Why is cedar fencing so popular?
Forty years ago, cedar fence boards were rich with dark red, brown and orange hues. The boards had a strong cedar smell that was so pungent that you might have thought you were locked in your grandmother’s cedar closet. Back then, cedar fencing came from old growth cedar trees. When the trees were harvested; the trunks were as big around as Volkswagens, mostly comprised of heart wood with a few outer sapwood rings.
What is the difference between sap wood and heartwood?
These outer, lighter colored rings, sapwood, is the “working” part of the tree, as water and sap will flow through the sapwood much like blood through your arteries, veins and capillaries. While this part of the trunk is vital to the tree when it is living, it doesn’t make for very good stock for fencing and exterior applications. Sapwood contains a lot of moisture, will shrink considerably when dried, and is much more susceptible to fungus.
The inner, darker section of the trunk is the heartwood. Heartwood is formed from old, “retired” sapwood, and becomes the strong spine of the tree. Heartwood is preferred for fencing, as it is far less susceptible to fungus and doesn’t contain nearly as much moisture as sapwood, which means it will shrink less when dried. Many mills that specialize in cedar decorative exterior cedar posts and beams will actually remove the sapwood and use only heartwood.
Once the tree has “promoted” some of it’s sapwood to heartwood status, the sap will stop flowing through that part of the wood and the converting material essentially dies. As part of the conversion process, the pores will begin to plug up with organic matter which causes the cell walls to change color due to the presence of chemicals called extractives. The extractives are responsible for the rich character, odor and colors found in heartwoods.
Is cedar still my best choice for wood fencing?
Due to the limited amount of old growth cedar trees and tight restrictions on forestry throughout the United States and Canada, most of today’s cedar is new growth. This new growth is from a species of cedar that grows quickly and establishes very little heartwood. Furthermore, the trees are much smaller when harvested only compounding the lack of the dark inner rings. Today’s cedar fencing is almost entirely harvested from sapwood.
Today’s Cedar fencing from sapwood cannot hold-up to its reputation as the preferred choice for longevity in exterior applications as its lifespan is considerably shorter compared to yesterday’s heartwood cedar fencing.
What are my options over cedar?
There are options. With the restrictions and limitations on harvesting old growth cedar, the wood industry has moved on to less popular but abundant species such as Douglas Fir, White Fir and Incense Cedar.
These species are in great abundance in older growth trees, providing more options for fencing boards. Because these species like Douglas Fir are being harvested from heartwood; these are proving to outperform the cedar in exterior above ground applications such as fencing. Though you may not enjoy that rich cedar smell; you will get several years of longevity from these species. Besides, after a while, the smell of cedar is just too much to handle.
Is treated better than Western Red, Incense Cedar or Douglas Fir?
Treated materials just can’t compare to the natural beauty of cedar and Douglas Fir. However, treated and stained white and red pine posts have proven to be an excellent choice for fence posts. Pine is a very dense wood that provides considerable strength. When treated with a ACQ or ACQ2 pressure treatment; the wood proves to be almost impenetrable. Treated materials may be easily stained providing a darker color compared to your Cedar and Douglas Fir rails and pickets. The contrast in colors does provide a nice combination.
However, red and white pine posts will form “checks” as the posts begin to dry after treatment. These checks are long thin cracks that form along the grain of the post. This is a natural process to be expected that does not compromise the strength or longevity of the post. You should only be concerned if these cracks dig deep through the post where you can see daylight.
Also, red and white pine posts are prone to slightly twist. Again, this is part of the natural maturation process of the material. This twisting is a result of uneven drying of the post. It does not compromise the quality or longevity of the post.
Should we use treated pine or cedar posts?
If the concrete footing is placed to shed water from the posts, cedar or treated is fine. We will use a premium cedar post or ACQ2 treated and stained posts. Though the treated pine posts are subject to forming checks and a slight twist; these posts have proven to outlast cedar. Cedar is less prone to form any cracking or twisting but it will occasionally warp. If not stained, cedar posts will eventually “grey out”.
Are treated materials safe for my family and pets?
Only use industry approved ACQ treated posts. Stay clear of using CCA (Cooper Chromate Arsenic) materials. If unsure how the materials are coated; look for a tag at either end of the post or inquire with your fence contractor.
What about wood gates?
Only use a heavy duty 4” x 6” posts on the hinge side of your 6’ tall gate. We recommend using three hinges per gate. Make sure all hardware is powder coated to avoid rusting.
Will I have maintenance issues with my wood gates?
Every day, we go through dozens of doors without giving it a second thought. We just don’t realize the precision that goes into a door and jamb.
The cold reality is that your gates are not doors. Gates get out of adjustment and will not properly close. Why? A door is set into a jamb that completely surrounds the door. When the jamb moves the door moves in unison. Gates are set with two independent gate posts on opposite sides of your gate opening. Gate posts are subject to settling of unsettled soil, frost, extreme change in temperatures and exposure to the sun. All of these conditions will cause the gate posts to change or move. Even the slightest change in vertical or horizontal position of the hinge post will result in an exponential movement of the latch hasp on the gate. Bottom line, your gate won’t latch because the latch hasp does not align with the latch receiver on the gate post.
What can you do to fix your gates?
A standard drop fork latch will not be impacted by movement in your gate posts. These are the latches that look like two prong pitch forks that move up and down. These are common on chain link and ornamental fencing. If you have this type of latch; you should be fine. Latches that use a horizontal rod that strikes or falls into a receiver when the gate is closed; these latches will require adjustment. Latches that look like a standard door lock assembly; these will require adjustment. If you have either of these type of latching /locking mechanisms; you should request four way adjustable hinges. These are hinges that adjust up and down and in and out. With these hinges, you will be able to adjust your gate to changing conditions.
If that sounds like too much to figure-out; you should ask your salesman “What do I do if my gate does not shut?” This should prompt your fence salesman to provide you with some guarantees and options.
Do I need to stain my Douglas Fir or Cedar fence?
If you want to maintain that reddish and blonde cedar color, then consider staining your fence within six weeks of installation. Be sure that the wood is dry prior to applying stain. In other words, it has not rained for at least a week. This continued dry weather will make the wood thirsty to receive the stain.
Hire only insured professional staining contractors. Staining is a messy, messy business that can easily result in overspray onto your house, your neighbors’ houses, automobiles, etc. Only stain on calm dry days. You will want to tape off adjoining structures such as homes, sheds, and your neighbor’s fence. Lay a drop cloth to avoid overspray onto your lawn.
Brushing stain onto your wood fence is difficult with the coarse surface. Rolling-on stain is easier but results in more runs and drips. Spraying is optimal if you have a good eye for when enough is enough. For best results, first spray your fence and quickly follow-up with a brush to even-out the application.
Stain should be applied evenly with large continuous strokes. Unlike paint, if applying more than one coat of stain; you must apply the second coat while the first coat is still wet. Otherwise, the second coat will not stick and will eventually peal.
You should anticipate re-staining your fence every 2 to 3 years. Be sure sprinklers are not constantly spraying your fence. This will cause uneven discoloration. Though the Douglas Fir holds it’s natural color longer than the Cedar; both species will gray in six to twelve months.
What about nails?
A galvanized or aluminized nail that is counter sunk to avoid popping-out is your best bet.