Spanish cedar is widely known as the material of choice in humidor construction. But is it the best material for humidors, or even absolutely necessary? In this article I'll discuss the characteristics of Spanish cedar that make it a perfect choice for use in humidor construction and I'll tell you how to recognize if you have genuine Spanish cedar in your humidor.
Spanish cedar is actually not cedar at all, it comes from the Mahogany family. It is a bourbon-orange / red, tight-grained wood with a very spicy aroma. In fact, if you sand or plane it down, the dust can really irritate your nasal passages and can leave you sneezing and coughing more-so than many other woods. Spanish cedar is a wood that is commonly found throughout Central America and is used in building materials and for wood siding.
Hundreds of years ago, tobacco curing barns were constructed or lined with this common wood, probably because it was plentiful, but at the time wasn't intended for imparting any flavors or nuances to the tobacco. Inadvertently, these flavors may have been naturally and subtly imparted into the tobacco, bringing out some of the woody flavor sometimes associated with certain tobaccos.
Naturally - a Perfect Choice
Being a wood that grows in the humid conditions of Central America, Spanish cedar is naturally mold resistant and is also resistant to the dreaded tobacco beetle. Something in the scent annoys the beetles.
Furthermore, the cedar has a natural tendency to absorb, and desorb moisture, which can be very beneficial in preserving optimal humidity if the humidor is frequently opened and closed. So it wasn't by accident that early humidor creators decided to use Spanish cedar for the lining of their humidors.
Spanish cedar humidor interiorToday, modern technology, electronics and plastics have provided ways of preserving cigars without the use of Spanish cedar. Silica gel beads, polymer crystals and active humidifiers now do a fine job of preserving humidity inside your humidor, in some cases obviating the need for Spanish cedar. Plastics do a great job of sealing the humidor, and the requirement for Spanish cedar is far less than it was in the past. However, I craft humidors in the traditional way and tend to gravitate towards traditional construction methods and solid natural materials.
Of course, I am not saying that any old wood will suffice to line the inside of your humidor. Try making a humidor from aromatic cedar, or some other wood and you will soon find your cigars tasting like your grandmother's old linen closet. And, other woods like cheap pine will sprout mold faster than you can say 'Cohiba'.
How do you know if you have real Spanish Cedar in your Humidor?
Sometimes, imported products aren't really what they claim to be. The same is true when it comes to humidors. Many mass-produced, imported humidors are built with an inexpensive interior wood to save on cost. Here's how you can tell if your humidor has a genuine, traditional Spanish cedar lining and not a cheap imitation that could ultimately destroy your fine collection of cigars.
First, Spanish cedar has a bourbon-orange tint to it. Have a look at the image at the top of this page. It also has fairly porous grain with long straight strands.
Second, if you smell it, it should smell distinctly spicy. If you are unsure, take some 400 grit sandpaper and lightly sand with the grain, then smell again. The sawdust should really make your nose light-up with the spiciness.
I personally still love to make humidors using genuine Spanish cedar, simply because of the tradition, appearance, and natural characteristics that make it a perfect wood for lining our creations at Vanderburgh Humidors. There is something special about opening a fine handcrafted humidor and being greeted by the scent of the spicy Spanish cedar lining as well as the aroma of your aged cigars. It looks great and it has great character. I will likely always use it whether it is required or not. Spanish cedar is the perfect compliment to a premium hand made cigar and a custom crafted humidor.
Is Spanish Cedar really Cedar?
Believe it or not, Spanish Cedar is not actually from the cedar family whatsoever. In fact, it actually comes from the mahogany family, and by looking at the grain, you can visually tell why.
Spanish Cedar has a wonderful ability to naturally control humidity and is not only very absorbent, but also very resistant to mold, and because of the high humidity levels in humidors, this quality is much required. The Amazon Natives actually used this tree to carve their canoes.
Spanish Cedar is also pleasingly aromatic, which lends itself to nicely to the natural flavors of the cigars. I remember the first time I ever smelled a piece of high quality Spanish Cedar, and I was surprised by the unique spiciness of the aroma. Then when I started doing some wood working with it, and the sawdust exponentiates the scents, and if you are not wearing a mask the spiciness can really be overpowering.
In any case, Spanish cedar over time impregnates a wonderful nuance into the cigar, and to the smoking experience.
Another quality about the Spanish cedar’s aroma is it is very resistant to the dreaded cigar beetle. Apparently these little guys hate the smell. Another good quality.
Are those Sticky Blotches in my Humidor bad?
Spanish Cedar is naturally oily. It's in the oils where Spanish Cedar gets the rich spicy aroma. Depending upon how close to the centre of the tree the board has been cut, often the oils can migrate to the surface of your humidor. The oils can be a bit problematic as it is fairly sticky and can glue your cigar wrappers to the wood. Though these oils can be cleaned alcohol, sometimes the sap can be relentless, almost never ending. If the oils continue to be problematic, rub them down with some 400 grit sandpaper periodically until they stop appearing. Although somewhat annoying, the more oils in your Spanish Cedar wood, the more pleasing the aroma will be.
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