Cherry wood is one of the most prized hardwood species. Hailing from North America, Cherry wood has its roots in all aspects of woodworking; from fine furniture building to custom cabinetry, to flooring, to musical instruments, to small scale woodworking, wood carving and wood turning. Well-loved and sought after by professionals, hobbyists and homeowners, this hardwood species has earned its recognition thanks to its workability, beautiful grain, and magnificent color. Cherry has become a staple for the Forest 2 Home woodworkers, and we understand why!
Cherry tree lore
Not only has the Cherry tree made roots in various areas of woodworking and interior design, but it has had a presence in story telling for centuries! By far, the most well-known myth of the Cherry tree in the United States comes from our first president, George Washington.
While Washington’s Cherry tree legend has gone through different iterations over the years, the long-standing narrative is that young Washington received a hatchet and cut down a Cherry tree that he was not meant to. When confronted, he was honest about the damage he had caused, lending to the virtuosity and honesty of our first president. While the legend has been debunked and rebuked, the myth has endured for more than 200-years and is an integral part of America’s cultural heritage. The presence of the Cherry tree in that myth speaks to the importance of the Cherry trees enduring presence in all aspects of North America.
Cherry wood growth
The Black Cherry tree (Prunus serotina) is native to North America and some areas of South America. Specifically, it grows from southeastern Canada, through the eastern United States, west towards eastern Texas, with smaller populations within central Texas, the southwestern United States, Mexico and Guatemala. The main commercial areas of Cherry tree growth in the United States include Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and New York.
The growing conditions in which the Cherry tree thrives include moist but well drained soil and full sun to partial shade. The Black Cherry tree has general climate resilience with the ability to bare the incredible cold. Though considered a medium sized tree, the Black Cherry tree can grow between 25 feet and 110 feet, though the more common height range is between 50 feet and 60 feet.
In part due to its malleability through various growing conditions, as well as the wide distribution of the seeds of its fruit by birds, the Black Cherry tree has always been in abundance in North America.
Are Cherry trees hardwood trees?
Hardwood species are classified by the seeds the tree produces. Each hardwood tree species has a coating that takes the shape of a fruit or a shell that becomes a flowering plant. These flowering seeds are known as angiosperm, which translates in Greek to “vessel seed.” Additionally, hardwood trees lose and regrow their leaves annually, making them deciduous trees.
They differ from softwood trees, as trees classified as softwood’s seeds do not have a coating and are instead dropped to the ground to deal with the elements. Examples of softwood tree seeds are needles and cones that are dubbed gymnosperm, meaning “naked seed.” Except for the Larch tree species, all softwood trees retain their needles year-round, making them evergreen trees.
Cherry trees fruit contains a pit, or seed, that is transplanted into the soil and grows the tree. These kinds of seeds are those known as angiosperm and make Cherry trees deciduous, hardwood trees.
The Janka Hardness Scale is used to determine the relative hardness for domestic wood species, like Cherry wood. The test measures the amount of force that s required to embed a 11.28mm steel ball halfway into a piece of wood. While the Janka Hardness Scale is traditionally used to determine whether a wood species is suitable for flooring, it is a good measure of determining a wood species resistance to wear and its overall durability. Wood species with a higher number rating are harder than wood species with a lower rating. The data from the Janka Hardness Scale is expressed in pounds-force, or lbf.
On the Janka Hardness Scale, the ranking for standard Cherry hardwood is 950 lbf. While there are various types of Cherry wood, they all generally rank around 950 lbf, unlike Walnut wood, with its different wood types by region having significantly different hardness levels. Thanks to its medium density, Cherry wood has good bending properties, low stiffness, and medium shock resistance, allowing it to withstand wear and dents well.
Cherry wood grain
The grain of Cherry wood lends to its workability. Cherry wood features a fine, straight grain with the exception of figured pieces with curly grain patterns or when defects from pith, mineral deposits, gum pockets and knots arise. Cherry hardwood endgrain features small to medium pores with random arrangement. Growth rings are generally distinct.
Different kinds of Cherry wood
It is important to distinguish between the Cherry wood types, as in reality, they hail from distinctly different trees in distinctly different regions. Commonly known Cherry wood types include:
Black Cherry (Prunus serotina): Black Cherry wood is mainly manufactured in Eastern North America and the Cherry wood that you will find here at Forest 2 Home. Commonly known names for Black Cherry wood include American Cherry, Rum Cherry, and Wild Cherry. When settlers first came to the United States, colonial furniture builders referred to it as “New England Mahogany” due to its tendency to change color after sunlight exposure. Black Cherry wood has heartwood of a light pinkish brown color that darkens to a medium reddish brown when exposed to lights. The sapwood of the Black Cherry tree is a pale, yellow color.
Sweet Cherry (Prunus avium): otherwise known as European Cherry wood, this species is mainly found in Europe and Asia. Its stature is smaller in comparison to that of the Black Cherry tree with heights that reach between 32 feet and 65 feet tall. The heartwood and sapwood of the Sweet Cherry tree is consistent in color with that of the Black Cherry tree.
- Japanese Flowering Cherry (Prunus serrulata): native to China, Korea and Japan, this flowering tree is likely the first that comes to mind when Cherry trees are mentioned outside the context of woodworking. Alternative names for the Japanese Flowering Cherry tree include the Oriental Cherry, Hill Cherry, East Asian Cherry and Japanese Cherry. The sapwood of this tree is pale pinkish brown to creamy with the heartwood being brown with gold and green hues.
- Paperback Cherry (Prunus serrula): the Paperback Cherry tree, otherwise known as the Birchback Cherry or Tibetian Cherry hails from Western China. It grows from 20 feet to 30 feet tall, skewing it to be one of the smaller Cherry trees. The Paperback Cherry tree is an ornamental tree, thanks to its distinct bark that is peels in layers to reveal smooth, mahogany colors.
- Sour Cherry (Prunus cerasus): this Cherry tree is almost exclusively grown for the fruit it produces which is why it has obtained the alternative names of Pie Cherry and Tart Cherry. Native to Europe and southwest Asia, these types of Cherry trees can reach up to 50 feet tall but are consistently pruned and kept between 12 feet and 15 feet tall.
There are many other “Cherry” types that fall outside the Prunus genus that the Black Cherry tree falls into. These types trees, while not technically within the same species, are categorized as Cherry thanks to their similar properties. They include:
- Brazilian Cherry (Hymenaea courbaril): despite its little relation to the Black Cherry tree, the Brazilian Cherry tree, otherwise known as Jatoba, has its name thanks to its color resemblance. Located in the West Indies, northern South America and Central America, these trees can grow between 100 feet and 130 feet tall.
- Patagonian Cherry (Guibourtia hymenaeifolia): otherwise referred to as Tiete Rosewood, this tree actually hails from the rose family. Native to South America, this tree can grow between 130 feet and 165 feet tall. The Patagonian Cherry trees wood is dense and hard to work with but its color greatly resembles that of the Black Cherry tree with its pinkinsh brown to light orange color.
- Barbados Cherry (Malpighia galbra): known by several names, including Wild Crapemyrtle, Acerola, Manzanita and more, this tree can be found from south Texas, through Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. The Barbados Cherry obtained its Cherry association through the fruit that is produced, though the resemblance to the Black Cherry tree ends there as this species is a shrub, growing to 3 feet to 6 feet in height.
- Chilean Cherry (Nothofagus dombeyi): this “Cherry” tree is part of the Beech tree family, though it closely resembles the Black Cherry tree to the point where they can easily be mistaken for one another. The Chilean Cherry tree is otherwise referred to as Coigue and is native to Chile and Argentina.
Cherry woodworking projects from Forest 2 Home
Small woodworking project inspiration
Custom made Cherry wood mallets
Pet bowl stand made from Cherry hardwood
Hat box created with Forest 2 Home Cherry wood and Hard Maple wood
Large woodworking project inspiration
Custom built 8U studio rack from Cherry wood
Desk for a home office crafted with Cherry hardwood
(made by @granttf on Instagram)
Find more woodworking and DIY project inspiration on the Forest 2 Home inspiration page.
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Are you ready to create your next project with Cherry wood? Be sure to tag @shopf2h on Instagram so we can see and share your work! If you include the hashtag #BuiltWithF2H on final project photos shared on Instagram and Facebook, you will automatically be entered into the #BuiltWithF2H project of the Month! Happy Woodworking!