Understanding Cherry Wood: Characteristics, Uses, and More

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With the amount of cherry wood furniture in the market, it’s not hard to guess that these wood species are more popular than other hardwoods. And while it’s a widely domestic hardwood, some of its characteristics and growth may affect how you can utilize this material. 

Keep reading, and I’ll break down everything you need to know about this wood type to maximize its potential in your projects.

Cherry Timber Characteristics at a Glance

What is Cherry Timber: Origin and Where it Grows

You can get this lumber type from an American black cherry tree. Besides being used for fine furniture, these plants produce tiny tart-like fruits after their ten-year growth. These components are later turned into products like jelly, jams, etc.  

It’s easy to confuse the cherries produced by black cherry lumber trees as the sweet juicy fruits in the market, but they’re not. These small berries grow in clusters and don’t last a long period because birds and other frugivores can devour them easily. 

American black cherry tree

Cherry trees are first seen in different parts of Mexico, especially the country’s east coast and middle western. Since it’s one of the most popular wood types, cherry trees are also common in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York. 

Typically, prunus serotina lumber is sourced in sustainably managed forests. More often than not, woodworkers can buy the most variations of these durable wood materials in parts of West Virginia and New York.

How Big Can a Cherry Tree Grow?

The growth of American cherry trees depends on their environment, aging process, and growing conditions. If nurtured properly, these solid hardwood species can grow as tall as 100 feet with a diameter of 4 feet. 

You can tell if this rich red cherry lumber has reached the initial stages of maturity when its length grows around 50 to 80 ft tall and 2 to 4 ft wide in diameter. 

Appearance: Color, Size, and Odor

Cherry trees change color over time. Even if you get the wood materials from the same tree, its sapwood (tree’s bark) and heartwood will have different color ranges. 

Cherry wood color

As previously mentioned, cherry trees can grow particularly high and mature in a shorter period than other solid hardwoods. And if you intend to use them as materials for kitchen cabinets, doors, or other fine furniture projects, know that they carry a mild wood scent. 

Does the Cherry Timber’s Color Change Over Time?

Unlike pine, mahogany, and maple lumber options, cherry’s aging process does not include surface darkening. While it doesn’t change in a light tone like black walnut, these wood materials start in a golden-pinkish shade and darken to a reddish-brown color upon light exposure. 

Cherry species will continue to darken as long as they’re exposed to light in the first six months of their growth. It’ll take several years before this durable lumber shows a rich red-brownish hue that made cherry furniture popular around the globe. 

So, if you’re aiming for that sought-after reddish-brown shade, my advice is to expose the wood to as much light as possible to speed up the aging process.

Cherry timber

Besides natural light, this wood specie’s color changes are also attributed to UV light and air exposures. These factors can lead to chemical reactions that introduce changes in the wood molecules and alters wood reflections on the material’s surface. 

Texture & Grain Pattern

What sets cherry apart for me, especially when crafting fine furniture, is its straight grain and smooth texture. Unlike oak, it has a closed wood grain with smaller wood pores. Thanks to this, its finished product can be smoother than lumber with open grains. 

While most cherry lumber has a smooth texture and straight grain, you should expect contrasting qualities as its surface conditions may vary depending on its growth. Some cherry furniture and wood boards may include small gum pockets and brown streaks.

Endgrain Features

When you cut the cherry lumber, you’ll notice that it has a fine end grain. It cuts along the wood fiber’s direction. This makes it easier to keep your hand and power tools stable, which is a feature I always appreciate. Here are the specific cherry end grain features you should know:


The lumber porosity patterns range from semi-ring to diffuse-porous. 

Cherry wood texture and pattern

You’ll find consistent rows of solitary pores in the wood’s low-density part. 


Cherry lumber’s earlywood parts show medium to small vessels. However, you’ll observe smaller vessel diameters on the wood’s latewood. 


There’s no parenchyma visible on its wood surface. 


Upon close inspection, cherry materials show moderate rays with normal spacing. 


These wood pieces have light sapwood and dark heartwood, making them slightly similar to maple and birch. You can also opt for yellow poplar for making musical instruments, but you’ll need to have the wood stained to match colors with cherry’s heartwood. 

milling American black cherry tree

Sapwood vs. Heartwood Grain

When you look at cutting boards and boat interiors made of cherry lumber, it’s not uncommon to see color variations. You may not know, but cherry has lighter-colored sapwood and darker heartwood. 

While you can always have it stained, wood furniture and lumber enthusiasts focus more on darker-colored heartwood. But let’s be real, it’s almost inevitable that some pieces will include elements of sapwood as well.

Is it Hardwood or Softwood?

Cherry lumber is harvested from prunus serotina, a tree specie under the hardwood category. Despite its occasional small gum pockets, these materials possess medium strength, shock resistance, and good bending properties. 

And considering that it’s hardwood, you should know that this lumber has low stiffness. 

How Dense/Hard is Cherry Timber (Janka Rating)

After putting cherry lumber through the paces with some scratch, dent, and shock resistance tests, I found it scored around 995 on the Janka rating scale. That places it fairly close to oak and ash in terms of density, but it’s definitely harder than alder and pine lumber.  

Cherry log

Common Uses of Cherry Timber

Since cherry lumber has great shock resistance and low stiffness, it will work well with flooring projects and interior millwork. You can also count on it for making kitchen cabinets and other accessories. 

The rich, warm tones of cherry wood lend an air of sophistication to interior decor, making it a preferred material for trim work, paneling, and molding. Additionally, cherry timber’s strength and resistance to decay make it well-suited for exterior applications such as decking, doors, and window frames. 

Cherry should also be durable enough to withstand joinery and woodturning. 

Workability (Mechanical & Physical Properties)

Working with cherry is pretty straightforward because of its straight grain. You can run it through manufacturing and milling machines without much hassle. The only issue with this lumber is when you put the stain on its surface. 

My advice? Use a sealer before staining, or go for a gel-based product to prevent any blotchy mishaps.


From my experience, cherry wood’s heartwood is pretty durable. While I wouldn’t go so far as to use it for exterior projects, it does resist rotting and can stand up to a fair amount of wear and tear.

hand planed Cherry wood

Can You Leave Cherry Timber Pieces Outdoors?

While it’s true that this lumber can withstand rotting and other external damages, it has a higher chance of deteriorating when in contact with these elements regularly. 

Even if you applied a wood finish over its surface, it wouldn’t change that cherry isn’t an outdoor material. 


Materials harvested from cherry lumber aren’t toxic, but the sawdust they produce during usage can cause allergies if you’re not wearing proper safety gear. 

Price and Availability

As previously mentioned, black cherry wood furniture is widely popular and available in the market. Because of this, it’s not surprising that this lumber is one of the most harvested wood materials.

Cherry wood table

Its price range may vary depending on quality. However, since black cherry is considered premium material in the furniture industry, expect them to be more expensive than others. 

How to Spot Legit Cherry Timber

The downside of cherry lumber’s popularity is the wide usage of this term on products not made of the same material. Here’s how you can avoid buying them. 

Cherry’s Black Specks

You’ll see black specks on a cherry tree’s wooden surface because it produces mineral deposits during its growth. Besides that, real cherry materials will have visible and natural pitch pockets.

Tip: Be Aware of Fake Cherry Timber

If you’re shopping online, always look for the keywords “real” or “natural” to reduce the chances of getting duped with fake cherry pieces. 

Cherry Stains and Finishes

When it comes to finishing cherry lumber, I’ve found that clear oil finishes are the way to go if you want to maintain that natural reddish-brown hue. If not, you can also consider unique stains like driftwood, walnut, or autumn cherry. 

stained Cherry wood

Is Cherry Timber Eco-Friendly? Are the Trees Endangered?

These species are grown in different regions and close proximities, so it doesn’t leave massive carbon footprints like others.

How Cherry Timber Promotes Environmental Sustainability

It’s sought-after as an alternative to rainforest woods [1], helping to prevent the illegal harvesting of endangered plants and help sustain wildlife habitats.

Also Read: What is Paulownia Wood


Since cherry lumber has good bending properties, shock resistance, and medium strength, it’s easy to rush into buying them straight from local hardware stores or online. 

I can’t stress enough how crucial it is to be selective with your material. But once you find the right choice, you’ll see it comes in handy for multiple projects in the long run.

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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