What is Redwood: The Complete Guide

Known for its deep red grains and impressive strength, the redwood is one of the most widely recognized hardwoods.  It has incredible qualities that make it the best for building furniture, decks, floors, fences, and other decorative items. Let’s find out what is redwood, its qualities, and its many uses in this complete redwood guide. 

What is Redwood?

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Redwoods or sequoioideae is a sub-family of coniferous trees belonging to the Cupressaceae family. Redwoods are some of the largest and the biggest trees. There are three subfamilies of redwoods: the Sequoia found naturally along the California and Oregon coasts, the Sequoiadendron from the Sierra Nevada in California, and the Metasequoia found in China.

The redwoods have the tallest and the biggest trees, which live thousands of years. However, there are constant threats to the redwood’s survival. These trees are threatened by illegal logging, fires, climate changes, poaching, and illegal marijuana growing. The Sequoia and the Sequoiadendron are giant trees, but the Metasequoia are smaller.

Where Can You Find Redwood Trees?

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Redwood species are found in various places. The Metasequoia glyptostroboides are found only in south-central China in the provinces of Hunan, Hubei, and Chongqing. The Sequoiadendron giganteum is found only in the western areas of the Sierra Nevada in California. Finally, the Sequoia sempervirens grow only in the coastal forests of Northern California, along the coasts of Northern California, and along the shores of Oregon.

The subfamily of redwoods is classified as endangered. According to the IUCN Red List Category and Criteria, Sequoia sempervirens is an endangered species (A2acd). Sequoiadendron giganteum is Endangered (B2ab), and Metasequoia glyptostroboides is Endangered (B1ab).

There are efforts to save the redwood species to this day. The two redwood species from California were cultivated horticulturally away from their natural environments. The redwood species from China was also grown since 1948 remotely. These redwood forests are found in California, along with the Eastern and Northwestern United States, Ireland, China, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. 

What are Redwood Characteristics?

Redwood trees from California are the most recognizable. These redwoods are strong and possess the most colorful grains, making them the best for building decorative panels. These hardwoods are also the best for constructing outdoor or garden furniture, decking, fences, and other outdoor structures.

Redwood heartwood has varying colors; the most common are pale to reddish-brown. It has narrow yet creamy sapwood, and thus expect this wood to excrete sap for many years. This wood has a fine and even texture, and because of this, it’s hard to detect if the wood is young or old. Redwood has a straight grain, while the wood does not excrete resin.

Important Redwood Characteristics

  • Tree size: 200 to 300 feet tall, 6 to 12 feet trunk diameter
  • Average Dried Weight:  26 pounds per cubic feet
  • Specific Gravity: .36, .42
  • Hardness: Janka hardness 450 pounds-feet
  • Modulus of Rupture: 8,950 pounds-feet per square inches
  • Elastic Modulus:  1,220,000 pounds-feet per square inches
  • Crushing Strength:  5,690 pounds-feet per square inches
  • Shrinkage: 2.4% radial, 4.7% tangential, 6.9% volumetric

Appearance

Redwood heartwood has varying colors, from light pink-brown to reddish-brown. It has a pale sapwood color of white-yellow. The burl is curly but is also known as the redwood “lace.” The redwood grain is straight, but there are also pieces with wavy and irregular grains. Touch the grain, and you’ll find it coarse with very little luster.

Rot Resistance

The redwood is very durable and resistant to decay. Wood from old redwood trees is more durable and resistant to rotting compared to younger or second-growth trees.

Workability

The redwood is usually easy to work with using hand tools or power tools; however, be careful when using a planer as this wood tends to tear out. This is due to its wavy, irregular, and curly grain. Always use very sharp blades and cutting tools to reduce tear outs.

You can use glue on redwood to glue two redwood pieces together or to connect redwood with other types of lumber. The best kind of glue to use on redwoods is alkaline adhesives.

 Meanwhile, this wood can take finishes and varnish. Applying a clear finish can highlight the beautiful natural grains of this wood. When it comes to hardware, redwoods hold nails and screws well, but it would be best if you pre-drill holes first before you install nails or screws.

Natural Odor

The redwood has a unique odor when it is cut or being worked. This smell can become too evident when the wood is dry. The scent is similar to mild spice but with some earthy undertones and just a hint of sweetness. Some people who work with redwood refer to the smell as the smell of wood.

How Can You Use Redwood?

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Redwood is one of the most popular types of wood for many projects. The wood is one of the strongest types of hardwood and will resist warping, shrinking, and splitting. This wood is much lighter compared to other wood materials, and thus, this is easier to cut, drill, and finish.

Redwood has natural chemicals called tannins which makes it very durable for outdoor use. You can bet that this wood is resistant to decay, boring insects, rotting, and even fire.

This popular hardwood is also sustainable, recyclable, and renewable, and thus it’s cleaner and safer to use compared to engineered wood. Based on these qualities, here are the most common uses of redwood lumber.

Is Redwood Good for Furniture?

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Redwood is great for building all kinds of furniture. You can use this to make indoor furniture and outdoor furniture because of its many impressive qualities.

The strength of redwood makes it perfect for load-bearing indoor and outdoor furniture such as beds, sofas, cabinets, shelves, tables, and desks. Redwood won’t warp, shrink, or split even if it’s carrying a lot of weight. 

Redwood is easy to work with. You can use different fasteners, glues, and varnishes on this wood, and thus, it’s great to use for any furniture project. You can use other stains and varnishes to bring out the beauty of its natural grains.

And with redwood, you’re sure to make long-lasting furniture as this wood is resistant to moisture, decay, and insects. The natural tannin content of redwood deters insects and pests plus the interlocking grains prevent moisture buildup. Therefore, you can count on redwood to make durable outdoor furniture.

Can You Use Redwood to Build Decks?

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You will never find decks lovelier than redwood decking. This wood is very strong and thus will never lose its shape and form even when these are made into decking on high traffic areas.

Redwood is known for its resistance to the elements, and thus it will work great as decking wood even in places where there is high moisture or precipitation. You don’t need to worry about moisture seeping through its grains or insects using redwood decks as their homes because redwood has a natural deterrent to insects and pests.

Redwood decking is comfortable to walk or stand on even when you’re bare feet on a very hot day. Whether you want to build a deck in your front yard or backyard, redwood will always be an excellent material to use.

And decking wood needs to look great no matter what season of the year. Redwood will always look lovely and presentable. Well-maintained and well-finished redwood decking will last for many years and thus, will save you money, time, and effort compared to other types of hardwood.

Is Redwood Good for Flooring?

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Yes, you can use redwood for flooring, and in fact, this is the most popular use of this wood. The lovely natural grains of redwood will stand out when you add varnish or finish, plus these will provide a protective layer on redwood flooring to prevent scratches and marks.

Redwood flooring can last for many years because this wood is very strong and durable. It will never warp, change shape, or shrink, and thus, there’s no need to worry about repairs or replacing your redwood floors.

The fact that this wood is resistant to moisture, it can be used as flooring in high traffic and busy areas like kitchens, dens, hallways, etc. This floor will resist spills and messes and is very easy to clean and maintain.

And because of its high resistance to insects and pests, you can count on your redwood flooring to last a long time. Burrowing insects have no match against the very even and tight grain of redwood trees. Even in the wild, redwood trees are resilient and resist insects that tunnel or burrow their trunk to lay eggs or to use their bark for food. With all these great qualities, you can guarantee that your redwood lumber as the flooring will last a long time.

Is Redwood Good as Structural Beams?

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A good thing about redwood, aside from its strength, is that it’s lighter than other building materials. Thus, it is easier to take redwood lumber to different construction sites. With these good qualities, redwood is excellent for building structural sections of a home or building. You can use this to construct open beam ceilings, support columns, enclosures, and much more.

This wood is light, so there’s no need to use heavy equipment to carry it to the worksite. Workers only need a simple pulley to hoist redwood lumber to high construction areas. Meanwhile, this wood is also low maintenance, and thus, combined with its strong qualities, you have the perfect structural material to build homes, outdoor structures, decks, and small buildings.

Can You Use Redwood to Make Outdoor Structures?

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Redwood has a longer lifespan compared to other woods. Some hardwoods are strong but will bend under pressure. Meanwhile, redwood will always retain its strength, resistance to pests and decay, and beauty even when exposed to the elements.

With these excellent characteristics and resistance to outdoor stresses, you can use redwood to make all kinds of outdoor structures, including patio covers, gates, fences, pergolas, and greenhouses.

Can You Use Redwood as Decorative Items?

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The natural beauty of redwood makes it one of the best decorative woods. You can use redwood to create feature walls. A feature wall is decorating, painting, or reinventing one wall in a room. In this case, you’ll use redwood lumber to create a feature wall. You can use planks of redwood lumber or use redwood veneer instead.

Meanwhile, you can use redwood to create small decorative items. Redwood burls are primarily utilized in turning projects. Turning redwood will allow you to make handles, cabinet pulls, ornaments, stairway railings, and other decorative fixtures.

Wood carvers use redwood to make intricate items and decors. Redwood burl vases are lovely, with the fantastic grains of redwood highlighted by stains and natural oil rubs. You can also find other redwood decorative items like figurines, jewelry cases, chess pieces, toys, and Christmas ornaments.

You will notice that most redwood decorative items and ornaments are not painted but are simply stained or varnished. This is because woodworkers and artists prefer to highlight this wood’s natural beauty and qualities.

What Are the Disadvantages of Using Redwood?

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Redwood has exceptional qualities making it one of the best building materials around. But aside from these good qualities, there are also some disadvantages which should never be overlooked. Consider these qualities when using redwood as building or project materials.

Redwood is More Expensive

The price of redwood lumber increased in 2021. New lumber costs more than pine, around twice the cost of pine lumber. Meanwhile, old-growth and reclaimed redwood lumber can cost about $80 for every 2″ x 8″ x 8″. This is because old-growth redwood is considered very valuable and is commonly used for projects and in making valuable items.

New lumber is used to build fences, decks, and patio furniture. New redwood may not be as valuable as old-growth hardwood or reclaimed redwood, but it can increase the cost of your project exponentially.

Captain Patio provides a summary of the cost of redwood in building outdoor furniture compared to its closest alternative. For fences, redwood lumber costs $23 per linear foot, while the alternative pine is $12 per linear foot.

To make decks, redwood lumber costs around $75 per square foot, while pine costs only $8 per square foot. For patio tables that can accommodate six people, redwood costs $4,340 while oak wood costs only $699. This data clearly shows that it’s costly to use redwood for any project!

Redwood is Softer than Other Woods

Another disadvantage of redwood is that it’s softer compared to other hardwoods. Wood softness can be a massive advantage if you use hardwood to create new projects like ornament, flooring, decking, or furniture. However, this rule does not apply to redwoods.

If you’re using redwood, remember to work along the grain, or you could suffer from splits and splinters. These disadvantages can be very obvious when your redwood flooring, deck, or furniture is under a lot of wear and tear. 

And as with any project, mistakes can happen, including scratches, splinters, and dings. Issues with cutting and fastening can also occur, and all these can lead to wasting time, money, and materials.

Redwood is Very Quick to Stain

Redwood is stained to bring out its lovely natural grains. Staining makes dull redwood furniture vibrant once more. But this is not the kind of stain we are talking about. It’s the additional stain coming from different materials and chemicals which can actually affect the appearance of wood.

The USDA Forest Products Laboratory report mentioned that aside from redwood, oak, cedar, and cypress are very prone to stains from iron and other heavy metals. This is because these types of woods contain tannins and could react to iron from steel materials and products. Iron such as iron nails can stain redwood over time, especially when redwood is installed outdoors.

Indoor redwood furniture and other items with iron nails and other hardware are not susceptible to staining because these are less likely to become wet. When staining happens, cleaning redwood furniture can be a considerable challenge.

Also, note that redwood will darken dramatically after applying finish or varnish. If you don’t want this to happen and want to maintain the reddish-brown color of your furniture, flooring, or deck, it would be best to use a lighter shade of varnish. For the best results, apply only a tiny amount to a small part of the furniture.  You may apply the varnish on all the surfaces of the wood after it tests okay.

Redwood is Harder to Clean

Let’s focus on cleaning redwood decks, flooring, and other outdoor structures. These structures often accumulate dirt and, if overlooked, can be very hard to clean. The most common piece of equipment you’ll likely use is a pressure washer to wash out all dirt and grime quickly and effectively. But although this is a very efficient way to clean these outdoor structures, it is not advisable for redwood lumber.

Redwood is soft and pressure washing the lumber’s surface can lead to irreparable damage. The best way to clean soft redwood would be to use a brush. Although this is labor0intensive and time-consuming, you won’t risk damaging the surface of redwood.

Redwood Can be Harder to Maintain

Besides being a challenge to clean, redwood is also a pain to maintain. Because redwood is prone to discoloration, staining, and spot, you need a different approach for each issue. Soap and water are the most common cleaning products of choice, but this is not enough for redwood.

Redwood lumber bleeds as extractives mostly bubble along the sides of the wood. To remove this, wash the redwood surface with TSP, bleach, and water. Afterward, clean the wood well and apply a combination of oxalic acid in warm water. It would be best if you kept the solutions in a non-metallic container as these can lead to further staining. After applying the mixture, rinse the wood and dry this completely. Use paper towels or a soft dry cloth to dry the wood surface.

Is it Worth Using Redwood Lumber?

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After learning the different qualities of redwood and the many disadvantages, you can now decide if using redwood is still worth it. If you value the beauty and the natural features of redwood more than any other quality, then using redwood is not an issue for you.

But if you want to prioritize strength and consider all the disadvantages of redwood, then you could be better off using other types of hardwood.

Where to Get Redwood Lumber?

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Redwood species are protected, and thus, getting quality lumber for your project may not be as easy as it looks. But because of careful cultivation, more redwood trees are now readily available as lumber. Thus, to get redwood from sustainable sources, contact a reputable distributor or harvester.

To find a reliable harvester or a company, check online credentials and compare the costs. Redwood is costly lumber, so it’s best to compare the rates before making a purchase. Get the best value out for your money by comparing the rates and services of different companies online.

Final Words

Redwood is a very durable building material. It has impressive characteristics making it best for indoor and outdoor furniture, outdoor structures, support structures, decorative items, and other projects. Redwood is a very lovely wood, and thus, most woodworkers who use it prefer to use stain or varnish to protect its naturally attractive grain.

This hardwood has exceptional tolerance to moisture and rotting and is also resistant to boring insects and pests. These qualities make it a good material for outdoor use. However, there are also some disadvantages to its use. It is soft and lightweight, can be hard to clean and maintain and can accept stains readily. These qualities should be considered aside from their benefits when using redwood for different projects.

Finally, redwood species are protected trees, but you can still buy lumber from cultivated forests. Redwood is very expensive, and it would be best if you weigh all the options, including its cost, advantages, and disadvantages, before you use this for your woodworking projects.

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