Choosing Red Cedar for Crafting Wooden Balustrade Fences

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A wooden balustrade fence is a refined and highly desirable addition to any garden, particularly as part of a well-built deck or veranda. These types of fences are simple and relatively easy to make for the novice carpenter, but as with so many crafting projects, your choice of materials will largely dictate how well it goes. For making a balustrade (from companies like Diamond Balustrades & Fencing Pty Ltd) you will want a wood that is easy to work, and doesn't blunt tools and cutting edges too quickly—conversely, this ease of working must not mean sacrificing strength and durability. You should also use a wood that can stand up to the elements, and resists rot and attacks by termites or other insects—with all these factors in mind, you should seriously consider the humble red cedar.

There are many different woods that come under the umbrella of red cedars, but you should concern yourself primarily with two of them: Western Red Cedar and Australian Red Cedar.

Western Red Cedar is generally imported from forests and plantations in Canada and the northern USA. Moderately priced in Australia, this wood is one of the primary choices for any outdoor project because of its tremendous capacity to resist fungal rot. This is attributed to the aromatic oil that permeates the wood.

Western Red Cedar is also relatively easy to work with, sawing and turning easily and with minimal risk of tearout, especially when sold in half-sawn pieces. However, the wood is quite resinous, which gives it a tendency to gum up power tools and jigsaws—hand tools are generally recommended. The wood also responds well to gluing, and lathes very well if you are choosing to make rounded balustrades.

While the wood can can be stained easily, its response to paint tends to be unpredictable. It also takes insecticidal treatments and soaks well—this is fortunate, as Western Red only has rudimentary resistance to insect attack, and is vulnerable to termite boring. Borate treatments are highly recommended. Western Red's popularity as an outdoor wood does mean it lacks distinctiveness, and some may find the pale, uniform grain a little dull.

Australian Red Cedar is, as the name suggests, a native tree, with all of the environmental benefits that implies—however, a relative lack of commercial growing means that it costs about the same as imported Western Red Cedar. Australian Red Cedar will, however, work out cheaper for larger projects, since it is usually sold as bulk lumber and will be less expensive to buy in larger quantities. Unlike Western Red, Australian Red has a lustrous red-gold hue and prominent grain, and once stained can be remarkably beautiful. This rich colour lasts well under UV rays, and tends to darken over time.

Australian Red retains all of the ease of working of Western Red, with the added advantage of being, generally speaking, less resinous. However, choosing half-sawn pieces is more important here—quarter-sawn pieces can occasionally suffer from interlocked grain, which is a nightmare to work without cracking or tearing the wood. Inspect your wood closely before you buy.

Australian Red's main disadvantage is that it lacks the anti-fungal natural oils of its Western cousin, and while its rot resistance is still respectable, anti-rot treatments or coats are recommended. In terms of insect resistance it performs about as well as Western Red.