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Everything You Need to Know: Cherry

Cherry is debatably one of the most beautiful American hardwood species. Its rich reddish color makes it easily recognizable to just about anyone. It makes its appearance known in any home product, whether it is cabinets, furniture, flooring, or millwork. As a craftsman, here’s what you need to know about Cherry:

Cherry in the Forest

Cherry is a deciduous hardwood with broad leaves that drop in the fall and have seeds that are contained in ovaries. All deciduous trees are hardwoods. 

Cherry primarily grows in the eastern half of the USA, with the best stands of cherry being found in the Appalachian region. Cherry trees typically grow to 60-80 feet tall and about 2-3’ at DBH (diameter at breast height.)

Cherry is manufactured just like any other hardwood species. Since the tree is dominated by the heartwood (and the heartwood is what’s desired in the lumber,) the cherry logs can sit in the yard for some time before the log starts to experience any kind of defect. But the white sapwood needs to be monitored to avoid any major staining.

Here at Kretz Lumber, logs are first graded and then cut into lumber in our sawmill. We saw cherry to 4/4 thick and in lengths ranging from 4’-12’. We also saw the low grade cants into railroad ties or saw the cants into low grade lumber for flooring or pallet material. Once the lumber is sawn, the fresh lumber gets stickered to allow for air to flow between the layers of lumber. The airflow helps remove moisture from the lumber and minimizes the chances of staining.

With the lumber stickered, the packs can be loaded into a kiln. Lumber in our region is dried to 6-8% moisture content. Drying lumber increases its strength properties, reduces weight, increases machining and gluing properties, and brings the lumber to equilibrium of the environment that it will be used in to reduce the shrinkage of the finished product.

Cherry is typically pretty simple to dry. Its cellular structure allows for moisture to be rapidly removed with little to no consequences. Of course, if the right temperatures aren’t used, the lumber can also easily be damaged. It typically takes about 14 days to dry cherry from green to 6-8% in a conventional dry kiln.

After the lumber is dried, the stickers are removed. The lumber can be sold as rough, or the lumber is machined to the customer’s desired thickness, width, and/or length.

Since cherry is desired for its color, it is sorted for color to best fit the customer’s needs. Cherry is typically sold with a 90/50 (sometimes greater) heartwood color sort. The 90/50 color sort limits the amount of sapwood on the board. This color sort means that the better face of a board has to be at least 90% heartwood and the poorer face has to have at least 50% heartwood.

At this point, the primary manufacturing process is complete and the lumber is sold to secondary wood manufactures. Secondary manufactures take the dried lumber and turn it into a finished product like flooring, cabinets, windows, doors, furniture, moulding, and millwork. Most of these manufactures have equipment like rip saws, chop saws, moulders, CNC routers, and possibly finishing equipment.

The lumber would first be surfaced to a standard thickness, and then ripped to width, and chopped to length. Usually knots and other defects are removed when the lumber is ripped and chopped. The ripped and chopped lumber now takes on a new name like rips, blanks, or plugs. The blanks are fed through a moulder and the blanks get profiled into flooring, crown moulding, baseboard, or other similar products. Some windows and doors have curved parts. Typically, these parts are profiled with a CNC router. Any products that need to be assembled are assembled at this point. The last step of the manufacturing process is to stain and finish the product to the customer’s specifications, although some products like hardwood flooring are finished after it is installed.

Cherry as a Product

Cherry is desired for its color and workability. It is a closed porous hardwood and has a specific gravity of 0.50, making it a medium density hardwood. Even though it’s not the hardest wood out there, it is still fairly resistant to wear and tear. Its density allows for easy machining, and it’s even fairly easy to machine with hand tools. Typically, cherry isn’t stained, but stain can be used to make a more uniform color throughout the piece. It also finishes very easily.

Cherry Occasional Table by Nancy McCorry

A unique thing about cherry is that it patinas, meaning it will darken in color overtime. This happens for a couple reasons. The first is oxidation of the surface of the lumber. This happens to all species and only happens in lumber form. But cherry will show a greater difference in color in oxidized boards vs. not oxidized boards. This darken color will disappear once the lumber is manufactured.

Once the lumber is finished, oxidation is no longer a concern. But cherry will continue to get darker even after a finish is applied. Cherry will drastically darken over the first few years of being exposed to UV light. There’s nothing you can do to stop it from darkening besides completely covering it (and if you miss the smallest part, a dark spot will show.) Just like oxidization, only the surface of the lumber changes color, so if the surface is removed, the darken color will also disappear.

To keep an even color across the cherry, you either want to cover all of it, or leave all of it exposed, at least for the first couple years. This means keeping your new desk organized and moving things (like a laptop, books, notebooks, pen holders) around to allow the UV light to hit all areas. It means completely covering your new cherry dining table with a tablecloth (something without holes is super important) or never using a table cloth at all. I know it sounds super inconvenient, but remember it’s only for the first few years when the color is drastically changing. The color will still darken after this point, but just not as fast. There are simply way too many horror stories of people leaving a coffee cup on their cherry desk or table for the weekend and come back with a light colored circle on the surface of their brand new piece.

Cherry at Kretz Lumber

Cherry is often referred to as American cherry, black cherry, or wild cherry. It is a medium density hardwood with closed grain. It has white sapwood and reddish brown heartwood that will often contain gum streaks. Cherry will also darken in color when it is exposed to light over a long period of time. It is used for furniture, veneer, millwork, caskets, cabinets, and musical instruments.If you can’t find what you are looking for on our website, contact us at or 1-800-350-1438.

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