By Laura Morris; Illustration by Mike Del Rizzo; photo courtesy of The Wood Database
Black Cherry is one of Canada’s fruit bearing trees, renowned for its purplish-black, slightly bitter tasting fruit. This unique tree is part of the Rose Family and can often be seen in mixed forests, located within the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Southern Quebec, and Ontario. It’s a modest size tree among the other hardwoods, and usually reaches an average height of about 80 feet and an average diameter of 24 inches. Unlike other cherry trees, the black cherry is a commercial lumber. However, the tree isn’t as common as it once was and has become increasingly valuable. Expect to pay about $12 per board foot.
The wood is highly prized for cabinetry and furniture, as well as for paneling, flooring, turning, and carving. It is used to make specialized pieces such as tobacco pipes, musical instruments, and burial caskets. Cherry is often used in place of oak for contemporary Mission and Shaker style furniture.
One of the most compelling features of black cherry is its signature reddish brown colour. While the sapwood is often a light, yellowish colour, the heartwood is a warm, reddish brown. With exposure to sunlight the wood will noticeably darken over time.
What also possesses great appeal is the grain pattern. It usually features a straight grain with a lustrous, satiny quality. This grain can also have eye-catching, curl or wavy streaks and it is common to see gum or resin pockets. The texture is uniform and the wood is quite dimensionally stable with medium density, strength, and bending properties. Its heartwood is reported to be very resistant to decay.
When working with black cherry, note that it machines well and causes average wear on tools. While planing, keep in mind that it is prone to burns. The wavy or curly grain variety also poses more of a challenge during the planing stage, so reduced cutting angles are recommended.
Black cherry sands and glues very well. Pre-drilling for screws is recommended. It has good steam bending properties, behaving much like beech and ash. A range of finishes can be used on this wood, but it’s often not stained. The finished product is impressive and can be polished to a high luster. Black cherry is truly a favorite among many Canadian woodworkers.