oak or yellow pine. However, at 450 lbf, it’s sufficiently strong for standard woodworking projects, such as furniture, cabinetry, and shelving. It also makes durable decks, siding, veneers, posts, and fences.

Does Redwood Dent? Unfortunately, yes. It’s one of the biggest disadvantages of redwood. It dents easily, even under regular use. This is the complete opposite of softwood species like southern yellow pine that can take a sudden impact without dings or dents.

Is Redwood Durable? Yes, redwood is naturally durable. But don’t confuse durability with strength. While strength is strictly about impact resistance, durability has more to do with decay resistance. Thankfully, redwood’s natural oils are highly resistant to decay-causing fungi.

Redwood Applications: What is Redwood Used For?

Redwood lumber has endless applications. The following are common ways to put your planks to good use;

  • Decking
  • Outdoor Structures
  • Furniture (including patio furniture)
  • Structural beams
  • Wall trim
  • Musical instruments

Redwood Lumber Grades

One of the beauties of working with redwood is that it comes in so many grades you’ll always find boards that perfectly suit your project.

The grades depend on multiple factors, including the age of the tree, the part of the tree from where the board is cut, the grain direction, and how the wood was developed. Thus, you can choose from more than 30 grades.

The following are the most common grades.

  • Clear all heart: This is the highest quality redwood grade, typically certified kiln-dried. It’s fine timber obtained from the heartwood of old-growth trees and free of defects on at least one face. Clear-all heart redwood is architectural-grade lumber commonly used for paneling, cabinetry, siding, and millwork.
  • Heart-Clear and Heart-B: Heart-Clear and Heart-B redwood grades are also obtained from the heartwood but contain minor imperfections.
  • Clear and B-Grade (sapwood): These are architectural grades obtained from the sapwood. Clear redwood boards are of higher quality than B-grade boards.
  • Construction heart: This is a garden-level redwood grade for decks, posts, fences, and garden construction. The boards contain visible knots and other imperfections.
  • Others: Other redwood grades include deck heart and merchantable heart (both garden-level options obtained from the heartwood) and construction common (con common and deck common (obtained from the sapwood).

Is Redwood Good for Flooring?

The short answer is no. Though beautiful and charming, redwood isn’t strong enough for flooring. It especially makes a poor choice for high-traffic areas, such as living rooms and kitchens, as it dents far too easy compared to hardwoods.

For instance, canned goods falling from the countertop will certainly leave dents or scratches on a redwood kitchen floor but not an oak floor.

That said, redwood is a worthwhile flooring material for low-traffic rooms, like a personal spa room. In such cases, its elegance and decay resistance are the biggest attractions. Moreover, redwood costs half the price of oak.

Is Redwood Good for Furniture?

Yes, redwood is the gold standard for outdoor furniture. It combines two qualities most woods don’t – elegance and resistance to outdoor elements.

For instance, redwood’s tannins make it naturally moisture-resistance, thus perfect for garden furniture, picnic benches, patio furniture, and outdoor dining sets.

But be warned that redwood scratches more easily than most furniture wood, such as maple and oak. It’s also a high-maintenance wood species.

Above all, redwood furniture weather to a silver-grey tone within a few years if you don’t oil them regularly.

Is Redwood Good for Fencing?

Yes, redwood is among the best fencing woods. Its inherent resistance to rot and decay guarantees a durable fence that can last decades with good maintenance.

Indeed, a redwood fence can last 25 years with little or no maintenance. Redwood fences are also naturally resistant to moths, termites, and other pests.

Among the various grades, con common is the most popular redwood fencing material. It’s strong and durable but more affordable than the other redwood grades.

Alternatively, consider Con-Heart (construction heart). It’s slightly more expensive than con common but smoother, with fewer visible knots. It’s also more resistant to pests and insects.

Read also: How long does cedar fence last?

Is Redwood Harder than Pine?

Redwood (450 lbf) is harder than sugar pine (380 lbf) and white pine (380 lbf) but softer than yellow pine (870 lbf).

Therefore, yellow cedar can be used for staircases and structural members, but redwood can’t. However, redwood is more rot-resistant than pine. It’s also more weather-resistant.

Read also: Is pine wood hard or soft?

Is Redwood Harder than Cedar?

Comparing cedar vs redwood, we find that redwood is harder than most cedar softwood species. For instance, it’s 23% harder than the western red cedar (350 lbf) and about 25% harder than the eastern white cedar (320 lbf).

However, it’s softer than the Alaskan yellow cedar (580 lbf) and the eastern red cedar (900 lbf). But the latter two cedar species are rare. Therefore, most comparisons often pit redwood against western red cedar softwood lumber

Is Redwood Harder than Oak?

No. Redwood is softer than oak wood. This isn’t surprising given that oak is a hardwood, whereas redwood is a softwood.

However, you may be surprised by the difference in hardness. Red oak wood (1290 lbf) is more than four times harder than redwood, and white oak (1350 lbf) is even harder.

Is Redwood Harder than Cypress?

In terms of hardness, cypress usually surpasses redwood. The cypress hardness tends to be higher. Although redwood has respectable hardness, cypress generally outmatches it.

This quality renders cypress more favorable for tasks requiring durability, including outdoor constructions and crafting.

Is Redwood Good for Outdoor Use?

Yes. Redwood is one of the best types of wood for outdoor use. Granted, it’s not as strong as popular hardwoods like maple and mahogany.

However, its durability and weather resistance makes it a great choice for light outdoor projects like fencing, decking, and siding. It’s also a great choice for outdoor furniture.

Is Redwood Expensive?

No. Redwood isn’t expensive. There’s a common misconception that it’s an expensive wood species. But a quick check shows it’s within the price range of most softwoods.

For instance, although it’s more expensive than Douglas fir, pine, and even cedar, the difference rarely exceeds 20%. More importantly, it’s cheaper than popular hardwoods like oak and walnut. 

How to Finish Redwood

Polyurethane, Danish oil (see: Danish oil finish on pine), and lacquer are the best finishes for redwood projects. First, sand the project to a minimum of 220 grit.

Then wipe the surface with a dry cloth, allow it to dry, and rub the finish onto the surface. Alternatively, consider tung oil, conversion oil, beeswax, shellac, or linseed oil.

Related reads:

Is sycamore soft or hardwood?

What is the most expensive wood in the world?

FAQs

Is redwood good quality wood?

Yes, redwood is one of the highest-quality woods. It’s among nature’s most durable materials, easily withstanding weather and external elements. Moreover, redwood boasts protective natural tannins that repel insects and put off rot-causing fungi. Above all, redwood is beautiful and easy to work with. So, it’s a darling among woodworkers. 

What is redwood good for?

Redwood is mainly used for fencing, decking, framing, and siding. In addition, its beauty and rot resistance makes redwood perfect for patios and patio covers. Other redwood lumber applications include furniture making, cabinetry, flooring, shingles, and general construction. It works for nearly every woodworking project.

Is redwood expensive?

No, redwood isn’t expensive. Granted, it’s pricier than common softwoods like pine or Douglas fir. Also, high-grade redwood can be very expensive, up to $35 per board foot. However, standard redwood grades cost in the same range as western red cedar. For instance, a regular redwood deck costs as little as $1.35 per board foot.

Read also: Best clear sealer for redwood fence.

Summary 

Redwood is not hardwood. It’s a softwood from the Cupressaceae family, which also includes pines and cypresses.

Indeed, it’s a mid-range softwood with a 450 lbf rating on the Janka scale, comparable to Ponderosa pine (460 lbf) and Sitka Spruce (510 lbf). So, don’t confuse it with hardwoods.

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