American Black Cherry has a long and distinguished history in the United States, having been cultivated here since 1629. Its use in fine furniture is so revered it is sometimes referred to as cabinet cherry. Although cherry has never fallen out of favor with the public, today it is more popular than ever.
One reason for this popularity is that traditional furniture styles, such as Mission and Shaker, are very much in vogue gain. While Mission is often made using oak and Shaker is often made with maple, cherry is also being used.
Richard Judd, furniture designer, craftsman and owner of the Zazen Gallery in Paoli, WI, says that when he first started as a custom woodworker, he used the local woods- walnut, cherry and maple. He later switched to exotics for their unique colors, grain patterns and textures. Lately, however, he says he has been using more cherry again. "I just bought some gorgeous cherry to make a coffee table," Judd says. "The top is made form two planks of cherry and it has a wonderful color and subtle grain."
Judd also says he recently purchased some curly cherry veneer, which "has a very interesting ropy look."
Christ Groff, who with his father runs Groff and Groff Lumber Inc., in Quarryville, PA, agrees that cherry has been selling especially well over the past year. "Cherry has never been out of style," Groff says, "but cherry, along with maple is particularly popular now. We are exporting a lot if it and also selling the highest grades here."
Asked who is using cherry, Groff replies, "Everyone. Furniture manufacturers, cabinet manufacturers, millworkers and architectural millworkers are all using lots of it."
Groff says that Pennsylvania is considered prime cherry country. "We have the best growing area," he says. "Good supplies are also found in the southeastern part of New York."
Figured or Plain
Groff says sales are split fairly evenly between figured and plain cherry. "Curly cherry is very popular," he says. "It has a figure similar to curly maple with highs and lows. When itís finished, it is almost as though you are looking right into a deep pool with ripples on the water."
Kathie Kroening, CKD, a kitchen designer for The Kitchen Center in Glendale, WI, also notices cherryís increasing popularity with her clients. "Cherry, maple and birch are all up in popularity, replacing oak as the asked-for wood, she says. "Cherry is a very rich wood and as it ages the color deepens." Kroening says typical applications of cherry include heavy crowns, raised panels and fluted filler.
"It offers a more formal look than oak, which gives a more country feel," she says. "With darker stains you lose the grain. Cherry is one of the woods that can be formal but also offers warmth and coziness." Kroening notes that clients are extending the use of cherry to other rooms and also using cherry in furniture-like pieces for the kitchen. "We are putting in accent pieces in the kitchen using cherry with posts, legs and feet. They add a furniture feel to the design," she says.
A Handful of Hues
The booklet "Hardwoods of the U.S.A.," form the Hardwood Export Trade Council, includes information about the various colors of cherry. "Most individuals usually visualize cherry with a reddish brown color. This is indeed the tone seen most frequently in cherry furniture, but a fair number of cherry logs have a distinctly grayish cast. Others have a light straw color. The freshly cut heartwood is usually light amber in tone, but darkens considerably with age and exposure to sunlight. The heartwood may eventually show alternate light and dark streaks, somewhat like those found in French walnut. Cherry sapwood is even lighter in color, varying from white to yellow brown."
A Tendency to Darken
Another reason cherry wood is popular with woodworkers and their customers may be because it finishes well with a variety of methods. It does have a tendency to darken after cutting, but the use of protective varnishes can stop the darkening process. "Cherry is light-sensitive," says Groff. "If you donít want the wood to darken, you can apply a UV blocker with the finish to keep that form happening. Many people like the way cherry darkens with age and do nothing to retard the process."
Prunus Serotina of the Family Rosaceae
American black cherry, black cherry, cabinet cherry, rum cherry, whisky cherry, wild cherry
Average height is 100 feet with average seasoned weight of 36 pounds per cubic foot.
Wood dries fairly rapidly and without problems if shrinkage is avoided during seasoning. Medium movement in service. Good wood bending properties. Low stiffness, medium strength. Wood has small gum pockets creating normal markings. Wood works well with hand and power tools with moderate blunting on cutting edges. Nails, glues and stains well. Sapwood is susceptible to common furniture beetle. Heartwood moderately resistant to preservative treatment. Wood is moderately durable.