This Wood Species series of entries comes to us from guest writer Rob Wilkey, an Atlanta-based woodworker and industrial designer whose expertise is in small home goods, furniture, and large installations.
Over the past few weeks, we've been looking at a number of common North American wood species. This week's featured species:
The wood of the cherry tree is popular among woodworkers for being a very well-rounded species. It is cheaper than walnut, more workable than maple and oak, and exhibits some of the most beautiful colors and grain patterns of any domestic species. Although it isn't harvested very abundantly, and isn't commonly available in larger boards, cherry is still used for large projects like cabinetry and furniture simply because it is so easy to manipulate and always looks remarkable.
In North America, the most commonly sold species is Black Cherry. A number of other domestic and imported species are sold with 'cherry' in their name, but only wood from the genus Prunus is true cherry lumber. Cherry is a pale, pinkish yellow hue when initially cut. This color changes rather quickly to a darker reddish brown with exposure to sunlight. The images below show a salt and pepper shaker that I built several years ago using Black Cherry. The picture on the left was taken within a week of applying the final coat of finish, and the image on the right shows the same piece one year later.
This change in color should be taken into consideration at the onset of a project. A metallic or painted accent that compliments freshly cut cherry might not have the same effect a few months later. Color is the only part of the wood that shifts, however, as the lumber is relatively unaffected by seasonal movement. Cherry's immunity to environmental change is due in part to its very small, diffuse pores and straight grain. The wood's grain structure and stability make it incredibly easy to cut, glue, sand, and turn on a lathe.
Cherry takes finishes very well, but should be avoided if you plan on staining your project, as it tends to absorb dyes and stains unevenly. At 950lbf Janka, Black Cherry is barely hard enough to be used on high-activity surfaces, and won't resist scratches and dents as well as most other hardwoods. Despite its lower Janka rating, cherry is structurally stable and highly resistant to rot and decay. Indoor installations constructed using cherry lumber will last for generations, growing richer in color every year.
This article marks the conclusion of the North American species that I'll be reviewing in these weekly posts. While the five domestic species I've covered represent some of the more commonly available choices, there are dozens of other domestic lumbers, each with their own set of unique qualities. Whenever you are looking to use a domestic species, I'd recommend looking over the options available to you, and narrowing down your selection based on price, color, and working properties. There are a number of resources available to help you in doing so, and one of the best is The Wood Database.
In next week's article, we'll begin looking at imported species. Up first on the list is mahogany—a wood that is used around the world in almost every conceivable application.