Red cherry wood is among the most beloved and coveted hardwoods used in fine furniture and cabinetry. Its rich reddish-brown color, smooth texture, and ability to age gracefully have made it a fixture in high-end American furniture for centuries.
Cherry’s seamless grain patterns and uniform texture allow it to be stained and finished easily to achieve a clean, polished look. As cherry wood ages and is exposed to light over time, it undergoes a chemical reaction that causes it to take on a deeper, warmer hue. This color change adds to the wood’s beauty, distinction, and value.
Beyond its aesthetic appeal, red cherry wood also offers excellent durability and strength thanks to its dense grain structure and janka rating 950. This combination makes it suitable for creating heirloom-quality pieces.
What is Red Cherry Wood?
Red cherry, also known as American cherry, black cherry, and wild cherry, refers to lumber harvested from the black cherry (Prunus serotina) tree. It is one of the few select hardwoods native to North America. The trees typically grow in the Eastern and Central United States and parts of Southern Canada.
The heartwood of a cherry tree has a reddish-brown color that ranges from a lighter pinkish hue to a deeper, richer shade. As the tree matures over 40-50 years, the color of the heartwood becomes darker. The sapwood is a pale yellow or cream color.
Cherry lumber is prized for its straight grain patterns and uniform texture. It also has medium bending and crushing strength. The wood’s closed pores allow for an incredible smooth finish. These attributes make cherry wood highly workable using hand or machine tools.
Why is Cherry Wood Prized?
There are several key reasons why red cherry wood is so highly coveted:
- Aesthetic appeal – The wood has a straight grain and uniform texture that stains and finishes beautifully. Its color transforms over time into a richer, deeper red-brown.
- Durability – Cherry wood is quite strong with a Janka hardness rating of 950. This makes it resistant to scrapes, cuts, and gouges.
- Ease of working – Cherry planes, turns, glues, and finishes smoothly. It is easy to work using both hand and machine tools.
- Versatility – Cherry can be used for almost any furniture application including tables, beds, cabinets, and more. It is also popular as veneer, flooring, and turned pieces.
- Prestige – Its smooth texture, refined appearance, and warm reddish tones have made cherry a sign of luxury and prestige.
No other domestic hardwood possesses quite the same blend of beauty, versatility, and durability as cherry. These qualities make it a highly sought-after material.
Common Uses for Red Cherry Wood
Cherry wood is predominantly used by furniture makers, cabinet builders, interior designers, and woodworking enthusiasts. Some typical cherry wood applications include:
Cherry is frequently utilized in high-end furniture including:
- Bedroom sets
- Dining tables and chairs
- Bookcases and display cabinets
- Armoires and dressers
Its smooth texture and ability to accept different stains and finishes make it ideal for any room.
The richness and warmth of cherry woodwork beautifully in kitchen settings. It is commonly used for:
- Cabinet doors and face frames
- Pantry doors
- Kitchen islands
Beyond furniture, you can also find cherry wood in:
- Crown molding
- Chair rails
- Wood trims and veneers
Its upscale look makes it perfect for adding elegance to hallways, offices, and other living spaces.
Cherry is a popular choice for:
- Hardwood flooring planks
- Parquet flooring
Its durability and attractive grain make it suitable for high-traffic areas.
Buying Cherry Wood Furniture
If you wish to incorporate the timeless beauty of cherry wood into your home, here are some tips for selecting pieces:
- Choose reputable brands that use high-quality, sustainably-sourced cherry lumber. Well-known brands like Thomasville, Stickley, and Henkel Harris are good options.
- Inspect furniture carefully – Look for pieces with a consistent color and grain. Avoid those with uneven staining or finishing.
- Consider custom-made – Many companies will build furniture to your specifications so you get the perfect dimensions and features.
- Ask about aging – Find out how the color change of the wood over time may impact the item’s appearance. Most brands highlight this color change.
- Understand availability – Cherry lumber is less available than woods like oak and maple. Lead times for cherry furniture may be longer.
- Compare pricing – Premium cherry furniture generally costs more than equivalents made from other hardwoods. Make sure to get quotes from multiple makers.
While it commands a higher price, cherry’s enduring popularity stems from its peerless good looks enhanced by the patina of time. It’s an investment that will pay aesthetic dividends for generations.
Sustainability of Cherry Wood
With the rising popularity of eco-conscious consumerism, it is prudent to consider the sustainability of any natural material, including cherry wood.
The good news is that cherry lumber is generally harvested and produced using responsible forestry practices. The trees grow relatively quickly, reaching maturity at 20 years. Their average lifespan is around 80-100 years.
Cherry wood used in furniture and flooring is typically sourced from privately-owned forestlands. Landowners are vested in the health and longevity of their cherry tree stands.
The salvage of cherry trees from land clearing for agriculture or commercial development is another source of lumber. This gives an extended useful life to trees that would otherwise be burnt or discarded.
Sustainable forestry practices used in cherry tree farming include:
- Cutting mature and defective trees in small groups to simulate natural clearings
- Replanting seedlings promptly after harvest
- Using thinning and pruning to improve growth
- Protecting trees from livestock damage
- Following restrictions on cutting season and harvest methods
When sourced responsibly, the natural beauty of cherry wood can be enjoyed for generations without compromising future supply. Seek out manufacturers that prioritize eco-friendly wood harvesting.
The Story of Red Cherry Wood
To fully appreciate cherry wood’s heritage, it helps to delve into its past. Let’s look at some notable milestones in the wood’s history:
1796 – Cabinetmakers in Philadelphia first began using native cherry wood for furniture making. Its reddish tones and smooth grain quickly grew in popularity.
1820s – New England artisans discovered that the varied colors of cherry wood could be made more uniform with stains. This opened up broader design possibilities.
1860s – American cherry wood was exhibited at World Fairs in London and Paris. European audiences were impressed by its rich hues and texture.
1920s – Improvements in finishing methods helped cherry wood gain favor over walnut and mahogany for high-end furniture.
1930s – The warm, welcoming character of cherry wood made it a darling of the American Arts and Crafts movement.
1960s – A scarcity of cherry lumber after WWII was relieved as supply rebounded. Cherry furniture production also ramped up.
Today – Red cherry remains cherished as a top wood species for everything from Shaker-inspired tables to luxurious executive desks.
Cherry’s rise to become one of the most coveted American hardwoods reflects its versatility to suit changing styles and tastes over 200+ years, while staying true to its essence.
How Does Cherry Wood Age?
One of the most intriguing qualities of cherry wood is how its color changes over time with exposure to light. This natural aging process is part of the wood’s charm.
When cherry wood is first cut and milled it has a lighter pinkish-beige hue. Once staining or finishing is applied, it takes on the deeper reds and browns that cherry is known for.
From this point, cherry undergoes a photochemical reaction when exposed to light. Ultraviolet light causes the wood’s natural pigments to shift into darker and richer tones through “oxidation gradually.”
Over months and years, the wood’s color transforms to a deeper, warmer red-brown with more dimension and character. Every piece ages slightly uniquely based on variations in the wood’s chemical makeup and degree of light exposure.
This maturing color change adds beauty, distinction, and value to cherry furniture. Owners can enjoy watching their cherry wood creations grow more beautiful as they become vintage heirlooms.
Cherry wood is always stained and finished to allow this oxidation process. Painted or opaque finishes would seal the wood and prevent the natural aging.
So while other woods remain static, cherry continues to evolve dynamically, gaining more charm over time. This opportunity to observe wood changing and improving naturally with use is part of what makes red cherry wood so prized.
Working Properties of Cherry Wood
The exceptional working properties of cherry wood provide another reason for its popularity among woodworkers and furniture makers. Let’s examine some of its outstanding traits:
Machining – Cherry cuts, planes, turns, routs, and sands smoothly to a tight tolerance thanks to its fine, consistent grain patterns. The wood requires minimal sanding to achieve a glassy surface.
Fastener strength – The wood has good nail and screw-holding abilities, reducing the chance of splitting during assembly. Pilot holes are still recommended for a neat appearance.
Gluing – Cherry has low moisture content and absorbs glue easily along its grain lines. This allows for strong, long-lasting joints using PVA wood glue or hide glue formulations.
Finishing – The closed grain and lack of pore structure give cherry an incredible capacity for polished finishes. Stains, oils, varnishes and shellacs can all be applied successfully.
Stability – Once dry, cherry wood is dimensionally stable and resists warping. This minimizes expansion and contraction issues on furniture.
Toxicity – Cherry has no known toxicity hazards, making it safe for repeated woodworking exposure. Some individuals may have skin sensitivities to the sawdust.
Thanks to this superb blend of working attributes, furniture artisans can create intricate cherry designs knowing the material will cooperate fully throughout the build process.
Interesting Facts About Cherry Wood
Beyond its outstanding visual and physical properties, red cherry wood has some additional fascinating facts worth noting:
- Cherry trees belong to the same Prunus genus as peach, apricot, and almond trees. The fruit and seeds are edible.
- The black cherry tree is sometimes tapped for its sap to make cherry syrup. The sap can also be used to make cherry wine.
- Cherry bark tea has been used in herbal medicine as a sedative and cough suppressant.
- Black cherry is a favorite food source for birds, deer, elk, and other wildlife. Animals help disperse the seeds.
- The black cherry tree features heavily in Native American folklore and traditions, representing wisdom, vision, and communication.
- Cherry wood was used to make props and furniture on the famous TV show “Friends” set. It added warmth to Monica’s apartment.
- During colonial times, cherry seed oil was used similarly to whale oil to provide lamp lighting in early America.
- Joe DiMaggio’s favorite bat was made of white ash with a red cherry wood finish. He credited it with helping him hit his 56-game hitting streak.
The rich history and little-known facts about this special tree make the wood even more meaningful as a material.
How to Care for Cherry Wood Furniture
Caring properly for cherry furniture helps maintain its beauty and extend its lifespan. Here are some tips:
- Dust regularly using a clean, dry cloth to prevent dirt buildup.
- Clean spills promptly to avoid stains and water marks. Use a damp cloth and mild cleaner.
- Use felt pads under accessories to prevent surface scratches and scuffs.
- Avoid placing furniture in direct sunlight to limit color change unevenness.
- Consider reapplying a finish coat every 5-10 years to protect and refresh the wood.
- Use coasters under glasses and vases to prevent water rings.
- Keep wood hydrated in dry conditions by applying a thin coat of mineral oil every couple years.
- Protect the furniture from pets and kids who scratch or bite the wood.
- Only use cleaning products specifically formulated for finished wood furniture.
With proper care and maintenance, a cherry wood table, cabinet or chair can stay beautiful for generations. The time and attention invested pays off handsomely.
Staining and Finishing Cherry Wood
One of the most important steps in working with cherry lumber is choosing an appropriate stain and finish to enhance its innate beauty while providing protection:
- Stain – Cherry’s prized color comes from stains that infuse warm red, brown and amber tones. Oil-based penetrating stains work best. Always test on scrap first.
- Sealer – A sanding sealer or conditioner helps ensure even absorption of stain. It prevents blotchiness.
- Topcoat – Use a clear polyurethane or varnish to seal the stain and create a smooth, durable exterior layer. Consider satin or semi-gloss sheens.
- Wax – An optional wax topcoat on smaller items adds soft luster. Use a clear furniture wax or a tinted wax for accent color.
- Refresh – Additional finish coats can be added later to restore protection as the finish wears over time. Lightly sand first.
- Natural – Cherry can be finished with non-pigmented oils and waxes to showcase the raw color. This retains the wood’s pale natural tone.
With the right finishing approach, cherry’s grain patterns shine through, allowing its signature colors to take center stage.
Sourcing Sustainable Cherry Wood
For eco-minded consumers, sourcing sustainably harvested cherry lumber is an important consideration. Here are some tips:
- Look for wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This ensures the material comes from responsibly managed forests.
- Ask manufacturers about the origin of their cherry wood and their harvesting practices. Domestic sources are preferred.
- Inquire whether the trees are replanted after logging. Replanting is vital for sustaining the cherry tree population.
- Select makers that utilize waste wood and mill their lumber efficiently to get the most use from each tree.
- Support local woodworkers sourcing cherry from private landowners rather than large timber companies.
- Choose companies using laser cutting technology to optimise yield and prevent excessive waste.
- Avoid cherry lumber harvested from protected forests or other regions with poor logging oversight.
With a spirit of stewardship and innovation, beautiful heirloom cherry furniture can continue to be created while maintaining healthy cherry tree stands.
The Many Hues of Red Cherry Wood
While typically a warm reddish-brown, cherry wood displays a diverse palette of colors ranging from pale beige to deep burgundy. What accounts for this variance?
- Heartwood vs Sapwood – The mature heartwood is red/brown while the younger sapwood is almost white. Furniture utilizes more colorful heartwood.
- Origin of the lumber – Cherry trees from different growing regions exhibit slightly different hues. Northern climates produce paler wood.
- Age of the tree – As a cherry tree matures over decades, the heartwood becomes darker and richer in color.
- Exposure to light – Sunlight and UV rays trigger chemical changes that shift cherry to intensify into a redder, more golden tone.
- Stain and finish – The staining, sealing and topcoating process modifies the natural color substantially, allowing for custom hues.
- Grain patterns – Differences in mineral streaks and grain concentrations create diverse shades within the same board.
- Distressing – Introducing dents, wormholes and wear to the wood adds darker accents mimicking aged antique cherry.
So cherry wood encompasses a broad palette ranging from pale tan when newly cut to almost blackish when taken from ancient trees and stained dark espresso. This diversity is part of its mystique.
Achieving a Timeless Look with Cherry Wood Furniture
The versatile elegance of cherry wood allows it to be adapted into almost any style from modern to traditional to rustic. Here are some tips for integrating it timelessly:
- Keep room colors neutral – Earth tones and off-whites will make the cherry’s richness stand out. Avoid competing hues.
- Select complementary materials – Mix cherry with other natural textures like stone, leather, or linen for organic cohesion.
- Highlight unique grain – Choose furniture with interesting cherry grain patterns to draw the eye.
- Use restraint with size – Overly massive cherrywood pieces can feel imposing. Seek more intimate, human-scaled items.
- Consider distressing – Light wear and tear on finishes adds heirloom character and visual depth.
- Use sparingly as an accent – Cherry has bold presence. Limit its use to key statement pieces.
- Emphasize simple lines – Clean, unfussy cherrywood shapes feel classic and fresh.
- Add warmth with lighting – Use lamps, sconces and natural light to illuminate and bring out cherry’s radiant qualities.
- Repeat red/brown hues – Introduce accents that pick up the wood’s colors like rugs, drapes, and artwork.
With its time-earned pedigree and sophisticated charm, cherry wood furnishes spaces with an enduring, harmonious style perfected by generations of artisans. Its character only grows more alluring as the years pass. There is perhaps no better embodiment of enduring quality and elegance than a home furnished with vintage cherry wood.