Cherry: the handsome, regal fruitwood

Cherry: the handsome, regal fruitwood

Jo-Ann Kaiser

Chances are that the fabled cherry tree cut down by George Washington was not the same type used for furniture and cabinet-making. Apart from the many domestic cherry trees used for fruit bearing or decorative uses, black cherry (Prunus serotina) stands alone as the native species used in the domestic commercial lumber market.

Black cherry has long been a popular cabinet and furniture wood in the United States. In addition to cabinetry, its many uses include: Queen Anne designs, French provincial, Early American and Mediterranean styles. It is a top choice for Shaker furniture and translates well in such designs as sleigh beds and armoires. Other uses include fine veneers, architectural uses, backing blocks for printers’ plates, caskets, gunstocks, musical instruments and parts, carvings and sculptures. It is a good choice for turnery, toys, boat interiors and specialty items such as brushes and pipes.

Who is using cherry today?

Almost everybody incorporates cherry wood in some form, said Joe Dyer, domestic sales manager for the Dean Co. Used extensively in the home furnishings market, cherry is also a grand choice for pianos as well as desk and credenza tops.

“In virtually every instance a company uses veneers in the United States, they will use cherry,” Dyer said. This correlates to the claim that the use of cherry has been steadily increasing for the past five years; Dyer said he rates its usage for the home furnishings market as second or third to oak, with pine a close fourth. Besides its adaptability with furniture styles, he added that cherry’s increased popularity could stem from the fact that, with its dark looks, it has replaced mahogany formerly used by some manufacturers now leery of using a rain forest tree.

Dyer said the biggest demand is for good, clean cherry as opposed to veneers which are gummy, pin-knotty or a combination of the two. Gummy cherry will often have black spots in the grain or pin knots or a figure that today’s industry “just doesn’t want.” Dyer said The Dean Co. is working with finishing manufacturers to develop a new method that will give a smooth, non-pitted finish even when using gummy or pin-knotty cherry.

“The biggest problem manufacturers have when using gummy cherry is the gum spots in the grain can sometimes leave a tiny hole. When finished with a heavy lacquer, the lacquer can soak into the hole and make a little pit that takes away from the finish,” said Dyer. “We are trying to develop a reverse roll fill over cherry, followed by the lacquer spray which we hope will fill the gum spots.”

Pleasing to the eye

The species’ growth range is from southeastern Canada and throughout the eastern United States, with harvesting concentrated in the Mid-Atlantic states. According to Dyer, The Dean Co. gets the majority of its supplies from Pennsylvania, with some culled from northern West Virginia. “Some cherry is being cut in Iowa and Michigan, but Pennsylvania is generally thought of as the best source,” he added.

Cherry is a pleasingly-figured wood. Plain sawn or rotary cut, it has a faint growth ring and an occasional burl. Quarter-sawn lumber and veneer occasionally have a burl.

Black cherry heartwood varies from a light to a dark reddish-brown and has a discernible luster. The wood has narrow brown pith flecks and small gum pockets, a straight grain and a fine, even texture. It works well with both hand and power tools, although it does produce a moderate blunting on cutting edges. It also nails, glues and stains very well. The sapwood is liable to attack by the common furniture beetle. The heartwood has a moderate resistance to preservative treatment.

Cherry wood dries fairly quickly and among its few drawbacks is a tendency to warp and shrink. It also has medium movement in service.

European cherry also has a tendency to warp during drying. Cross-grained wood can have problems during planing. Experts recommend a 20 degree cutting angle to alleviate this problem.

The “old country” connection

A related species, Prunus avium, grows in Europe, West Asia and North Africa and is also a prized cabinet wood, its names include gean, mazzar, fruit cherry, mersier, and kirsche. It is slightly heavier than its American counterpart. European cherry has strength properties comparable to oak.

Makore (Tieghemella heckelii) from the African Gold Coast and Nigeria is often called African cherry or cherry mahogany. The Fine Hardwoods/American Walnut Assn.’s Selectorama of woods describes makore as “somewhat similar to a close-grained mahogany but with dark red growth lines and smaller pores as found in cherry.” This wood is not a true cherry.

A wood that is similar to American cherry is French cherry or Prunus cerasus, grown in France and England. It is a rare, beautiful wood used for fine cabinetry.

Be fruitful and multiply

Some cherry trees are strictly grown for their decorative value. These landscape trees, with their distinctive pink and white blossoms, are a harbinger of spring and a symbol of hope throughout the world.

Cherry growing is a thriving market in the United States. Commercial cherry trees are most often grove grown. Michigan, Washington, and Oregon lead the states in production with a combined annual total of 410 million pounds of cherries in those three states alone. The main types of fruit include sweet cherries and sour cherries.

COPYRIGHT 1992 Vance Publishing Corp.

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning