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Wood Types Used in the Northeast for Fence & Railing

Though there are a number of wood species used to build fence and railing, your location has a lot to do with your choices. 

Woods Used in Fence Construction

SUBMITTED:       John Mattio

POSTED:               July 2022

Options in wood species for your fence and railing are region specific due to changes in season and levels of humidity. For the purposes of this post, we are focusing on the Northeast region in the U.S. (NJ, NY, PA, CT, RI, MA, VT, ME) where fence and railing will be subject to the extremes of winter and summer.

Listed below in order from least to most expensive, species for fence in the northeast are;

  • Spruce

  • PT Pine

  • Locust

  • Cedar

  • US Hardwoods

  • Exotic Hardwoods


Spruce is a good choice if you want a fence on a budget. You will find mostly pre-assembled wood sections for sale in home centers and large retail stores' garden centers. This wood starts out light gray and darkens with age. Spruce is a less durable wood and tends to warp. This is especially a concern for people living in damp climates. Insects find spruce more alluring than other wood species, which means the owner of a spruce fence may face an infestation. If you choose spruce, be sure to treat it with a good sealant to increase the longevity of your fence.

Spruce lumber

A home center favorite, spruce stockade panel

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Pressure Treated Pine

Pressure-treated ("PT") wood is a strong and durable material. It’s treated with a preservative to protect against rot, decay and termites. The pressure treating process is most commonly used with pine as this species has the most porous cellulose and the most receptive to the pressure treating process (see link to video here). Pressure-treated fences are safe for kids and pets. When procuring fence posts, be sure to choose products that have been treated for ground contact which is a higher-grade of pressure treatment and resistant to concrete. 

Pressure-treated wood has a natural yellow to light mint-green hue with some knots which can vary based on wood grades - usually #1, #2 and at the highest level, Architectural Grade (AC). Pressure-treated wood accepts paint, stain and sealer so you can customize it to meet your desired look.  

Pressure treated, pine boards

Horizontal fence in PT lumber

pt lumber fence.jpg

Locust split rails and posts are the longest lasting fencing material available. Time-tested over hundreds of years, locust wood  has been known to last for decades in the toughest conditions. The posts and rails are just natural wood with no added chemicals or treatments that can last with pressure treated options. Locust has a high crushing strength of 10,200 lbf/in. sq. (70.3 MPa) which makes it the split rail standard to hold large and medium animals. Aside from its animal containment qualities, it also makes a great fence boarder for homes and delivers a rustic-look. 

Locust lumber

Locust split rail fence

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White Cedar is a moisture and insect resistant wood making it an excellent, mid-tier choice for fence. It is also 100% biodegradable and will not fill up landfills after removal plus there is less waste from its production. Builders have relied on this hardy softwood for centuries to withstand harsh weather conditions. Its out-of-the-mill color tone is a light to white yellow which ages to a light gray over time. Due to its proximity to the northeast region, white cedar is the more cost-effective of the cedars. Ready to stain immediately after installation, white cedar can also quicky upgrade their appearance to more expensive woods with a variety of wood-tone stains or solid colors. 

Red Cedar has the qualities of white cedar but features wider grains with a reddish hue. Primarily grown in British Colombia, Washington and Oregon, it is more preferred on the west coast of the US. While available and frequently used for fence in the northeast, it comes at a premium price. Due to its grain color, red cedar fences are simply sealed and infrequently stained or painted. 

White cedar

Red cedar

White cedar fence and arbor

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red cedar boards.jpg
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US Hardwoods

Moving up the ladder in wood hardness - and thus price - are US hardwoods.  Though the choices are many, the most frequently used are Redwood, Mahogany, Cherry and Walnut. The reason for such is the recognition of their distinct grains and colors. Due to their high prices, the use of these materials is in custom pool fence and railing and not necessarily privacy fence. Moreover, the length of these boards tend to be "finishing trim" dimensions and thus perfect for pickets and top rails, but very hard to find wider cuts.  If you are looking for a great piece of top rail or hand rail trim to your deck or pool railing, these are favorites. 





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cherry boards.jpg
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Exotic Hardwoods

In this top tier you will find Teak, IPE, Cumaru, and Tigerwood. Just by the names of these woods and Southeast Asia, Brazil, and Africa origins, you can tell you are dealing with something special. The use of these woods was born from their specification as a building material in decks, boats and outdoor furniture. Their grains and colors are very distinct and a good portion of the woods mentioned above rank in the top ten of the hardest woods in the world.  Similar to US hardwoods, their use is more frequent for top rail and picket sections of pool fence or deck railing.  That said, it is not uncommon to see IPE or Cumaru privacy fence coordinated with outdoor decks at homes.  For a good peak into exotic hardwoods, click here for a download of a catalog from a popular supplier of exotic hardwoods to builders in the market. 





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ipe boards.jpg
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