Cigar humidors may look simple, but they’re actually highly specialized devices designed to create and maintain a controlled environment for your cigars. A crucial part of this is the material they’re constructed from. The best cigar humidors are made of wood, and though there’s a wide of different woods to choose from, manufacturers generally focus on only three: Spanish cedar, American red cedar, and Honduran mahogany. These woods have several unique properties that make them especially well-suited to cigars and cigar storage. Unlike most other woods, they retain moisture, enhance scents, and repel insects. Humidors made with these woods will keep your cigars fresh far longer than any other types and they should always be your first choice for a cigar humidor.
Why Are Cigar Humidors Made Out of Wood?
In order to understand why the choice of wood is so important to a cigar humidor, you need to know how a cigar humidor operates. When you place your cigars into a humidor, you’re not placing them into a sealed environment. Cigar humidors are designed so fresh air can circulate in and out, which helps keep your cigars from becoming stale.
Cigars are grown, fermented, and manufactured in humid climates where the average humidity hovers around 70 percent and they’ll always taste best if they’re stored in a similar environment. Anything over 70 percent humidity, they soak up too much moisture and become moldy. Anything under, they dry out and lose their flavor. In the tropics, humidity is generated by the interaction between the sun and ocean, but in your humidor, it’s generated by your humidifier. It’s a device designed to release moisture gradually over an extended period of time. There are several different types, but most are calibrated to release moisture only until the humidity level reaches 70 percent.
Cigars require a stable environment, and the right wood helps ensure they get it. Whenever you open your cigar humidor, the sudden exposure to the outside siphons off the humidity, leaving your cigars exposed and vulnerable, but wooden humidors help reestablish the proper balance very quickly. Wood is hydrostatic, which means it absorbs and releases moisture from its environment. In a cigar humidor, the wood paneling absorbs the excess water from the humidifier and prevents your cigars from becoming too damp. Then, after the lid is opened, the wood releases the stored moisture back into the environment, bringing humidity levels back up to 70 percent very quickly. Wood acts as a stabilizing agent, preventing your cigars from becoming too damp or too dry.
Spanish Cedar Cigar Humidors
Despite its name, Spanish cedar is not native to Spain. It’s grown predominantly in Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and the South American foothills. Varieties have also been exported to Africa, where they’re grown on plantations established to help meet global demand. Spanish cedar is also not a cedar. It’s a hardwood, closely related to mahogany. Spanish cedar is the ideal wood for humidors. Not only is it porous, it also has a dense grain structure, which means it absorbs and releases water at a very controlled rate, providing maximum flexibility when seasoning and humidifying your cigars. Despite sharing all of these qualities, there is one, Spanish cedar, which performs better and is used far more prevalently than the other two. It should always be your first choice for a cigar humidor.
Spanish cedar also resists mold. As trees grow, they develop numerous defenses to protect themselves from rot, which is often caused by mold. Due to their humid environment, tropical trees, such as Spanish cedar, have evolved especially strong resistance against mold. It’s one of the reasons why the demand for Spanish cedar has increased so much in recent years. Its natural resistance makes it a great choice for outdoor projects, as well as cigar humidors.
Spanish cedar repels insects too. It has a distinctive, spicy smell that drives away insects, such as tobacco beetles. These microscopic insects lay their eggs in your cigars and when they hatch, they chew their way through your collection, causing considerable damage.
The smell also enhances the taste of your cigars. It comes from the oils in the wood. As they’re gradually released, they’re absorbed by the cigars and add another layer of complexity to them. Spanish cedar’s smell fades over time, but never completely dies out. If you can’t smell it, just scrape some light-grade sandpaper over the surface and it will come back again.
The only downside to Spanish cedar is the price. Because it’s so well suited to cigar storage, demand for it is very high, which has driven its price up very sharply in recent years.
American Red Cedar Cigar Humidors
American red cedar, also known as Eastern red cedar, is common across the Midwest and eastern United States. It’s found as far north as Canada and as far south as Mexico. Like Spanish cedar, American red cedar has a natural resistance to mold and insects. This resistance comes as a cost, however. It’s strong, earthy odor is disliked by most cigar smokers, and because it’s so strong, it often overwhelms the cigar’s natural flavor.
American red cedar doesn’t absorb moisture nearly as well as Spanish cedar either, which means the moisture environment in a red cedar chest will be drier and less hospital to your cigars in the long run. Besides water, the cigars may lose some of their essential oils, resins, and sugars, which are what give cigars their flavor. You may also see some cracking on the surface, as the leaves become dehydrated and more brittle.
The one advantage American red cedar has over Spanish cedar is price. Because it’s less desirable, cigar humidors made from American red cedar cost less than those made from Spanish cedar.
Honduran Mahogany Cigar Humidors
Honduran mahogany is a tropical hardwood found in Central and South America. Its natural range extends from Mexico all the way to the Amazon Basin in Brazil, and it’s the only true mahogany tree that’s still commercially grown. Honduran mahogany absorbs and retains water almost as well as Spanish cedar and is an excellent way to maintain a stable moisture environment for your cigars. Honduran mahogany has a very mild scent that’s difficult to detect and won’t be absorbed by your cigars, even after prolonged exposure. It’s an ideal choice for cigar smokers who don’t enjoy the scent of Spanish or American red cedar.
Unfortunately, the weak smell also makes Honduran mahogany more vulnerable to tobacco beetle infestation. Tobacco beetles are native to the tropics, but can now be found all over the world. Tobacco beetles thrive in humid environments similar to the storage conditions found in most cigar humidors. Without the strong aroma of Spanish cedar or American red cedar to drive them away, tobacco beetles will find their way into your cigar humidor more often if its made from Honduran mahogany.
Like American red cedar, humidors made with Honduran mahogany will be less expensive than ones made with Spanish cedar.
Despite the popularity of Spanish cedar, American red cedar, and Honduran mahogany, few humidors are made from them. Most are constructed from a different type of wood, such as cherry or rosewood, and lined with Spanish cedar, American cedar, or Honduran mahogany panels. Though you might assume that this would make them be less effective than a humidor made entirely from solid wood, the opposite is the case. These types of humidors are stronger and more durable. The outer layer of wood provides protection and prevents the moisture seal from damage. Humidors made entirely from cedar or mahogany tend to be more fragile. Spanish cedar in particular is very soft and doesn’t withstand impacts very well. Too much damage, and the moisture may begin to leak out through the cracks.
If you are purchasing a humidor with a Spanish cedar, American red cedar, or Honduran mahogany paneling, make sure you that uses a hardwood veneer, such as cherry, rosewood, maple, pine, or oak. Hardwoods absorb and release moisture very slowly, so they work with the cedar or mahogany lining to trap moisture. Humidors with a softwood or particle board veneer absorb and release moisture very quickly, and there’s a danger they may absorb the moisture in the cedar or mahogany lining and release it out through the sides of the humidor.