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cedar vs redwood playset - choosing the best wood for playset

Cedar vs Redwood: Choosing the Best Wood for Your Playset

When building a new outdoor playsets for kids, choosing durable, rot-resistant wood is key. The two best options are cedar and redwood. Both of these classic species can withstand years of outdoor exposure and rough play.

But with so many factors to weigh like cost, appearance, availability, and maintenance needs, deciding between cedar and redwood can be agonizing. You want to pick the ideal wood for your family's needs and budget.

This article provides an in-depth comparison of the pros and cons of cedar vs. redwood for playset construction. So let's dive in and make the best wood choice for your new custom or DIY playset build!

Key Takeaways

  • Both cedar and redwood are naturally rot-resistant woods ideal for outdoor playsets, with redwood being the most decay-resistant.

  • Cedar is more affordable but requires frequent staining and maintenance to retain its appearance. Redwood is premium-priced but needs less frequent refinishing.

  • Cedar is readily available throughout North America while redwood has restricted supply, making it harder to source.

  • Redwood creates extremely sturdy playset structures thanks to its high density and dimensional stability. Cedar is softer but allows for more intricate designs.

large cedar playset with many features and a child on the swing

    What to Look for in Wooden Swing Set

    When researching the right wood for your DIY or professionally built playset, there are a few important factors to consider:

    1. Durability and Rot Resistance

    This is by far the most crucial characteristic to evaluate. Playsets are large investments meant to last for many years through rough outdoor use. The wood needs to be able to withstand moisture, fungal decay, termites, and other damage.

    Both cedar and redwood are inherently durable woods with natural rot resistance thanks to their high levels of decay-inhibiting oils. Redwood in particular is known as one of the most decay-resistant species in the world.

    Pressure-treated lumber is cheaper than cedar or redwood, but the preservative chemicals used to treat the wood can leach out over time. This reduces the rot-resistance and may be concerning for children's safety.

    2. Cost

    Wood choice has a significant impact on the overall budget for your playset project. In general, cedar is the more affordable option compared to redwood.

    Cedar's lower cost makes it accessible for DIY builds. Pre-cut cedar wood playsets are also usually less expensive than similar redwood kit options.

    Redwood playsets come with a higher price tag, which is one tradeoff for their increased durability and longer lifespan.

    3. Appearance

    Do you envision a playset with a warm reddish hue or prefer a more neutral weathered grey look?

    Freshly milled cedar wood has distinctive reddish tones which darken over time to a silvery patina. This color evolution impacts the overall look of your playset as the wood ages.

    Redwood has a slightly more brownish-red color initially which weathers to a soft silvery grey. The color change is less drastic than with cedar.

    4. Availability

    Cedar is a very common and renewable wood species, sourced from several varieties of cedar trees. It is widely available throughout North America.

    Genuine redwood only comes from the sequoia trees native to California. Redwood production is highly regulated, which limits supply and increases cost.

    If authentic redwood is preferred for your playset, sourcing the wood may take additional effort and time. Using reclaimed redwood from old structures is one option.

    5. Maintenance Needs

    All woods require some degree of maintenance, and cedar and redwood are no exception. To prolong the life and beauty of your playset, expect to do periodic cleaning, sealing, staining, or sanding.

    Cedar tends to require staining or protective coatings more frequently than redwood. Sealants help limit cracking and retain cedar's rich coloration.

    Redwood playsets can go longer between treatments thanks to the wood's natural oils. But even this hardy wood will eventually need re-sealing or staining.

    Now that we've covered the key considerations, let's do a deep dive into the characteristics of each wood species.

    children playing on the Kidkraft Bear Cave Lodge Playset

    Cedar Playsets: A Rot-Resistant, Affordable Choice

    Several types of cedar trees from the cypress family are used for lumber, but most outdoor playsets are made from Western red cedar (Thuja plicata). This durable species contains "cedrol" oil which gives the wood natural water-repelling and insect- and fungus-resistant properties.

    Here are some of the top reasons why cedar is a popular choice for playset construction:

    Naturally Resistant to Rot, Decay, and Insects

    The natural oils and chemicals in cedar heartwood make it one of the most decay-resistant woods used in outdoor applications. When properly maintained, a cedar playset can withstand decades of weather exposure without significant rotting.

    Insects dislike the strong scent of cedar. It’s commonly used for outdoor furniture, sheds, and closets for its ability to repel various wood-boring pests.

    Affordable Pricing

    Cedar costs less than more premium woods like redwood, making it a great choice if the price is a major factor in your playset selection. The abundance of cedar keeps costs down while still providing a naturally durable wood.

    Whether you're buying a pre-cut playset kit or having one custom-built, opting for cedar over redwood will provide some savings. Cedar allows for rot-resistant playsets at more affordable prices.

    Wide Availability

    The wide availability of cedar timber ensures a steady lumber supply for playset manufacturers. Cedar can be sustainably harvested throughout much of North America, including the Pacific Northwest, Canada, and parts of the eastern United States.

    Cedar's accessibility and plentiful supply make it easy to find cedar components for DIY backyard playset projects. Custom playset builders also appreciate being able to readily source high-quality cedar lumber.

    Easy to Stain and Paint

    The straight, uniform grain of cedar accepts stains beautifully. Cedar's light coloration also provides a great base for custom paint colors.

    It's easy to enhance or maintain the look of a cedar playset with periodically re-applied stains or protective clear coatings. Proper finishing helps offset the effects of extensive weathering.

    Softwood Construction

    Cedar is technically classified as a softwood, although it's still quite sturdy. The wood's low density makes cedar playsets lighter than redwood alternatives.

    Easier workability is another advantage of cedar's softness. This allows for detailed cuts, shapes, and engraving. Custom playset designs and decorative elements are straightforward with cedar lumber.

    backyard discovery large cedar playset with children playing

    Downsides of Cedar Playsets

    While cedar is an excellent wood for playsets in many regards, it's helpful to understand a few of its drawbacks:

    • Requires frequent staining - Unfinished cedar will weather and bleach quickly, needing re-staining every 1-3 years to retain its color, unlike redwood which can go 5+ years between stains. More time and expense are devoted to finishing cedar.

    • Softer construction - Cedar is prone to dents, scratches, and marks in high-traffic areas over time due to its softness. Periodic sanding and refinishing of worn zones are needed. Low density also provides less stability than denser woods - opt for beefier beam sizes.

    • Shrinkage - Cedar will shrink and expand some due to moisture changes. Proper drying and acclimation minimize issues, but small cracks may still develop with age. Maintaining protective coatings limits weathering damage.

    What to Look for in Cedar Playsets

    Here are some top tips for picking the best cedar playset for your backyard:

    • Source 100% cedar components, including boards, beams, poles, roofs, and accessories. Avoid mixes with cheaper woods like pine.

    • Check that wood is kiln-dried to under 15% moisture content for stability.

    • Look for clear, knot-free cuts without defects for the longest lifespan. Heartwood is the most rot-resistant cedar.

    • For DIY projects, use pre-treated cedar rated for ground contact. Or treat posts and beams yourself before installing.

    • Opt for thicker, overbuilt construction if possible. 2x6 boards instead of 2x4s, 4x4s instead of 4x2s, etc.

    • Select stainless steel or zinc-plated hardware to avoid corrosion issues.

    • Ensure the playset is designed for proper water runoff from the roof and decking.

    • Include accessible sanding/staining access points if possible.

    • Assembly is easier with pre-cut playset kits. Or have a professional handle installation.

    Properly constructed cedar playsets are a great budget-friendly choice thanks to the wood's natural decay resistance. Maintain the playset with regular refinishing and enjoy years of family fun!

    medium sized redwood playset with children playing

    Redwood Playsets: Beauty and Durability

    Prized for its beauty, strength, and weather resistance, redwood is viewed by many as the premium choice for playset construction. The unmistakable rich hue and natural oils that make this wood so unique come at a cost. Redwood carries a higher price tag than woods like cedar and pressure-treated pine.

    Redwood's durability and lower maintenance requirements help offset the initial investment. Let's examine why redwood makes an exceptional (although expensive) playset material.

    Extremely Rot and Insect Resistant

    Redwood trees contain high levels of natural chemical extracts that make them exceptionally resistant to decay fungi, termites, and other insects. The tree's thick bark and tannic acid content protect against wood-destroying organisms.

    Quality redwood playsets can easily last for 50 years or longer without major decay issues, even with minimal finishing. The wood's longevity helps compensate for its lofty cost.

    Dense, Stable Construction

    The density and stiffness of redwood create very sturdy playset structures. Redwood's dimensional stability also minimizes unintended shrinking and swelling as moisture levels fluctuate.

    Heavier use areas like play decking, rungs, and railings stand up well to wear and tear thanks to redwood's strength. The wood's hardness also deters splintering.

    Appealing Color and Grain

    Freshly milled redwood possesses a reddish hue with captivating grain patterns. As the wood weathers, it turns a soft silver-grey with an intriguing texture. Finishing enhances redwood's colors but isn't essential to maintain beauty.

    Visually, redwood is more dynamic than cedar. Kids and parents alike will appreciate the wood's graphic, varied look as a playset backdrop.

    Less Frequent Staining Needed

    Redwood's high natural oil content enables the wood to go many years without re-coating. The required maintenance is low compared to other popular playset woods.

    Once every 5-7 years, a new protective finish can help revitalize redwood's appearance. However, the time between treatments is lengthy thanks to redwood's innate durability.

    Tradeoffs of Redwood Playsets

    Redwood is close to ideal for playset construction. But there are a few potential downsides to weigh:

    • Expensive initial cost - Redwood carries a premium price, often 20-22% more than cedar. Significant lumber needs drive costs up further for large playsets.

    • Limited availability - Genuine redwood can only come from protected sequoia trees in California with restricted harvesting. Old reclaimed supply is also limited. Sourcing enough takes extra logistics and lead time.

    • Harder on tooling - Exceptional hardness and density make redwood tougher on cutting blades and bits. Decreased tool sharpness is inevitable despite carbide tips. More frustrating for DIYers to work with manually.

    Choosing the Best Redwood for Playsets

    To get the most from redwood's advantages, keep these tips in mind when selecting lumber:

    • Choose 100% heartwood redwood for maximum natural durability. Avoid cheaper sapwood cores.

    • Confirm the lumber is 100% genuine Sequoia sempervirens rather than lower-cost redwood hybrids.

    • Look for fine, straight-grain patterns free of defects like large knots.

    • Inquire about sustainably harvested sources to encourage responsible redwood management.

    • Use stainless steel hardware and fasteners to prevent corrosion and staining.

    • Allow extra time for sourcing lumber if you don't have ready access to quality suppliers.

    • For custom playsets, consult with an engineer about large-span designs to leverage Redwood's capabilities.

    key differences - cedar vs redwood

      Key Differences: Cedar vs. Redwood for Playsets

      Now that we've covered both wood species in-depth, let's recap how cedar and redwood playsets compare:

      Factor Cedar Redwood
      Cost More affordable Expensive, premium pricing
      Appearance Reddish tones, active grain Brownish red color, varied patterns
      Availability Abundant supply, easy to source Limited availability, specialty item
      Maintenance Frequent refinishing needed Less frequent staining required
      Durability Rot-resistant but softer wood Extremely decay-resistant, harder

      Which Wood is Right for Your New Playset?

      By now you should have a clear grasp of each wood's strengths and ideal usage scenarios. Keep these final tips in mind when deciding between cedar vs redwood for your upcoming playset project:

      • Consider your budget limitations carefully. Redwood requires a substantial initial outlay.

      • Remember that cedar needs frequent maintenance to retain its aesthetic appeal. Account for the additional time investment.

      • Redwood is the better choice if you prioritize minimal future upkeep and longevity.

      • Cedar allows for larger, more intricate playset designs for the same cost as smaller redwood sets.

      • Redwood works well if you want a scaled-down playset as the centerpiece of your yard.

      • Both kinds of wood provide safety, avoiding potential chemical treatments of pine. Focus on appearance, cost, and maintenance preferences when choosing.

      children playing on large cedar playset with many features


        1: Can redwood and cedar playsets be used in any climate?

        Both redwood and cedar are rot-resistant woods that can be used in most climates. However, redwood is more resistant to extreme weather conditions and may be a better choice for areas with harsh winters or high levels of moisture.

        2: Are there any other types of wood that can be used for swing sets?

        While cedar and redwood are the most common choices for an outdoor swingset, other wood types can also be used. Some examples include pine, fir, and cypress. However, it's important to choose a wood that is rot-resistant and durable.

        3: Is pressure-treated wood a good option for a swing set?

        Pressure-treated wood can be used for a swing set, but it is not as popular as cedar or redwood. Pressure-treated wood is chemically treated to resist rot and insect damage, but some people may have concerns about the chemicals used in the treatment process.

        4: Are there any alternatives to wood for swing sets?

        Yes, there are alternative materials to wood for swing sets, such as metal and plastic. These materials are often used for commercial or residential playgrounds and offer different advantages and disadvantages compared to wood.


        Backyard playsets create wonderful opportunities for fun and memories with your family. When it's time to choose materials for building your playset, cedar, and redwood both offer excellent options that will last for years to come.

        Cedar provides natural rot resistance at affordable prices, making it the more budget-friendly choice. Redwood delivers unmatched durability and beauty yet comes at a premium cost.

        Carefully weigh the pros and cons of each wood species against your family's needs, preferences, and budget. Properly maintained playsets built from either cedar or redwood are sure to provide enduring enjoyment for future generations. Give your kids the gift of years of playtime adventures!

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        About The Author

        Andy Wu - Resident Expert

        Andy Wu - Resident Expert

        Andy Wu is the resident backyard products expert and hails from Atlanta, Georgia. His passion for crafting outdoor retreats began in 2003.

        As a fellow homeowner, he founded Backyard Oasis to provide top-quality furnishings and equipment, collaborating with leading manufacturers.

        His main focus is on sheds and generators!

        In his spare time he like to hike the tallest mountains in the world and travel with his family.

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