Wood Choices for Exterior Shutters

Spanish Cedar, Redwood, Cedar, and Cypress lead the list. May 24, 2010

Last year I quoted a two panel raised panel shutter (exterior) job. I quoted it with Spanish cedar. I was beat out by a lumber yard that did shutters. Well, by good/bad luck they didn't have the money to do the job and they are once again asking me to quote the job. I have done a lot of work for them and they always give me first crack at it. So, I was wondering what other species of wood can do the job as effective as cedar and be more cost effective? I doubt they will go for composite and I know vinyl is out of the question. Any thoughts on a less expensive option that would work well? They will be painted.

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor M:
Consensus (depending on your locale) seems to be (cost and going to be painted):

1. Cypress (here in So. Cal. it has replaced redwood for stucco mold and window sills).
2. Western red cedar - just bought some 8/4 in the rough for some exterior gates- planed it down and milled it - stuff is near perfect- flat and true as can be. Cost me bout $35 for a 8/4 x 6 x 6.
3. Windsor One? Touted for exterior- don't know if it has a proven track record yet- so jury's still out on that product.

From contributor J:
I'm inclined to think with a good top coat and maintenance schedule, wood species is not as important as it once was because of the improvements in coatings. I'm in Wisconsin, in a region that exteriors or commonly finished in stained pine. Not because of durability, but because it's the look people want. But these buildings are standing the test of time, if they are maintained. Not an answer, but something to consider I guess.

From the original questioner:
While I tend to agree that the coatings today are much more durable than they were years ago the two things that I would need to overcome would be the customers thoughts about cedar being thee wood for the project and the maintenance issue. No matter how good the coatings are they are only as good as how well they are taken care of. After that, the wood takes a major role in longevity. Something to have them think about.

From contributor R:
I would not compromise on the wood species to save the customer money. You have been around long enough to know if there is a failure you will be the responsible party. If they don't want to pay for a quality job let it go. I built 24 pair of raised panel shutters last summer and ended up using clear western red cedar, 6/4 and 4/4, $5- $6 BF. The 6/4 was excellent, was somewhat disappointed in the 4/4. My supplier, Sweetwater in Atlanta (I'm in east TN) did have another product which might be an economical option, he carried a pencil cedar in a molding grade for about half the cost, I did not use it as the shutters I built were large and I wasn't sure If I could work around the knots, in retrospect I wish I had taken the time to drive over and check it out before buying, but it may be an option for you depending on the job. I would not recommend cypress unless you could select it for vertical grain and all heart which would probably be impractical for a large job.

From contributor B:
We once had a customer who insisted on poplar for his raised panel shutters and said it wouldn't matter. He'd take care of the painting and they'd be fine. He bought the responsibility with the shutters and six months later we were patching them up.

From contributor H:
I'm also in CT and would say that Spanish cedar is about a low cost as you are going to get in an exterior species. To be honest I don't see where there is that much material in a shutter so as to make a huge difference in price anyway. As to competing against a shutter manufacturer you are not going to be able to beat their price anyway. They have dedicated equipment that speeds things up significantly. You have to sell your quality to make up the difference.

From contributor O:
We're in CT also we use Spanish cedar for everything exterior, sometimes African mahogany, but best results with Spanish cedar. With polyurethane glue we've done some complex projects and have always been happy.

From contributor F:
The longevity here is far more dependent on the finishing process than the species. I typically bring in some handpicked 2 x 8ís of PT pine, straight QS grain is best. Let them dry on stickers for a while (I try to have some always on the rack drying for future use). I have had great luck with a good oil based paint system on nice dry PT pine raised panels in exterior applications.

From contributor A:
In my experience you can often get away with using the off the shelf S4S vertical grain cedar or redwood for many projects. Keep in mind that these shutters are getting screwed or hinged to the exterior side of a house. We've made very nice and surprising flat paneled rooms using well dried S4S redwood. The amount of labor saved using S4S should help you out. I doubt that a shutter manufacturer is using cedar. Sugar pine is often their choice for a non rot resistant wood. Our local UBS (United Builders Supply) usually has plenty of old dry stock on hand. Take a moisture meter, cedar form the mill can be pretty wet.