You’ve decided you need a new fence. You know the function you want it to perform and the look you want it to provide.
But the type of wood to use…that’s not as clear. How do you know which is the best wood to use for a fence?
There are many fence material options available, but some of the most common wood species used for fencing are Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir, Pressure-Treated Wood and Redwood. They’re not all created equal, but they all will give you a strong, sturdy fence (assuming it’s properly installed). Your choice is less about safety and more about the look you desire, the characteristics you want your fence to have and your budget.
Here are facts about each species based on look, characteristics and budget to help you choose the best lumber for your wood fence.
Western Red Cedar for Fence
Western Red Cedar has warm, reddish tones with a unique grain pattern and well-spaced knots. It weathers to a silver-gray patina over time – this can be minimized by applying stain or sealer regularly. It readily accepts a variety of finishes, so you can customize to get the look you desire.
Strength, Stability, Resistance
Western Red Cedar is strong and durable. It’s very stable and isn’t likely to shrink or warp after installation. It contains oils that make it naturally resistant to insects and rot for a long-lasting fence. It is not recommended to bury the posts directly into the ground without treating it with a suitable wood preservative, as this will cause the wood to rot over time. If you like the look of Western Red Cedar but are concerned about the post, you can use pressure-treated posts with Western Red Cedar pickets and backer rails.
Western Red Cedar is more expensive than pressure-treated wood and Douglas fir, but less expensive than Redwood.
Douglas Fir for Fence
Douglas fir wood is typically a light brown color with a hint of red and/or yellow. It features a straight, even grain with occasional knots, depending on grade. It maintains its color for a while before acquiring a gray hue, which can be delayed with sealing. It can be painted, stained, or sealed to meet a desired look.
Douglas fir is widely known for its superior strength, stability, and high-quality appearance, making it a popular building material for projects from timber trusses to fencing. Left untreated, it features some natural resistance to rot and decay, which can be enhanced by applying a protective finish. Many Douglas fir fence pickets already come with a factory-applied finish.
Douglas fir is more expensive than pressure-treated wood, but less expensive than Western Red Cedar.
Pressure-Treated Wood for Fence
Pressure-treated wood has a natural yellow to light mint-green hue with some knots which can vary based on grade and species of wood. There are also color-treated varieties that have been infused with a pigment to mimic the look of Redwood or Cedar. Like Western Red Cedar, pressure-treated wood accepts paint, stain and sealer so you can customize to meet your desired look. We recommend a semi-transparent stain for best results. This wood also weathers to a gray if it’s not maintained – follow a proper maintenance plan to keep your fence looking fresh.
Pressure-treated wood is a strong and durable material. It’s treated with a preservative to protect against rot, decay and termite attack. Pressure-treated fences are safe for you, your kids and your pets when used in accordance with the Safe Handling Information Sheet. Pressure-treated wood can be somewhat less stable than Western Red Cedar and Redwood and may shrink or move slightly after it’s been installed. Purchasing a Kiln Dried After Treatment (KDAT) pressure-treated product will minimize the possible dimensional changes. Pressure-treated wood is treated to different standards based on application. When purchasing posts, for example, be sure to choose products that have been treated for ground contact.
Pressure-treated wood is the most economical choice for wood that’s resistant to insects and rot.
Redwood for Fence
Redwood’s color varies based on the part of the tree. The heartwood from the inner portion of the tree has a deep reddish-brown color. Its outer sapwood is cream-colored. It has a tight grain pattern and well-spaced knots, fewer knots the higher the grade. This wood accepts a variety of finishes but will need to be properly cleaned before application. Like Cedar and Pressure-Treated Wood, it will weather, and the effects of weathering can be minimized by following a proper maintenance plan.
Redwood is the hardest of the three materials, making it very strong and durable. It’s also very stable – it will not shrink or warp after installation. Like its color, Redwood’s resistance to insects and rot varies based on the part of the tree. Heartwood will have the greatest resistance. If you intend to use redwood for fence posts, it’s essential to use a heartwood grade.
Redwood is the most expensive building material on our list.
Besides Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir, Pressure-Treated Wood and Redwood, there are other less common wood fence options available including import cedar, cypress, and untreated whitewoods. Whether you’re building a new fence yourself or hiring it out, it’s important to educate yourself on the pros and cons of each.
We offer a variety of Outdoor Essentials wood fence products. Check out our complete collection here!