Welcome back everyone to my third installment of Wisdom Behind The Wood! This month we’re going to talk about cherry wood, the most underrated wood. The scientific name for black cherry/wild cherry/wild black cherry is Prunus serotina. Black cherry is the largest of the native cherries and the only one of commercial value. Hailing from the rose family, the black cherry characteristic that makes them easily identifiable is their sweet floral smell while milling. It is commonly found in bush or shrub form in the wild. Large trees, useful for furniture wood and veneer are found in large commercial plots in the Allegheny Plateau of Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia. Smaller quantities of high-yield trees can be found scattered throughout the southern Appalachian Mountains. Another black cherry characteristic is that it's extremely susceptible to diseases and pests. One of our most widespread treatments in Northern Colorado involved treating cherry trees for fire blight early in the season. The bacteria that cause fire blight also affect other trees and shrubs in the Rosaceae family such as apple trees, roses, plums, and almonds.
The Black Cherry wood characteristics are what make it the best all-around as far as workability is concerned. It is dimensionally stable, straight-grained, and gentle on tooling. It is our softest wood at 950 Janka scale but still hard and durable. When freshly cut cherry is a light pinkish brown, over time and exposure to light cherry darkens to a gorgeous medium reddish brown. Small black streaks and slight discoloration are common in the end grain of black cherry typically caused by small resin ducts within the tree. These hold small quantities of sap within them and are the primary defense against boring insects. They act similarly to land mines in that when a boring insect encounters a resin duct the sap flushes the insect out and traps it in the resin flow.
Freshly Milled Cherry (Left) vs Aged Cherry (Right)
The popularity of Black Cherry has waned in recent years. The main contributor is the excessive use of heavily dark-stained black cherry in furniture and kitchen cabinets of the 80s and 90s. Recently natural cherry has made a slight comeback for its warmth and beauty. Currently, only about 8% of our orders are for cherry boards. Of those 40% are our Butcher End Grain Cherry, 40% are our Carolina Cut End Grain Cherry, and 20% are our Big Block End Grain Cherry. The 16x22 Carolina Cut is an excellent daily driver and is prized by avid knife aficionados for how gentle it is on their prized knives. Due to the lower lumber prices it is currently our least expensive board even though it definitely isn’t an underdog when it comes to performance. The combination of a soft yet durable wood, its tight closed grain, and dimensional stability make cherry cutting boards an heirloom quality piece.
If you want to get your hands on a black cherry board and see first hand everything I talked about we currently have 3 small seconds on sale: 513, 536, and 550. There are also a couple of boards with cherry strips mixed in with other species as well here.
Thank you for taking the time to read about black cherry wood! Come back next month to learn about the science of wood movement and how understanding that principle can help keep your board in excellent shape for years to come.
About Nolan RussellNolan Russell is the Operations Manager at The Boardsmith. His blog segment dives deeper into the trees, lumber, and the science that make our butcher block the best in the world. Nolan is a Certified Arborist, former Tree Care Professional, and all-around tree nerd.