The use of cedar is prevalent in Bermuda homes, in doors, window frames and furniture. Anthony Madeiros, Jr., whose family has owned and operated Bermuda Stripping and Refinishing (BS&R Group) on Middle Road, Devonshire, for 47 years, offers some expert advice on keeping your cedar in prime condition.
What’s the key to good maintenance of cedar in the home?
More frequent maintenance will mean less maintenance over the long run. Too many times people call us when varnish is going yellow and peeling and the wood has changed colour. Then we have to strip, sand and stain it with five or six coats of varnish to enable it to look good and stand up to the elements. I would advise that every eight to twelve months you apply a coat of varnish. If you leave it two or three years, you will need to dig deep to get it looking good again. It’s so easy to just sand down a door and varnish it in eight or ten hours. If you leave it unmaintained for three years, you’re looking at stripping the door right down and applying six coats of varnish and then you’re talking about 40 to 50 hours. You will spend the price of a new door to take it all the way down and bring it all the way back up. So yes, it pays to maintain regularly
Can cedar ever be left untreated?
That’s never a good idea for any type of cedar. Interior cedar should be lacquered or oiled. Use varnish for doors and exterior woodwork. Choosing the right varnish is important. Each of the paint companies has some good varnishes. Speak to them and make sure you get the right product.
Are there any common mistakes people make when varnishing a cedar door?
Sometimes people will sand down and varnish the face of the door, but not the top or the bottom. Water can drip down on the top of the door when you open it and then sit there in the space under the frame. If the top and bottom are not sealed, water can get in under the finish. So many times, I’ve seen people sand down and varnish and then four months later, there’s this black weathering coming through the finish.
How does Bermuda cedar differ from Virginia and Spanish cedar?
Virginia cedar, Juniperus virginiana, is a species of ornamental juniper often confused with Bermuda cedar (J. bermudiana). However, Virginia cedar grows faster given the different soil content in the US, while Bermuda cedar is slow growing. You can identify the difference in the wood. Each ring represents a year of life, so the fast-growing Virginia cedar has wider rings while the Bermuda cedar has more rings. Bermuda cedar’s longer growth curve results in a denser wood with more resins, which are natural repellants to termites, rot and decay. Aesthetically, Virginia cedar can be seen as an alternative to Bermuda cedar, but it’s not a performance replacement in terms of durability. Virginia cedar is a softwood, interior grade. In doors and window frames, it needs maintenance not just to look good, but to survive. Spanish cedar should probably not be compared to Bermuda cedar at all—it’s from a different genus and species, Cedrela odorata. It’s less like the typical North American cedar and closer to mahogany.
How resilient is Bermuda cedar?
It’s extremely resilient and durable. The first settlers here built ships from cedar to get to America, and they were fine and stayed fine for many years. Some of our historic buildings have their original cedar doors. Virginia cedar would never have made it to be a 200-year-old front door!
If somebody has an old piece of cedar furniture which has been beaten up over the years, what would you advise them to do?
Talk to an expert. If you try to do it yourself and just apply some varnish or do anything that’s not consistent with the original nature of its construction, then you’re devaluing the piece. You need to restore it—using the right shellac and techniques is important to retain the value. Bermuda cedar furniture is all valuable. Stay away from the polishes, oils and gimmicky products that may result in destroying the piece. Professionals will make sure it’s done correctly. Once it’s done incorrectly, there’s no going back.