Academy Notes and Tips
the Shopsmith Woodworking Academy
In Part one of this series, we researched hardwoods in general and investigated the characteristics of poplar and hard maple - two of the eight most popular hardwoods. In this article, we'll continue our discussion with a look at cherry and red oak.
Cherry (Black) --
genus: Prunus ---- only lumber species: Serotina
The cherry tree is most commonly referred to as black cherry...however, it's also often called choke cherry, wild black cherry, rum cherry and whiskey cherry. Black cherry varies from shrubs 10 feet tall to towering trees that could be over 100 feet high.
When first cut, cherry wood is generally light red...but with age and exposure to air and light, it turns an astoundingly beautiful deep-glowing red. WOW! Many antique experts rely on the deepness of the color to judge the age of a cherry antique.
Cherry is one of the most pleasant hardwoods to work with hand or machine tools. Its heaviness lends to exceptional stability. It won't warp easily, is almost always free of checking and is extremely shock-resistant. It's tough, durable stuff!
Perhaps the most delightful characteristic of cherry is its unique quality to produce glassy-smooth surfaces when machined. For most hardwoods, it is known that two major factors (other than density) affect the production of smooth surfaces during machining: (1) Straight, uniform grain and (2) Heartwood free of hard mineral deposits and streaks. Cherry easily meets both of these requirements and offers a medium density - all of which makes it easy to produce incredibly smooth surfaces.
The chart below exemplifies how well cherry responds to basic machining operations. The numbers presented in the chart represent the percentage of perfect or good-to-excellent pieces produced by different machining methods. Woodworkers around the world will attest to the overall smoothness of cherry after sanding. It's equally responsive to finishes, because its small, uniformly spaced pores typically absorb stains and oils very evenly.
Cherry's unmatched warmth and patina have made it a premier cabinet wood, second only to walnut. Its richness of color and overall beauty reserve it almost exclusively for fine furniture and architectural woodwork.