What To Know About Cypress Wood
Considering using cypress for that outdoor furniture project on your to-do list? A pro woodworker gives his insights.
Cypress is a popular choice among woodworkers for outdoor furniture projects. Due to the natural oils in the wood, it’s among the most resistant to water damage and rot of the domestic American species. Considering using it for that patio furniture project you’ve been thinking about building? I will walk you through everything you need to know about cypress so you have the confidence to use it in your next woodworking project.
What Is Cypress Wood?
Cypress is a softwood, which means it comes from a conifer (needle-leaved trees that produce seed-bearing cones, often referred to as “evergreens”) rather than a deciduous tree (trees that shed their leaves every autumn). In general, cypress has a light yellow to medium brown color to the heartwood, while the sapwood is nearly white. It is reasonably lightweight and has a low density. Paired with its rot-resistant properties, these attributes make cypress a desirable wood for many outdoor projects from garden chairs to patio tables to shed workbenches. If unstained, it ages to a nice, silvery gray. While old-growth cypress is widely considered to have substantially better rot resistance, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find. Young cypress trees, however, produce wood with a moderate level of rot resistance as they are in the same family as other rot-resistant timbers such as cedar, redwood and sequoia.
Types of Cypress Wood
Cypress trees grow in wet, swampy areas, mostly in the southeastern United States. They can be found all along the Atlantic Coastal Plain, along the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi River Valley. While they can be called different names in different regions, we will focus on bald cypress.
Bald cypress is widely available throughout the U.S. It may be referred to as yellow cypress, red cypress or swamp cypress, depending on your location. The bald cypress is unique in that it is a deciduous conifer tree (I know, confusing, right?!). While the tree is technically a conifer, with its needle-like leaves and seed-bearing cones, it sheds its needles each year like a typical broad-leaf tree, hence its name “bald cypress.”
But wait, there’s more! It also produces unique roots, called knees, that grow vertically, often where the tree’s root system is submerged in water. These knees typically poke out above the water line and may help the tree aerate an otherwise waterlogged root system. They also make interesting carving blanks if you can find them. Cypress wood is stable and reasonably strong for its density, with a Janka rating of 510 lbf (pound-force). The Janka hardness rating comes from a test that measures the density of wood species. For context, western red cedar has a Janka rating of 350 lbf and white oak comes in at 1,360 lbf.
The Pros and Cons of Cypress Wood
Rot resistance: Cypress’s number one positive attribute is its rot resistance. It is a long-lasting, lightweight material used for outdoor projects;
Stability: Cypress is a very stable timber, meaning it is unlikely to cup, twist or bow ;
- Workability: Cypress is a forgiving wood, takes nails and screws easily and finishes quite nicely.
Density: As with all things, there are trade-offs for that light weight and portability. Cypress is somewhat low density, meaning that it can get dented or dinged easily;
Smell: While the odor of the wood can vary greatly depending on where it grew, you can occasionally work with a real stinker of a tree. I once worked with a slab that had a distinct sour, earthy scent to it. Not altogether unpleasant, but certainly an odd smell. Most of the time, however, it smells closer to cedar.
What Is Cypress Wood Used For?
Cypress is used in a wide variety of applications, including:
Exterior construction: From timber framing to decking, Cypress is desired for its strength and decay resistance;
Boat building: We’re talking about a tree that loves to grow in water; it only makes sense that it would be harvested for use in boats!
Cypress Wood Cost and Purchasing
Cypress wood is available throughout the U.S. It is moderately priced, landing in the mid-range for American domestic woods. Clear, knot-free boards will likely only be available at hardwood dealers and cost a bit more than the construction-grade material you might find at your local big box retailers. Still, cypress is an excellent choice for beginner to intermediate woodworkers looking to build their skills with outdoor projects. You can expect to pay anywhere from $5 to $8 per board foot, depending on board width and grade. For comparison, most domestic hardwoods will cost anywhere from $5 to $15 per board foot.