Finishing Western Red Cedar to Preserve its Natural Color

Left untreated, your Western Red Cedar (or Alaskan Yellow Cedar) will naturally weather to a silvery grey.  Especially in coastal areas where a “beachy” look is desired or by those concerned with applying finishes, this is a beautiful, natural choice.  Due to the unique inherent properties of Cedar, as long as proper installation and maintenance procedures are followed, it will perform satisfactorily for many years left untreated.

Should you desire to maintain the natural color of freshly milled Western Red Cedar (or Alaskan Yellow Cedar), a finish should be applied as soon as possible.  Ideally, this would be done before installation.  This helps protect the wood from moisture absorption and UV degradation, as well as job site dirt pick-up and mold and mildew.  Read more about this process HERE.

Used to preserve the Cedar’s natural color and appearance, transparent or semi-transparent solvent-borne penetrating stains are recommended.  Transparent stains are similar in composition to semi-transparent stains but contain fewer pigments that provide color. Generally speaking, the more pigment in the stain, the more ultraviolet light protection it provides.  When choosing a product, remember, “you get what you pay for”.  Quality stains will have fungicides included to inhibit the growth of mold and mildew to help protect your Cedar, as well as higher quality UV protectors.

We currently offer in our store and recommend Ultra Premium Penofin Red Label Stains.


Depending on whether you use a transparent or semi-transparent stain, they will require refinishing.  Service life will vary greatly depending on the product used, the amount of pigment and UV protectants, intensity of sunlight, moisture, and the surface texture the stain was applied to (stains last longer on textured surfaces than on smooth ones).

To date, some manufacturers have developed water-based stains with moderate success, however, they do not last as long or perform as well as the traditional solvent-borne stains.  As our marketplace continues to move toward using more environmentally friendly products due to consumer demand, we expect to see some amazing things coming our way soon!

Film-forming finishes such as lacquer, shellac, urethane and/or varnish are NOT recommended for use on Western Red Cedar (or Alaskan Yellow Cedar) for exterior use.  Regardless of the number of coats applied, the finish will eventually become brittle, crack and peel, leaving the wood exposed.  They are also challenging to remove.

For on-site application, penetrating stains may be applied by brush, sprayer, pad, or roller.  Since the stain is generally thin and watery, it is recommended to always back brush and do not allow the stain to pool on any surface.  During application, be sure to stir the stain to prevent the color pigments from settling.  The drier the Cedar, the more stain it can absorb.  Use caution when staining “green” or unseasoned wood as too not over apply stain.  Over application can cause a surface film that becomes sticky that dirt adheres to.

It is recommended that all four sides of each piece of Cedar are stained before installation.  A second field coat of stain is recommended, but only if the wood will accept a second coat.  For “green” or unseasoned wood, or that to be installed horizontally (such as decking), it is generally best to wait a few months to apply that second coat in place.

Cedar Sofit Stain Recommendation

Before your next project, be sure to visit us!

We ship nationwide!


950 B Fountain Street, Burlington, WA