Do you remember when a cigar came individually wrapped in an aluminum tube and inside the tube was a piece of cedar that was supposed to help keep the cigar smelling good? Do you remember the "cedar-smell" of cigar boxes? If so, you have already been around Spanish cedar (Cedrela odorata), which is also called cedro and cigar-box cedar. The wood is often confused with its cousin, Honduras mahogany. Spanish cedar is a hardwood (leaf tree), but it smells and looks like the softwood cedars.

Although the tree grows throughout Central and South America, it prefers drier sites, rather than the wet tropical forests. Where the tree is native, the wood is used for furniture, cabinets, doors, millwork and storage chests. It is a favorite wood for canoe and boat building, too.

Unfortunately, the tree has not responded well to growing in plantations due to a worm that kills the trees. Also, although used for roadside plantings and shade trees, these open-grown trees do not have the quality of wood found in the forests. Therefore, supplies of trees producing the premium lumber are not as plentiful as they once were.

One concern to some users is the amount of gum or resin in the wood. In my experience, this problem seems more common with South American cedar, but it is not common in any case. The gum can exude out through the wood and finish and create small dark spots for many years. Sometimes there is a vapor emission from the gum which tends to cloud glass used in proximity of the wood. The gum cannot be hardened or "set" in the kiln drying process.

Processing suggestions and characteristics

Density. This is a fairly light weight wood; approximately the same density as cottonwood. The green specific gravity (SG) is 0.40; at 6 percent MC, the SG is 0.43. When dry, the weight is 27 pounds per cubic foot or about 2.2 pounds per board foot. However, there is considerable variation in density from location to location. A range of 21 to 45 pounds per cubic foot is possible. Dealing with one supplier may be prudent to assure consistent properties from load to load.

Strength. Being a light weight species, the strength is not exceptional. For dry wood, the ultimate strength (MOR) is 11,500 psi, stiffness (MOE) is 1.44 million psi, and hardness is 600 pounds. Comparative oak values are 14,300 psi, 1.82 million psi, and 1,290 pounds. Spanish cedar is not the top choice for woods where high strength is important. (Naturally, as the density varies, as noted above, substantial strength variation is likely.)

Drying and stability. The wood dries rapidly, without any serious degrade risks. Shrinkage in drying is moderate. Overall shrinkage from green to 6 percent MC is 6.3 percent tangentially (the width in flatsawn lumber) and 4.2 percent radially (the thickness of flatsawn lumber).

Once dried, the wood will move very little, even under large humidity changes. It takes a 5 percent MC change to result in 1 percent size change tangentially and 7 percent MC change radially.

Machining and gluing. This wood machines well, although some fuzzing and crushing may be experienced with lower density material and if tools are not sharp. The machined surface appears polished.

This wood glues with ease with conventional adhesives.

Grain and color. The heartwood is red to dark reddish brown. The grain texture is coarse due to the many large pores and gum ducts. Overall, the wood appears quite similar to Honduras mahogany in texture and color.

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