Woodworking: What To Know About Cherry Wood
Wondering what you should know about Cherry wood before using it for a woodworking project? A pro woodworker gives his insights.
Cherry is one of the most popular domestic woods for fine woodworkers. Widely available in the U.S. and considered a premium domestic hardwood, it is highly desirable for its workability and warm tones. Cherry is generally a delight to work with both hand tools and machines, but beware that some highly figured boards can lead to frustrations with tear-out. Here I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about cherry to give you the confidence to use it in your next woodworking project.
What is Cherry Wood?
As mentioned above, cherry is a hardwood, meaning it comes from a deciduous tree (a tree that sheds its leaves each autumn) called the black cherry, AKA American cherry. Its heartwood has a pale salmon color when freshly machined and ages to a beautifully warm reddish brown over time. The sapwood is a pale yellow color and appears on the outer edge of dimensioned boards. It is generally quite nice to work with.
Types of Cherry Wood
There are two types of cherry trees:
- Black cherry: This is the wood you’ll find in any lumberyard selling cherry. The black cherry tree grows in the eastern U.S. and is a highly sought-after wood due to the warm patina it develops over time. It has good dimensional stability and a janka hardness rating of 950 lbf (pound-force). The Janka hardness rating comes from a test measuring the density of wood species. For context, walnut has a Janka rating of 1,010 lbf and white oak comes in at 1,360 lbf.
Bonus fact: while the fruit from the black cherry tree is edible, it is used for its lumber more than its fruit. The vast majority of the cherries we eat come from the sweet cherry tree. Here are a few tips to help you care for a weeping cherry tree.
- Sweet cherry: The Eurasian cousin of the black cherry, sweet cherry wood is not as readily available in the U.S. This is partly because the tree is smaller and yields less lumber, but also because sweet cherry is mostly farmed as a fruit-bearing tree. It is slightly harder than black cherry with a Janka rating of 1,150 lbf.
The Pros of Cherry Wood
- Availability: Cherry is widely available and can be found practically anywhere you can purchase domestic American hardwoods, from distributors to big box stores.
- Workability: If you enjoy hand-tool woodworking, cherry is a true delight. Hard enough to hold a crisp line or take a clean saw kerf, it is also soft enough not to dull blades quickly.
- Finishing: There is a small bit of magic every time you wipe on that first coat of finish, and cherry takes a clear finish with the best of them.
The Cons of Cherry Wood
- Price: Cherry is a premium domestic hardwood, so be prepared to pay a higher price for that label. While standard flat sawn cherry isn’t excessively pricey, any boards with figure or sought-after irregularities can drain your wallet quickly.
- Staining: Due to its fine grain structure, cherry doesn’t like to take pigments and some folks complain of blotchiness when attempting to stain it. My solution is to not stain it. Let the natural aging process beautify this wood in a matter of weeks or months.
What Is Cherry Wood Used For?
Cherry is used in a wide variety of applications, including:
Furniture: From cabinetry to tables to veneer, cherry is a staple in practically every American woodshop;
Millwork: Interior millwork such as doors, moldings and trim;
Flooring: Cherry is durable and sometimes used as flooring.
Cherry Wood Cost and Purchasing
Expect to pay anywhere from $5 to $20 per board foot, depending on the grade and figure. For comparison, most other furniture-grade domestic hardwoods will cost anywhere from $5 to $15 per board foot. While the cost of cherry won’t be prohibitive for all beginners, I encourage folks to avoid cherry early on as the price may discourage newer woodworkers from action for fear of messing up an expensive piece of lumber.