When selecting wood for fine furniture or woodworking projects, mahogany and cherry are two of the most popular and coveted choices. Both woods have distinctive grain patterns and rich, warm hues that add beauty and value to any piece.
But there are also key differences between mahogany and cherry that impact their suitability for various applications. Mahogany tends to be denser, more durable, and more expensive than cherry. Cherry is renowned for its smooth workability and refined aesthetic.
This comprehensive guide will examine all the nuances between mahogany and cherry wood. It covers everything from the origins and types of each wood, to their color and grain patterns, hardness ratings, workability, typical uses, costs, and environmental impacts.
Whether you are a woodworker choosing materials for a new project or a consumer investing in fine wood furniture, this in-depth comparison will help you select the right wood for your needs.
Mahogany vs Cherry Wood Comparison Table
|Origins||Tropical (Latin America, Africa)||Domestic (Eastern United States)|
|Varieties||Honduran, Big leaf, Mexican, Brazilian||American, Wild black, Rum, Mountain black|
|Density||High||Slightly less than mahogany|
|Texture||Fine to medium||Fine|
|Grain||Straight or interlocked||Wavy and farther apart|
|Resistance||High resistance to decay and pests||Similar to mahogany|
|Workability||Easy to work with but can splinter||Excellent, may blotch when stained|
|Color||Reddish-brown with orange tints||Reddish but leans to purplish-brown|
|Cost||Generally more expensive||Less expensive and widely available|
|Applications||High-quality furniture, boat building, musical instruments||Cabinetry, fine furniture, flooring|
|Environmental Impact||Listed as endangered, limited to certified sources||Not endangered, widely available|
|Special Cases||Can be veneered||Can also be veneered|
Origins and Types
True mahogany comes from tropical tree species native to South and Central America and Africa. The most common types used in woodworking are:
- Honduran Mahogany: This medium to large tree grows in Central America and Mexico. It produces a straight-grained, reddish-brown wood prized for furniture and boatbuilding.
- Cuban/West Indian Mahogany: This species grows in the Caribbean islands and Central America. It has a reddish-pink hue and interlocking grain well-suited for cabinets and musical instruments.
- Brazilian Mahogany: This South American species features a narrow grain pattern ranging from reddish-brown to deep red. It offers great strength and beauty but is becoming quite rare.
- African Mahogany: As the name suggests, this large tree grows across Sub-Saharan Africa. Its wood has a golden-red tone and straight grain perfect for high-end furniture.
In contrast to tropical mahogany, cherry wood comes from deciduous trees native to eastern North America. The most important species used in woodworking include:
- Black Cherry: The most widely used cherry species in furniture and cabinetry. It has a rich reddish-brown color and fine, straight grain.
- Bird Cherry: A European species with pale pinkish-brown heartwood and very narrow growth rings. Its hardness makes it suitable for turnery and inlays.
- Sour Cherry: Native to Europe and western Asia. Features broader color variations from pale pink to deep reddish browns.
- Cherry Plum: Grows across Europe and parts of Asia. Produces a distinctly reddish-colored wood used mainly for decorative inlay work and musical instruments.
When examining the physical characteristics of wood, properties like density, texture, and grain patterns differentiate mahogany from cherry. These innate qualities impact each wood’s durability, workability, and applications.
Mahogany Physical Properties:
- Density: Mahogany is generally very dense, ranging from 560-850 kg/m3 when dried. This makes it heavier than many other cabinet woods.
- Texture: Mahogany has a fine, smooth texture. Certain species feature a more open grain while others have a tighter, uniform grain.
- Grain Patterns: Typically straight or interlocked grains. Ribbon-like grains occur in some species. The grain lines tend to be bold and easily visible.
Cherry Wood Physical Properties:
- Density: Cherry is moderately dense, ranging from 450-550 kg/m3 when dried. Less heavy than mahogany.
- Texture: Very fine and smooth texture. Cherry has the finest grain of any North American hardwood.
- Grain Patterns: Typically straight grains with a fine, narrow growth ring figure. Occasional curly or mottled grain patterns occur.
Mahogany is denser and has bolder grain patterns than cherry wood’s more refined, delicate grain lines. But there can be significant variation among the species within each category.
Durability and Workability
Each wood’s innate hardness and natural resistance impacts its durability and ease of use. Mahogany and cherry each have strengths and weaknesses regarding longevity and workability.
- Janka Hardness: Mahogany has a Janka rating ranging from 800-900 lbf (pounds-force). This makes it a relatively hard wood.
- Decay & Pest Resistance: Highly resistant to rot and damage from insects/termites. Mahogany contains natural oils that act as preservatives.
- Stability: Generally stable in use, but prone to slight swelling and shrinking with changes in moisture.
- Workability: Mahogany is easy to work using both hand and power tools. Care must be taken as it can splinter if grain direction changes abruptly.
Cherry Wood Durability:
- Janka Hardness: Cherry has a Janka rating around 950 lbf. This makes it slightly harder than mahogany.
- Decay & Pest Resistance: Also naturally resistant to decay and pests, but not as durable as mahogany.
- Stability: Cherry is prone to moderate movement and distortion with humidity changes. Care must be taken during construction.
- Workability: Extremely easy to work with hand and power tools. Planes, turns, sands, stains and finishes beautifully.
Mahogany is slightly more durable while cherry offers superior workability. Mahogany’s natural oils protect it from pests and rot. Cherry is renowned for its smooth cut and ability to take stains and finishes well.
Color and Grain Patterns
The specific colors and grain characteristics of mahogany vs cherry also guide appropriate applications based on aesthetics.
Mahogany Wood Colors:
- Heartwood Color: Varies by species from pale pinkish red to deep reddish brown. Most commonly a rich, warm reddish brown.
- Color Variations: Some species exhibit a fair degree of color variation from sapwood to heartwood. Color tends to darken and enrich over time with exposure to light.
- Color Stability: Very stable natural color tones that do not easily fade over time.
Mahogany Grain Patterns:
- Grain Texture: Moderately coarse, open grain in most species. Visually interesting and varied grain figuring.
- Grain Lines: Typically straight or interlocked. Some species have wavy or irregular grains that produce unique visual effects.
- Rotary Cuts: Rotary-cut mahogany veneers highlight the medullary ray fleck patterns for decorative visual effects.
Cherry Wood Color Characteristics:
- Heartwood Color: Light pinkish red when freshly cut maturing to a richer reddish brown. Purplish-brown hues are also common.
- Color Variations: Less color distinction between sapwood and heartwood. More variation in heartwood color based on growing region.
- Color Stability: Cherry will gradually darken and take on a patina over time with exposure to light. The color change is considered a desirable effect.
Cherry Wood Grain Patterns:
- Grain Texture: Uniformly fine texture with close grain lines. Smooth and consistent grain is a hallmark of cherry.
- Grain Lines: Typically straight grain. Occasional curls, waves, and burls create decorative figure patterns.
- Rotary Cuts: Rotary cherry veneers highlight the narrow growth rings for a clean, uniform look.
Mahogany leans reddish-brown while cherry shifts toward purplish-browns. Mahogany has bolder graining while cherry features more delicate yet varied grain patterns in select cuts.
Mahogany commands a premium price while cherry is considered one of the most affordable domestic hardwoods. Here is a look at typical costs:
Mahogany Lumber Cost
- Cost per Board Foot: $7-15 on average. Can range from as low as $4 up to $20+ for rare species.
- Contributing Factors: Tropical source, import costs, labor expenses, and sustainability concerns all drive the price higher. Limited supply of large boards also adds cost.
Cherry Lumber Cost
- Cost per Board Foot: Approximately $5-7 on average. As low as $3 for common grades and up to $10 for figured pieces.
- Contributing Factors: Abundant domestic supply keeps costs down. Easy to harvest and mill large boards and widths also improve affordability.
Mahogany costs 2-3 times more than cherry lumber per board foot. There are sound reasons for mahogany’s price premium, but cherry offers great value for fine carpentry.
Typical Uses and Applications
The unique properties and cost considerations of each wood lend themselves to certain typical uses:
Common Uses for Mahogany
- Furniture: Mahogany is most renowned for high-end furniture. Durable, beautifully grained, and expensive – ideal for impressive tables, desks, beds, and casework.
- Boatbuilding: Mahogany’s water resistance made it a prime boatbuilding material. Still used for modern yachts, canoes, and other boats.
- Musical Instruments: An excellent tonewood for guitars, drums, violins, and other instruments. Provides brightness, complexity, and resonance.
- Turned Objects: Easy to turn on a wood lathe. Ideal for decorative bowls, pens, finials, and art pieces.
- Veneer: Thin sheets of mahogany veneer highlight the wood’s beauty. Often used in marquetry, inlays, and as a decorative surface.
Common Uses for Cherry Wood
- Furniture: Cherry is used extensively for cabinets, beds, tables, and all types of home furniture where an attractive reddish wood is desired.
- Architectural Woodwork: An ideal choice for architectural paneling, wainscoting, doors, and trim work where hardness and fine machining are required.
- Flooring: Provides a classic, refined look for hardwood flooring in homes and commercial spaces.
- Cabinetry: The smooth working characteristics of cherry make it a top choice for all types of cabinets and built-ins.
- Turned Objects: Responds well on a lathe for bowls, spindles, posts, and ornamental turnings.
The renewability and sustainability of each wood must also be considered from an environmental standpoint.
Mahogany Environmental Factors:
- Renewability: Most mahogany species are not easily or quickly renewable. Growing cycles are measured in decades for tropical species.
- Deforestation Impacts: Historic overlogging of mahogany means most countries now regulate harvesting. But illegal logging remains problematic.
- Sustainability: Mahogany can be sourced sustainably from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified suppliers. But supply is lacking.
- Status: Not formally listed as endangered but many environmental groups are concerned about sustainability.
Cherry Wood Environmental Attributes:
- Renewability: Cherry is easily replanted and managed. Mature cherry can be harvested in as little as 30 years.
- Deforestation Impacts: No major concerns over deforestation. Cherry trees grow prolifically across the United States and Canada.
- Sustainability: Responsible forestry practices allow for a very sustainable supply. Cherry is not endangered.
- Availability: Easy to source new or recycled cherry wood from responsible suppliers.
Mahogany faces sustainability challenges while domestic cherry offers worry-free renewability. Cherry is the clear eco-friendly choice.
Beyond the basics, there are some other special considerations around mahogany and cherry:
Special Mahogany Characteristics:
- Regional Variations: The growing region markedly impacts mahogany color, grain, density and other factors. Specific origins like African or Honduran are prized.
- Figured Wood: Rare pieces with dramatic burl or curly figure command extremely high prices as veneer or lumber.
- Rotary Cut Veneer: Rotary cutting mahogany logs enhances decorative grain patterns like ribbons, waves, and dots for veneer.
- Imitations: Due to scarcity of real mahogany, imitations are common. Look for telltale signs like bland grain or lack of depth.
Unique Attributes of Cherry Wood:
- Color Change Over Time: Cherry ages beautifully, gradually becoming darker and richer. This color change adds value and is often considered desirable.
- Mimics Mahogany: Cherry stains easily to mimic mahogany relatively convincingly. Provides a lower cost mahogany look alternative.
- Sapwood Use: Small amounts of creamy white sapwood are often incorporated into projects, providing dramatic contrast next to the heartwood.
- Birdseye Figure: Rare cherry boards exhibit small knots or birdseye figures. This irregular grain pattern is highly decorative and prized.
As you can see, both woods have special characteristics that add to their singular beauty and value for specific applications.
Frequently Asked Questions
Some common questions arise when comparing mahogany and cherry:
Does Mahogany Stain Match Cherry?
Mahogany stains tend to be redder and browner while cherry stains pull more purple and pink undertones. The colors can complement each other but will not be an exact match. Light reddish mahogany stain on cherry can mimic solid mahogany relatively convincingly.
Is Mahogany Stronger Than Cherry?
Mahogany has a slight edge in density, hardness, and natural durability. But cherry offers excellent strength for furniture and cabinetry along with smooth workability. Either wood provides ample sturdiness for most applications.
Can You Mix Mahogany and Cherry Furniture?
Due to their complementary reddish hues, mahogany and cherry furniture can work well together within the same room. Some minor finish adjustments may be needed to improve color harmony. Using contrasting wood accents also helps the two woods coexist aesthetically.
What is Better for Furniture Mahogany or Cherry?
It depends on the priorities. Mahogany excels based on prestige, richness, and durability. Cherry provides a more refined look and is easier to work for cabinetmakers. Both are excellent furniture woods with different strengths. Personal taste plays a big role.
As you can see, there are nuances to how mahogany and cherry interact. But their warm reddish tones mean they can live harmoniously together in many contexts.
Mahogany and cherry each have their ardent enthusiasts within woodworking and furniture circles. While cherry has its place for more cost-conscious work, mahogany stands in a class of its own as a prestigious and durable furniture wood.
Yet cherry provides its charm and workability at a more accessible price point. Understanding the tradeoffs allows you to select the right species for furniture or woodworking needs.
This comprehensive comparison lets you confidently choose between mahogany and cherry wood for your next project or furniture purchase. Remember the special characteristics of each wood and how they align with your goals for beauty, practicality and budget.
The similarities between mahogany and cherry mean the woods work well together too. Blending them allows you to balance the benefits of each within a singular piece.
Whatever your choice, mahogany and cherry woods will provide decades of rich, warm beauty for your home or workspace when cared for properly. Enjoy bringing out the best qualities of these classic woods for your next woodworking adventure.