About Cherry Lumber


Cherry lumber, a hardwood highly prized by furniture and cabinet makers for its rich reddish-brown color and attractive grain, comes from the black cherry tree (Prunus serotina). The black cherry, also called the mountain black cherry or wild black cherry, is native to eastern North America from Ontario and Quebec provinces of Canada south to Florida and Texas, with isolated populations in Arizona and New Mexico.


Black cherry wood is used to make cabinets, furniture, gun stocks, tobacco pipes, burial caskets, musical instruments and decorative carvings. It has a storied history as the wood of choice for colonial and early American cabinet makers.


The outer cherry sapwood is pale yellow in color. When exposed to the sun, the darker heartwood deepens to a distinctive reddish-brown. The sapwood never achieves the same color. The waves or curls of the cherry wood grain are highly prized. Heartwood can have pockets of gum that show up as fine black lines or dark spots that can make finishing cherry wood difficult.


The tangential shrinking of cherry wood can be twice as great as the radial shrinking. Tangential shrinking occurs in the direction of the growth rings; radial shrinking occurs across the direction of the rings. The consequence of this is that if cherry wood is not dried slowly, it can warp.


Furniture makers can bleach cherry wood grains or apply medium to dark finishes. Sunlight slowly darkens cherry wood; the best way to achieve the characteristic and highly prized deep red color of cherry wood is to let it sit in the sun. Master cabinet-maker Jon Arno recommends using tung oil bring out the attractive curly grain of cherry wood. If the wood has an undulating grain showing differences in the density of the wood, Arno recommends applying shellac; he considers shellac the perfect partner for cherry wood. You should not use varnishes that contain UV blocking compounds because they retard the development of the distinctive rich, red patina of cherry wood.

Machining Cherry Wood

Lathes and other woodworking machines can be used with cherry wood. A router can be used on the fine grains, but the cherry wood has a tendency to burn; carbide bits should be used and the router should not be stopped with the bit still on the wood. When cutting joints with a wood that has a nice curl to the grain, carefully consider the direction of the feed. When planing, the passes should be less than 1/16 inch. Sand cherry wood with the grain to prevent cross-grain marks.

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About this Author

Richard Hoyt, the author of 26 mysteries, thrillers and other novels, is a former reporter for Honolulu dailies and writer for "Newsweek" magazine. He taught nonfiction writing and journalism at the university level for 10 years. He holds a Ph.D. in American studies.