Port Orford Cedar vs Western Red Cedar?

Discussion in 'Wooden Boat Building and Restoration' started by Thomas Wick, Apr 19, 2007.

  1. Thomas Wick
    Joined: Feb 2007
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    Thomas Wick Junior Member

    I called a local lumber supplier to aquire the Western Red Cedar for my 27' strip plank boat project and was given a very strong sales pitch on Port Orford Cedar. I know WRC is a little lighter, more brittle and for the most part equally rot resistant. According to the sales person they have alot of the stuff on hand, both air and kiln dried, ready to be custom milled. I was qouted approx 600.00 for a 20' 4"by4", a full 4"by4"...not sure what that works out to per board foot after milling, shrinkage and planing. If costs were not an issue what wood is best for this type of application? If Port Orford Cedar is far bettter of a boat building product, how much better and how much more money should I spend to get it. This boat will be covered with biax glass and epoxy on the outside.

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  2. gonzo
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    gonzo Senior Member

    If you are going to fiberglass the hull, the wood is largely a core. It doesn't make a lot of difference between the types of wood. Rot resistance is irrelevant on a fiberglassed structure.
  3. tom28571
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    tom28571 Senior Member

    $600 for a 4X4X20':eek: That is only a little over 18 BF. Surely there is a mistake in translation somewhere.
  4. John Olson
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    John Olson Junior Member

    Port Orford Cedar vs Western Red Cedar

    Hello Thomas,

    I am a boat builder and this is the first time I am using this site. I will weigh in on your question and hope it helps.

    First, both Port Orford Cedar and Western Red Cedar are exceptional woods for boat building. There are several reasons for this some of which are; very high 'Strength to Weight Ratios,' high natural resistance to decay, and large and long clear tree trunks from which long quality timbers can be milled. On the other hand they are not very strong for a given thickness relative to woods like Oak or many other species. You can easily see this if you compare similar dimension sticks of these woods. One critical measure is how strong is a kilogram of one species over the other. This is where both of these cedars are exceptional - their strength to weight. Additionally, for most applications, it does not matter if timber being used for a boat is thicker. In fact, in composite wood construction like strip planking or cold-molding, the additional thickness for a given weight is an advantage in strength (stiffness) as well as insulation properties.

    To your specific question, an inch thickness of Port Orford is somewhat stronger and heavier that an inch thickness of Western Red Cedar. If you use identical weights of these materials per square area of boat hull (deck, etcetera), you will have a thicker construction using Western Red Cedar to equal the same weight per unit area if you were using Port Orford.

    However! Being a vehicle, as boats are intended to be, it is not just a matter of stronger, thicker, lighter, etcetera. The point is to build strong enough, with a reasonable margin of safety for the application. If a builder starts using stronger, heavier, thicker, better this and better that - well, the result is not the original design any longer. The vessel will possibly float lower in the water, does not perform well, or possibly is unusable - it is not any longer the same design at all. The design, engineering, and ultimate use have been altered possibly to significant detriment.

    I am a big fan of both these species of cedar. Port Orford Cedar has become very scarce due to it's relatively smaller geographic growing range, and high demand amongst other factors. This makes for very high prices as you were quoted. A board foot is 144 cubic inches of wood. Your 4"x4"x20 foot timber is 3840 cubic inches (4x4x12x20), or 26.7 board feet (3840 / 144). So that is actually $22.40 per board foot, significantly more than $18 per board foot. None of these prices are in themselves outrageous for perfect clear old growth Port Orford Cedar. Roughly speaking, you should be able to purchase Western Red Cedar of the same quality for about one third of the price of Port Orford.

    The first boat I built was a 27 foot cold-molded racing sloop. It was built from from four 1/8" thick veneers of Western Red Cedar and laminated with Epoxy. This is a far more labor intensive building process than strip planking, though the results are exceptional. At 30 years old, this little boat is still as strong as day one, and nearly as beautiful with the original clear finish.

    Lastly, I assume you are stip-planking, and then coating the exterior surfaces with glass and epoxy for abrasion and moisture protection. While the glass indeed adds some structural strength, the strip planking provides the brunt of the strength. It is not a core as one reply suggested. Additionally rot resistance is always a factor in wood construction - even if it is a core. Actually, as a core, rot resistance is as critical as is bonding for all types of cores. Both factors potentially being life or death parameters in boat construction.

    Without knowing much about your project, if cost were not an issue, I would have a knowledgeable naval architect or professional boat builder review decisions about timber species and scantlings (wood thicknesses, weights, reinforcement, etcetera). If cost is an issue, then I believe the most prudent advice would be to follow the original design - assuming it was designed by a qualified naval architect/engineer.

    Hope that long winded answer is helpful. Happy boat building. John
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  5. lazeyjack

    lazeyjack Guest

    john Olsen

    Excellent post, you just got a point on feedback!!
    its very obvious you have HANDS on experience, welcome
  6. hansp77
    Joined: Mar 2006
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    Location: Melbourne Australia


    I am wondering if LazeyJack accidently gave (John) negative feedback (reputation) rather than positive? :confused: It is pretty easy to do.
    I can't imagine why anyone would give bad feedback from that post.
    So I'll second Jacks Sentiments, say welcome, and give some positive feedback too.

  7. Rusty Bucket
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    Rusty Bucket Junior Member

    How much a b.f.?

    Hi Guys, I'm a metal boatbuilder but I make my regular living building structures out of wood. I read all the different forums becouse I love boats and don't really care what they're made of, I even subscribe to WoodenBoat. Having said that I have to say that I'm stunned to read that a 4x4x20 cedar post could bring 600.00. Is that a typo? regards rusty
  8. John Olson
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    John Olson Junior Member


    Hello Rusty Bucket,

    I don't believe the $600 price for a piece of Port Orford Cedar is a typo. As I mentioned in my first post here, it is a very hightly sought after species. The dealers/suppliers are taking advantage of that. A perfect 4x4 that is 20 feet long is also a premium piece. The major consumers of this species are the Japanese. Dollars are cheap to them, and many people in that society appreciate the color and quality of this wood. I understand it is very similar to a Cedar which was utilized to near extenction on the Japanese Islands. This is the traditional reason for their demand for it.

    On the other hand I would not be surprised if Mr. Wick could find the same piece for less than half that much (possibly $10 per board foot) if he shopped around. He has the unique situation of living in Southern Oregon where this wood grows - a small 60 mile coastal region of Northern California/Southern Oregon. I would be very surprised if he found it for $5 per board foot in the small quantity he seeks. I would appreciate contact information for suppliers in this area if any of you know some. I have a couple of hundred board feet of 4/4 (1" thick) Port Orford Cedar in clear vertical grain. It is left after a previous project which I over-purchased for. The price is my price - $12 per board foot - which is the cost I paid many years ago for a much larger quantity.

    It is a very nice wood, rare, and in high demand. From my point of view, I would definitely use another species unless my customer demanded it. I had a customer that demanded Port Orford Cedar before, and that is part of the reason I know the wood from personal experience. For my own boat, I would have used Alaska Yellow Cedar or Western Red Cedar. From my experience, both are about a third the price in similar grades. Alaska Yellow Cedar is very similar in strength and could be directly substituted. Western Red Cedar is a little weaker and much darker in Color. If that darker color is suitable, then the user needs to use just a little larger scantling to equal the strength. Again, this is where the engineering comes in that I discussed in my earlier post.

    Another thing to consider, is that a perfect 20 foot long 4x4 would typically be more expensive than two 20 foot long 2x4's. That might not be totally intuitive because of the additional cutting. However, given a tree trunk, there are an infinite number of clear pieces (smaller and smaller pieces) to be had, and a much more finite number of very large clear pieces. There are lots of six inch pieces of clear timber in an eight foot 2x4, but the sum is no greater than the $2 spent on the whole.

    Conclusion - maybe we should all plant and grow some Port Orford Cedar if we want our great great great grandchildren to be very wealthy! Somebody is probably doing this too!

    Best Regards,

  9. Rusty Bucket
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    Rusty Bucket Junior Member

    Expensive wood!

    Hey John, Thanks for the reply, I found it to be very interesting and informative. Is it just me as a metal boatbuilder or do people who build boats of wood notice a "cult of species" that requires the wood to be both exotic and expensive in order to be suitable for quality boatbuilding? Does Poplar have a use in boatbuilding? Regards, rusty
  10. John Olson
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    John Olson Junior Member


    Hello Rusty,

    Some people get their mind bent on a specific species of wood. Then it is hard to convince them otherwise. Unfortunately this problem applies to making war too -look at our president!

    I like Port Orford Cedar very much myself. Though being of a more frugal nature, for a personal project I would choose a less expensive wood with suitable characteristics.

    Regarding the suitability of Poplar for boat building, I have wondered this myself in the past and did a little research back then. Poplar seems to be quite abundant in Europe. If you do an internet search for "Eurolite" I think you will find Poplar marine plywood. It is quite low density - hence the word Eurolite. I did not look in depth at it's physical properties. In my recollection it is on the weaker side of many other woods - just as cedar is. I seem to remember that it is very susceptible to fungus and rotting which would make it unsuitable for traditionally planked boats which absorb considerable moisture.

    However, just like cedar, I suspect it might have a "high strength to weight ratio." This is one paramount attribute I look for in my preferred boat building method - cored cold molded construction. It's susceptibility to rot being the one drawback I could determine.

    In cold molding, multiple wood veneers are laminated with epoxy over a jig or framework. The result is essentially a formed sheet of plywood. In cored cold molding, a core from foam, honeycomb, or end grain balsa is integrated (again by lamination with epoxy) between inner and outer skins of laminated veneer (plywood). The result is a core sandwiched between plywood. Ultimately a sort of wood composite.

    Typical veneers are cedars. Theoretically Poplar could be used for either core or inner veneer layers. I mention theoretically because in theory cold moded laminates are protected from moisture absorbtion by epoxy. Epoxy is truly a moisture proof substance. So it is utilized between layers as an adhesive, and on the exposed inner and outer surface layers for moisture protection. I would not use Poplar for the outer surface layer because that layer is more prone to damage from collisions and abrasion. Once the surface protection is damaged there would be water absorption, then possibly deterioration from fungus. Poplar plywood used for interiors would presumably require similar protection to keep it intact.

    Strength requirements of this cold molded composite wood sandwich increase towards the inner and outer surfaces of the total laminate. Ideally a person could design this composite with the lightest weight and lowest strength core at the middle "neutral axis". Higher strength (usually higher weight too) would be utilized in progression towards the susrfaces. This principle could be utilized to build very large wood boats or other wood structures. Obviously the complexity is limitless, and the engineering requirements grow along with it.

    That is the extent of my research and thinking on Poplar. If and when cedar becomes too expensive to be reasonable for some projects I will do some more research and experimentation with Poplar.

    Sorry for my long winded answers. I am enjoying this forum for now. Have fun building and don't breath to much of those metal fumes!


  11. PAR
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    PAR Yacht Designer/Builder

    Port Oxford cedar is becoming increasingly more difficult to get in reasonable lengths and quality. It's use in boat building is well documented, not for local fare, but for its excellent physical properties. This lack of availability and continued demand drives the cost up, just like most everything in life, that is highly prized and in short supply.

    There are a few types of Poplar, with yellow being most desirable for planking. Many of the barns throughout the Midwest, have fine yellow Poplar siding on them, which stand in the weather, unpainted for decades. Unfortunately, this too is all but gone, which leaves the white version, which has much less rot resistance and strength, making it less desirable for marine uses.
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  12. alan white
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    alan white Senior Member

    Which brings up another wood, Sitka spruce. Anyone know what this is selling for in spar lengths, say at least 16 ft to 20 ft, 5"x5"?
    I'd guess, like Port Orford cedar, it's up there in price. I have been using Eastern white spruce and fir for spars.

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  13. Rusty Bucket
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    Rusty Bucket Junior Member

    Poplar Wood

    Hey everybody, John the reason I asked about the Poplar wood is becouse I have a farm in south central Tennessee, this is Amish country and I buy quite a bit of lumber from a couple of Amish sawmills. I just bought 80 2x6x10's and 13 3x8x12's for $671.00, the 2x6's were sticker stacked for 60 days and then planed on one side. This wood looks exactly like the lumber for sale in Lowes that's going for about $4.oo a bf. The Amish spend six days a week ten hours a day sawing railroad ties out of this stuff, they also build just about everything from houses to furniture with it. Hey Par... I've got a pile of that poplar sitting under some tin out by my pole barn if you want it, I'm about 45 minutes from downtown Eustis, free if you'll come get it! regards rusty
  14. alan white
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    alan white Senior Member

    The greener variety is a better wood from my experience. I've used poplar native to this area, and it is white and unfit for cabinet use. Too bad because I own hundreds of trees, which grow like weeds here in Maine.
    I would be very careful to choose a poplar for boat use, as there is an obvious difference between one type and another. Maybe it's a slower growing poplar that does better. As I said, they grow fast here and a good windstorm will always leave a few splitting somewhere halfway up the trunk.
    As far as suseptability to rot, I do not know. Encapsulated wood is not prone to exposure.
    I do know that I would choose spruce over poplar for lightness. I would guess from experience that some poplars, particularly the greener colored stuff, weighs about 32-34 lbs per cubic foot. Spruce is not only light, but incredibly resistent to splitting. I chop wood and half the time the spruce has to be sawn down the middle because the maul won't split it as easily as oak or any other wood.
    If mostly clear air dried 2x4s could be found, they would produce good strip stock. They would cost about $1.50 a board foot, waste factored in.
    Eastern white spruce is also great spar material, lighter than fir and very resistent to splitting. Even debarked saplings make good masts. I plan to put up a few straight ones this year, let them dry in the barn.


  15. artemis
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    artemis Steamboater

    Just as an aside to Port Orford cedar... Growing up in the Pacific Northwest (Puget Sound and then Portland these days) I was told 30+ years ago by an "old timer" than the unavailability (at that time) of Port Orford cedar was due to its outstanding qualities as cell separators in large marine batteries - like those used in submarines! Sometime in the late 1930s the US Navy had the Port Orford stand in Oregon declared a Naval Reserve. This effectively stopped all cutting of the trees for anything other than US Navy use. With the advent of nuclear power, the extensive use of batteries in submarines declined and eventually (1980s?) the stands were opened to commercial cutting.

    In the 1970s/1980s the woods favored for planking in the Puget Sound area were, in order of preference:
    1. Port Orford cedar (if you could get it);
    2. Alaska White cedar (by the mid 1970s it was rapidly disappearing to Japan);
    3. Alaska Yellow cedar;
    4. western red cedar.

    I never had the opportunity to work with Port Orford but did some replanking on a couple of wood hulls with Alaska White - nice stuff, easy to shape and steam bend; took fasteners well; did not split or splinter. In 1976 I purchased the 5 pieces of rough sawn - 1" x 6" x 20' the last the yard had - for $ 4/board foot. Very pricey in 1976. Hate to see the price today. But it was great stuff!
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