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: 35.0 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.
Images: Drag the slider up/down to toggle between raw and finished wood.
A special thanks to Adam Cottrill for providing the turned photo of this wood species, and Salem Barker for providing the sculpture photo of this wood species.
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.
Can Black cherry be used to do the ceiling of a back porch?
This is a piece of cherry – – either native black cherry (Prunus serotina) or common chokecherry (P. virginiana) – – cut in southern Maryland years ago. When you look at one side of the wood, somewhat askance / at an angle, these wonderful figures show up. It’s not the usual grain – – what causes these patterns? Is this unique to cherry? Any info will be appreciated – – thanks!
The effect that you are seeing is called chatoyance, and the anatomical element that is displaying that property is the rays — commonly called ray fleck. There are quite a number of wood species with varying amounts of ray fleck (and chatoyance). Mahogany is one with a good amount of both. American sycamore can also look nice too.
Thanks so much! I’ve played a little with sycamore and have noticed it there, too, as you say. Thanks again!
Anyone have any experience in using cherry for exterior millwork like windows and doors? Sapele prices are sky rocketing and cherry is cheap right now. Description says it is very rot resistant but says not commonly used in exterior applications. Why?
I’m guessing it’s not used in exterior applications because sapwood is so common (which is definitely not rot resistant). You’d probably have to be careful to not include any sapwood if you were going to use it outdoors.
My son has three mature black cherry trees, dying and to be removed. He has the chance of keeping the logs, straight for 12-15 feet, with diameters of 12-18″. Problem is they have Gummosis. Are the logs likely to be usable as lumber? Firewood, and possibly turning?
I used a plank of cherry to make a canoe paddle some 28 years ago. It is the perfect wood for this use as it has a warm tactility and a little flex in the shaft that allows me to feel the water as I paddle. I have only ever finished it with tung oil, which I redo annually before the paddling season starts (I live in Canada). I have used it every year for all but the more turbulent whitewater trips. No other paddle I have tried has the same sensitivity. The paddle is still in wonderful condition, except… Read more »
thank you for this web site— a wonderful resource! what mechanical property of a wood describes its resistance to splitting along the grain? the specific problem I’m trying to solve relates to dining room chairs with cherry legs. To protect our wooden floors, they need pads. But the adhesive sort work poorly — they slip off. so I’m trying to figure out whether I can safely screw a padded foot to the endgrain at the bottom of the leg. Challenge is that the leg tapers to a relatively narrow profile — roughy 1-1/4” by 1/2”. Seems like a recipe for… Read more »
I’m not sure there’s a scientific test that tests this exact property, but I could be mistaken. It seems it would be very subjective based on size of object being forced into the endgrain, and where the pressure was being exerted, either along a growth ring or ray, or just the wood fiber. If it were me, I’d get an appropriately sized screw, drill a slightly larger than usual pilot hole to ensure the wood doesn’t slip, and then put a couple of drops of thin CA glue down the hole before screwing in to reinforce the grain. I can’t… Read more »
Thanks, Eric. Probably a good occasion for mocking up a test leg from scrap and seeing how much abuse it can take.
Maybe pre-drill for something like this…
That would be less traumatic to the end grain than a screw I think.
Is 5 yr dried cherry slabs good for tables and bar tops at 2 1/2″ thick? I’m allergic to tree nuts etcetera which wood (trees) do not bear nuts? Thanks in advance
Cherries are fruit trees, not nut trees, as are Apple, Peach, and Apricot. Nut trees include Almond, Oak, Hickory, Pecan, and Walnut. A quick google or wikipedia search on the tree in question will tell you whether they bear fruit, nuts, or something else. But while I’m no expert on allergies, I find it hard to believe that working wood from a certain tree would aggravate an allergy to its fruit. Especially if you use dust collection and/or dust masks when necessary.
I have black cherry sprouts all over my property, (maybe 100+) that are 3 to 5 feet high, along with several mature trees. I transplanted a couple dozen to see if they would thrive and seem to be doing well. I am considering starting a tree farm on another 170 x 170 lot that have. Any thoughts on viability or spacing.
I have about 30 or so wild cherry trees on my property. Is the wood safe to use for firewood or cooking?
I regularly smoke meat with the secondary wood from wild cherry trees, it is one of the best for this. However, the trunk of the trees I cut are used for lumber, quite valuable lumber. It will burn just fine but it makes better furniture in my opinion.
I know from experiences lichtenberg burning black cherry that if you brush on a solution of around a teaspoon of baking soda per cup of water, the solution will make the heartwood of most pieces a vibrant orange color. Some slightly figured pieces may develop more discoloration in some areas of the figuring, which can look a bit unattractive. But for the most part, it makes the wood on the surface quite beautiful, and if you don’t like it, you can always sand it away later. Also, the same thing can be done to pretty much any other wood to… Read more »
how are the colors holding up?
I’m located in Florida where spearfishing is very popular. I was considering making a speargun out of black cherry but I am worried about the constant shock and and stress on the wood from firing and reloading. Will this wood be able to withstand this type of stress for a long period of time?
For rot resistance it would do well, but it is relatively soft (950) so it may not do so well with regards to elasticity from draw weight and shock of release.. I have seen mahogany used for spearguns, and some types of mahogany are similar in hardness to cherry, so..Give it a shot! (No pun intended) Since you’re in Florida, osage orange might be a good option, rot resistant and is used to make bows.
Osage is a great thought but can not typically be grown or naturalized here in Fla. He coukd of course order it.
Try Osage Orange wood for your speargun. Maclura pomifera is the scientific name, its also called bowwood. Its a coveted wood for native american bow makers. Its has an unparalleled stress strength factor and does not rot. It is amazing light once dried for the density and flexibility.
As a boyer we make bows out if Black Cherry wood. No problem with shock, it’s all in the design. Use the heart wood for more strength. The water damage is more of a concern.
Black locust might be a good option. It’s plentiful, grows straight, hard, rot and water resistant. Commonly used for fence posts
In direct sunlight, unstained cherry will bleach almost white. On the other hand if it is in a room with synthetic carpet the chemical vapor from the carpet will shortly turn unvarnished cherry a very pleasing dark red “cherry” color. Best look, imho, comes from indirect lighting, no carpets, but takes many years.
Would you recommend using an oil finish like water lox if so how would you prep the before putting on the oil
This site puts Black Cherry in the highest rot resistance category. I’m in the building industry, and have never heard of cherry being used for exterior conditions. We are considering various wood species for vertical cladding on the exterior of a masonry building. Is cherry a good option? I’m skeptical. If it’s highly rot resistant, and less expensive than ipe or mahogany, then why don’t we see it being used for this type of application…..ever?
Black cherry sapwood in not rot resistant at all, Most cherry is sawn for grade and nearly all boards contain sapwood often both faces. If lower grade larger logs are sawn to exclude sapwood and further manufacture eliminates sapwood in the product, fencing, cladding, furniture, cherry is an excellent exterior wood. My company has been using it outdoors for 40 years. Live sawing cherry logs is a simple way to emphasize heartwood due to the higher percentage partially rift, rift, and quartered wood produced. The pieces do not have to be clear or without resin pockets to perform well outdoors
White oak would be a good choice cherry would be above pine on my list and way below even red oak but white oak is boat building materials
Is Black Cherry and Cherry the same thing?
In most of the US, yes. When we say cherry it is usually referring to black cherry.
Can I get some input into why cherry isn’t used for baseball bats?
For a baseball bat, Cherry would be too soft (denting) and does not possess enough shock resistance (against cracking/splitting), compared to a wood like Ash or Hickory.
I have 20 acres and about 1/3 of the trees are black cherry-the remainder is maple, oak, black walnut and sassafras. I uses the black cheers for four different things. I find the trees themselves to be rather brittle. a windstorm or heavy snowfall results in limbs becoming detached from the tree. These are about 8-18″‘s in diameter and 20-40’ long. I use the straight segments for lumber-air dry and cut into cant with my chainsaw-3 years drying on racks in my barn. I used the planks for furniture-table, cabinets etc I use the shorter fat segments to make wooden… Read more »
I’ve found that I break out in a rash whenever I work with black cherry. After further research, I discovered that reactions like mine are fairly common when working with black cherry.
Is the modulus of rupture too low for cherry to make a sturdy, reliable cane or walking stick?
Cherry makes a stout stick. Make your stick thicker than 3/4″. My straight-strong stick used for 7 years is 7/8″.
I make canes from half inch stock, laminate, and route. Extremely strong.
Does Cherry have a distinct smell that would transfer to a food that is stored in a vessel made from it. It is not listed on the toxic chart so I’m thinking it has little to no irritants or allergy causing properties.
Any smell associated with it other than sweet are probably meaning in smoked form. It smells and burns and smokes meats and things well. Ive seen it as bowls or cutting boards ect.
How do you think black cherry would be to turn for a pool cue as in the butt end not the shaft
I believe it would likely lack heft (weight) if used as a pool cue butt. If the stock is particularly heavy, it could work and work well.
can i use cherry veneer to make skateboard deck ?
I wouldn’t recommend it. Cherry is on the lower end of the hardness scale. I would look at hard maple or hickory as it will hold up to the abuse of the skateboards much better. The maple will have a much more consistent color (mostly light colored) where hickory will have light and dark mixed in but is very, very durable (strongest wood in North America). Another thing you need to do is make sure the substrate you are attaching your veneer to is very strong and durable, otherwise your veneer will not hold up. For instance, if you use… Read more »
Veneer go for it, Solid not so much.
Hardness might not be what your looking for for in a skateboard deck. As long as your core has the Tensile Strength you can put whatever you want on the top.
Thinking about building a baby crib out of Black Cherry. I have two hesitations. One is this low risk of the dust causing respiratory discomfort. For an adult that might be mildly annoying but do people think it’s a lot worse for a baby? I wouldn’t coat it with anything, maybe some natural oil?
Another possible concern is this note that dogs and horses have died from eating fresh Cherry wood sap: https://www.birdsafe.com/woods.htm. More info about that: https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/cherry/
Dust shouldn’t be an issue in the finished product; it mainly comes up when it is worked in the shop.
I wouldn’t worry about the sap part myself, but I guess it’s up to you. It’s my guess that the animals were eating some part of the living tree itself, and not dried wood.
Those websites listing things poisonous to your pets are getting ridiculous & stupid anymore. It says clearly, “when ingested in toxic amounts” but doesn’t say anything at all about what a toxic amount is. Do a little research and you often find out it is some absurd, truckload type amount that is beyond realistic for anything to eat. In the right amount, water is toxic. Cherry is a very innocuous wood that has been used for cutting boards and kitchen utensils for centuries.
Can someone I.D. this wood?
It is Black Cherry.
I have some Canada Red Cherry wood ( a type of ornamental tree) and was wondering if you wanted a sample of it even though it isn’t a common wood and is similar to black cherry. Also, I was wondering if cherry is usually problematic to dry.
Can someone I.D. this wood?
Hard to tell. It’s stained so it could be any number of carvable species.
Can someone I.D. this wood? ;)
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