Common Name(s): Black cherry, American cherry
Scientific Name: Prunus serotina
Distribution: Eastern North America
Tree Size: 50-100 ft (15-30 m) tall,
3-5 ft (.3-.6 m) trunk diameter
Average Dried Weight: 35 lbs/ft3 (560 kg/m3)
Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): 0.47, 0.56
Janka Hardness: 950 lbf (4,230 N)
Modulus of Rupture: 12,300 lbf/in2 (84.8 MPa)
Elastic Modulus: 1,490,000 lbf/in2 (10.3 GPa)
Crushing Strength: 7,110 lbf/in2 (49 MPa)
Shrinkage: Radial: 3.7%, Tangential: 7.1%,
Volumetric: 11.5%, T/R Ratio: 1.9
Color/Appearance: Heartwood is a light pinkish brown when freshly cut, darkening to a medium reddish brown with time and upon exposure to light. Wide sapwood is a pale yellowish color. It is not uncommon for boards to contain at least some sapwood portions along the outer edges.
Grain/Texture: The grain is usually straight—with the exception of figured pieces with curly grain patterns. Has a fine, even texture with moderate natural luster.
Rot Resistance: Heartwood is rated as being very durable and resistant to decay, though not typically used in exterior applications.
Workability: Black cherry is known as being one of the best all-around woods for workability. It is stable, straight-grained, and machines well. The only difficulties typically arise if the wood is being stained, as it can sometimes give blotchy results—using a sanding sealer prior to staining, or using a gel-based stain is recommended. Sapwood is common, and may contribute to a high wastage factor.
Odor: Has a mild, distinctive scent when being worked.
Allergies/Toxicity: Breathing black cherry’s sawdust has been associated with respiratory effects such as wheezing. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.
Pricing/Availability: Lumber and veneer are in adequate supply. Along with black walnut (Juglans nigra), black cherry is considered a premier American cabinet hardwood, and prices are in the mid to upper range for a domestic hardwood.
Sustainability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices, and is reported by the IUCN as being a species of least concern.
Common Uses: Cabinetry, fine furniture, flooring, interior millwork, veneer, turned objects, and small specialty wood items.
Comments: Black cherry develops a rich reddish-brown patina as it ages that’s frequently imitated with wood stains on other hardwoods such as yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera). This aging process can be accelerated by exposing the wood (in a judicious manner) to direct sunlight.
Not to be confused with sweet cherry (Prunus avium), a tree native to Europe and Asia that’s the primary source of edible cherries. While the fruit of black cherry is technically edible, the tree is utilized much more for its lumber, while P. avium provides the iconic and ubiquitous fruit.
Porosity: semi-ring-porous to diffuse-porous
Arrangement: earlywood can form a single continuous row of pores
Vessels: medium to small in earlywood, sometimes grading down to slightly smaller diameter in latewood, numerous (also sometimes grading down to moderately numerous in latewood)
Parenchyma: not visible
Rays: medium; normal spacing
Lookalikes/Substitutes: The lighter sapwood can easily be confused with other diffuse porous hardwoods like birch or maple. Yellow poplar is also used frequently as a substitute for cherry, particularly when stained to color match cherry’s heartwood. Black cherry can be separated from most other lookalike hardwoods because of its tendency towards being semi-ring-porous. It’s growth ring boundaries will generally be defined by a slight concentration of pores along the growth ring, while diffuse-porous woods will typically have their growth rings delineated by a whitish line of marginal parenchyma.
Notes: Different Prunus species, as well as many related fruitwood species in the Rosaceae family, can’t be reliably separated on the basis of wood anatomy.