Spanish Cedar for Furniture?

Characteristics of Spanish Cedar make it problematic, even for porch furniture. January 27, 2007

We're a two man cabinet shop and have a customer that wants us to make her a couple of coffee tables for her porch, the rails of which are Spanish cedar - she wants them to match (she decided against ipe, which is what the deck is made of, to our delight). We don't use Spanish cedar much, being a cabinet shop. Seems like it would be too soft for a table surface. Is there a harder alternative that will closely resemble it? We thought of mahogany, but it's one arm, one leg per board foot compared to cedar right now. By the way, would you finish this with spar, since it will sit on the porch (shaded from sun and rain fairly well), or would pre-cat or CV do the trick?

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor M:
I use Spanish cedar for the linings of my humidors - and you're able to very easily scratch that species with just a thumbnail. It's not robust enough for furniture unless behind glass in a museum.

How about lyptus? Similar coloring, similar graining, much higher modulus of elasticity and rupture than Spanish cedar. Also should be one limb cheaper than mahogany per bf.

Spar is not any more waterproof nor appreciably any more UV resistant than regular varnish. It's got more long oils in the mix to promote flexibility more than anything else. In my experience it's got adhesion issues after just one season, meaning it'll need to be sanded/recoated every year and stripped entirely and refinished from the ground up about one season out of five.

I applied spar to a north-facing exterior patio door, located under a cantilevered overhang of my own house a few years ago and sorely wish I didn't. Maintenance is a bear, cosmetics are great for about 30 days, and then the bloom comes off of the rose. This summer it gets stripped and I'll be searching for another product.

From contributor P:
I've used Spanish cedar for several projects, and it's not as soft as you might think. It's certainly not as soft as the North American cedars. It's often used in Central America for paneling and doors. In fact, I've read that it's one of the most utilized woods down there. If mahogany, which is the closest match, is too expensive, I'd suggest giving the customer what he/she wants and be done with it. It's nice stuff to work with. Just be careful of stock, which is oozing sap from pockets. It may never stop, and messes up your finish. For outside use, I'd go with spar, since it can be easily touched up or refinished, if necessary, which is more than can be said for the more exotic choices.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. Does Spanish cedar change color appreciably with sunlight as cherry and mahogany do?

From contributor M:
Can't answer that for you - my Spanish cedar stays in dark, humid environments and remains unfinished, lending moisture to rolled tobacco products.

Do heed contributor P's point about the sap weeping, though. Spanish cedar likes to unexpectedly weep sticky sap out of some boards. That'll positively play hob with a finish. So be very discriminating with board selection if you do end up using this species. (I still think lyptus should be considered instead... but hey, that's just me.)

From contributor P:
How about using Meranti, which is great for this application as well as for decking. I'm in the Northeast and we're paying about two dollars a lineal foot for milled 1"thick by 5.5" wide, which I've also been using for screen door material for the last seven years. Its properties are about the same as mahogany and the machinability is fantastic. I've even used it for exterior cabinetry in a semi-covered area, porch/patio, and they really hold up well. Five years so far and still look new. As for an exterior finish, I'd go with the West System Epoxy, clear resin with the catalyst, no fiber, brush it on, sand with 320, then rub on a clear gel coat.

From contributor K:
The latest edition of Woodshop News has an article about using Spanish cedar as a mahogany substitute. Some discussion of market trends and availability. Also, some time ago, when humidors were the rage, I read that there are several species out there. The sappy types are less desirable species. Apparently, the true Spanish cedar is less or not sappy.

From contributor S:
White oak?

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor D:
I've just finished milling about 1000 bf of Spanish cedar for a pergola that I designed. What I learned is that it varies in density and color as widely as any wood I've ever seen. That explains the soft and hard perceptions of the wood if the user has only worked with small quantities. Overall, I like the wood. It tools nicely and has a short grain structure much like mahogany.