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What is Cherry Lumber?

By Marlene Garcia
Updated May 17, 2024
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When people think of cherry trees, some are reminded of the story of American President George Washington, who was said to have chopped one down with an axe and then admitted the deed because he could not tell a lie. It is no lie, however, that cherry lumber is a favorite material for cabinets, flooring, and fine furniture. Its reddish-brown color and straight grain make staining, sanding, and cutting easy, and the wood is fairly durable. American black cherry lumber grows in the eastern part of the United States, and other varieties are commercially grown in Mexico and some South American countries.

Cherry wood features the presence of sapwood and heartwood in the planks. The reddish-colored heartwood is generally preferred by woodworkers over the yellowish tint of sapwood. If the sapwood is dried too quickly, the wood may later warp, especially if one side of the lumber is sapwood and the other side is pure heartwood. Cherry lumber that contains only heartwood is considered rare and can be costly.

The wood is popular for paneling and to construct attractive frames for art work, such as etchings. One of the most common uses of cherry lumber involves creating veneers because it bends easily but remains strong. Some architects use the wood to add interest and beauty to decorative projects.

Brazilian cherry trees grow in rain forests and can reach substantial heights. The wood is characterized by a gray-colored bark that oozes bark gum. This reddish or pinkish cherry lumber consists of interlocking grains that appear to glow when finished. Its bark gum is used in varnishes and for medicinal purposes as a cure-all, and for coughs. Lumberjacks working in Brazil favor bark tea, drinking it to restore energy.

Extract from the bark of black cherry trees is the main ingredient in wild cherry syrup used to make jellies and wine. Cherry trees also contain a toxin called prunasin in their foliage and seed pits. If ingested, the substance might form hydrocyanic acid when it encounters digestive juices. The toxin makes cherry lumber a poor choice for cutting boards, salad bowls, and wooden spoons used in cooking.

Sometimes called curly lumber, the wood is susceptible to fire, animals, and pests. Rabbits and deer feed on young sprouts, and caterpillars can strip a tree of its leaves. If porcupines gnaw on the cherry trees bark, it provides an opening for bark beetles to infest the tree. Wood rot is another condition that makes cherry lumber scarce for commercial uses.

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