Wood Types and Properties #1: Know your wood #1-Cherry

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Blog entry by Paul Sellers posted 05-13-2011 10:43 PM 2349 reads 3 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Wood Types and Properties series Part 2: Know your wood #2-Beech »

Most people only talk about grain at the most superficial level of how it looks. We woodworkers enter the fibres. We tease the cells apart with the chisel’s edge and search for weaknesses and strengths in the species. We want to know these intimate details so we can exemplify the strengths and protect the weak from harm. I thought that it might help to give my personal insights into the different woods that I have worked with for almost five decades. Most of them are common enough, but I also want to include the many exotic woods have worked with through the years too.

Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)

I first worked with cherry about 25 years ago in the US and I have worked with it ever since. It is indeed the king of hardwoods for several reasons not the least of which is its quiet, unassuming manner, a pleasing and submissive disposition in the hands of a craftsman and its solid, dependable stability under extreme duress. Perhaps this has much to do with it being a moderately slow growing hardwood that thrives throughout the more temperate zones of Europe and north and south America. The bark is unusual in that it is relatively smooth main body of bark crossed with unusual but highly characteristic feathery flakes and has a copper-beech leaf colour that’s quite lovely.

Cherry grows to good proportions and produces large boards to a long length and sizeable width. I usually buy 8’ lengths but 10’s and 12’s are easy to obtain in the USA. Fairly knot free with consistent even grain texture throughout and no noticeable difference between heart and sapwood in terms of density, grain texture, workability etc. Cherry is a moderately hard wood that works extremely well with all hand tools and responding particularly well to all of the edge tools such as handplanes, chisels, spokeshave and scrapers. When fresh cut the heartwood has creamy colour but quickly turns to a wonderful dark honey colour in a matter of weeks. During this colour change period it’s important not to leave any item on the finished work for longer than a day or so as the wood will not change in the shielded area until later and you will end up with a light patch silhouetted in the surrounding areas. After a few weeks exposure the surface will change to a wonderful deep honey colour and I think that’s what I love about this beautiful fruitwood we call cherry.

Warning! Though Cherry sapwood is equal in consistency with the heartwood, and the sapwood and heartwood look close in colour when first cut, planed, sanded and finished with a wood finish, the heartwood darkens quickly within a short time, but the sapwood on the other hand doesn’t. What’s more, it never will and the contrast in match between the darkness of the heartwood and the light sapwood can severely impair the way the piece will look later, though it may look fine at first. Best to cut out any sapwood right off the bat, or use it as a secondary wood somewhere less obvious.

-- Paul Sellers, UK

5 comments so far

View HallTree's profile


5666 posts in 4734 days

#1 posted 05-14-2011 12:07 AM

Paul, I really enjoyed reading your comments about Cherry and looking forward to what you have to say about other woods. If you could add some additional photos in the future I think it would be even more interesting, such as: the shape of whole tree, close-up of the bark, close-up of a board, etc. I know this would be a lot of work on your part and I know this is shown in books and on other websites, but it would be a great addition to us here at LumberJocks.

-- "Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life" Solomon

View Paul Sellers's profile

Paul Sellers

278 posts in 3537 days

#2 posted 05-14-2011 12:28 AM

Here is larger cluster of leaves, this year’s cherries on the way and also the cherry bark with its typical characteristic color and scale. In a few weeks I will be picking these and of course eating them. The trees have literally hundreds of thousands of cherries on them and it’s quite something competing with the birds to get to the ripe ones before they do. They get up so early!

-- Paul Sellers, UK

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 4955 days

#3 posted 05-14-2011 01:24 AM

Great job on this wood. We had a series like this going a couple of years ago.

Not as extensive as this one though

I did the following woods:

Swiss pear

Also this one: Janka Hardness Scale

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View DaleM's profile


958 posts in 4350 days

#4 posted 05-15-2011 03:20 PM

What a great resource. I’m not talking about just this one blog either, but our new member Paul with all his knowledge. Welcome, and thanks for sharing Paul. All of Gary’s wood blogs in one spot too means I have to favorite this for a little more study.

-- Dale Manning, Carthage, NY

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 5127 days

#5 posted 05-29-2011 11:54 AM

great series… and thanks, GaryK, for the addition of the past postings.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

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