Perhaps no term is more broadly applied and nearly universally accepted in the world of wood than that of “cedar.”
1. Cedar is aromatic. Simply put, the stuff smells good. I have been (and remain) incredulous of any attempts to boil all the manifold odors found in the different cedars of the world into one typified “cedar smell.” The scents of the various cedars are as different as the tree species themselves. Additionally, although there are a lot of woods that have a characteristic odor, that of cedar tends to linger much longer than most other woods.
2. Cedar is rot resistant. This can vary with each species, but on the whole, the wood of most cedar species are considered at least moderately durable in terms of rot resistance, and are frequently used for exterior applications.
3. Cedar is relatively lightweight and soft. While there may be a little bit of variation from one end of the spectrum to the other, on the whole, one common expectation is that cedar will be lightweight and generally cooperative when it comes to working with tools.
4. Cedar is (commonly) reddish brown. There are obvious exceptions such as Northern white cedar or yellow cedar (their names say it all), but on the whole, cedar is usually of a familiarly predictable color and grain. While all wood has a natural charm and beauty, cedar definitely falls more into the “it’s-what’s-on-the-inside-that-counts” camp than some of the flashier woods such as rosewood.
5. Cedar tends to be somewhat dimensionally stable. I list this last, as it is perhaps not accurate to apply to all species of cedar, but it is a common trait shared by many of the species.