Wood species

Cherry, the wood of elegance

After it ends its life as a fruit tree, the cherry tree lives on through its wood, appreciated by craftsmen and wood enthusiasts alike. Cherry wood has a very fine texture and an interesting natural colour, making it one of the species used for furniture and luxury items. The colour is a result of the combination of colour compounds in the wood and oxygen in the air which causes the colour to change after cutting. Cherry wood is used not only for furniture but also for musical instruments, bowls, pens, clocks and jewellery boxes. It is also used in smoking meats thanks to the sweet and fruity flavour it gives to these foods. About cherry blossoms and the Japanese tradition of Hanami, the tree that secretes an edible gum and wood with multiple uses, in the following.

cherry wood

Sweet, black or Japanese cherry

For many people, cherries are the sweet, red, fleshy fruit that we eat with relish at the beginning of summer and the white or pink flowers that adorn the trees in spring and make gardens and parks a fairytale place. For woodworkers, cherry is also a fine, elegant light yellowish-pink wood used for fine furniture.

There are several types of cherry, generally similar but differing in area of distribution and characteristics such as flower colour, abundance of fruit, tree size or colour and fineness of wood. The species that grows in Europe is scientifically called Prunus avium, and is popularly known as wild cherry, European cherry, sweet cherry or bird cherry. The latter name comes from the fact that birds eat its fruit, which is why it also got its Latin name avium (bird).

In North America and Australia we find another species of cherry, Prunus serotina. The popular name is black or American cherry. Its fruits are smaller and more bitter, and it is not grown for them but more for its wood. The colour of the wood is darker than that of the European, and the fibre coarser.

The species specific to Japan is Prunus serrulata - Japanese cherry. It is an ornamental tree grown for its distinctive pink flowers, which are highly prized all over the world where it has been acclimatised. In Japan cherry blossoms are considered the national flower and symbolise beauty, courtesy and modesty. The Japanese tradition of cherry blossom admiration, called Hanamiis deeply rooted in Japanese culture. It refers to spending time outdoors to contemplate and appreciate the beauty of cherry blossom, an ephemeral phenomenon that marks the arrival of spring. Hanami is not just a social event, but a profound experience of connection with nature and the passage of time, reflecting the Japanese philosophy of fleeting beauty, the ephemeral.

cherry wood
photo source: pixdaus.com

Pioneer species that can protect soils against erosion

But the subject of the article is the European cherry. In English it is sweet or wild cherry, ciliegio in Italian, merisier in French, cherry in Spanish and kirsch in German. It belongs to the Rosaceae family and is native to Europe, parts of northwest Africa and western Asia. It is found from the UK to the Caucasus and Iran and from Norway to Morocco and Tunisia. The sweet fruit has caused it to be acclimatized in other parts of the world being successfully cultivated in Cord America, Australia and New Zealand.

The tree reaches 10-20 m in height, with diameters ranging from 0.6-0.7 m to 1.2 to 1.5 m. The trunk is straight and covered with grey bark, thin and smooth when young, which closes, thickens and cracks as the tree matures. If the bark is injured it secretes a fragrant resin that children often use as chewing gum. As well as tasting good, the gum has astringent and cough suppressant properties.

The crown of the cherry is symmetrical and conical when young, becoming round and irregular when mature. The leaves are 8 to 15 cm long, oval, elongated, serrated at the edges and pointed at the tip. The flowers are white, 2.5 to 3.5 cm in diameter and are grouped in twos or fours. They appear in early spring with the leaves. The fruit is a drupe between 1 and 2.5 cm in diameter, round with a colour ranging from light yellowish red to dark greyish almost black, with a fresh sweet taste, sometimes slightly astringent or bitter. In the middle is the hard, round seed, 6-9 mm in diameter.

The wild cherry is a pioneer species that quickly colonises meadows or forest edges. It is therefore useful for afforestation and soil erosion protection. It tolerates a wide range of soils but prefers slightly acidic conditions. Survives well in winter, but flowers can be damaged by spring frosts.

cherry wood

photo source: dutchcrafters.com

Cherry wood - characteristics and properties

In cross-section through the trunk of the cherry tree, the sapwood and heartwood areas are clearly distinguishable. The sapwood is narrow, pale yellowish. After cutting, the heartwood is light pinkish-brown in colour, but begins to darken immediately due to contact with oxygen in the air. The change is quite rapid. To demonstrate this, tests were made by covering some of the freshly cut wood and leaving the rest under normal daylight. Within a week the change was very noticeable, with the colour taking on a deep golden brown hue. This is a cherry characteristic appreciated by connoisseurs because the wood takes on personality. Sometimes the cherry shows small areas of dark, almost black colour. This is a phenomenon specific to cherry, and is even a recognisable element, an imprint of cherry wood.

The texture is smooth, dense, uniform, with straight or slightly wavy grain and moderate natural gloss. The pores are small, slightly silvery, semi-rounded, set without a particular pattern. Sometimes there are gums in the wood. Annual rings are distinct due to the concentration of pores in the early wood area. The medullary rays are fine but visible to the naked eye. In radial section, pinkish-green or purplish stripes sometimes appear.

The density of cherry in the anhydrous state is 600 kg/m³ and Janka hardness 5120 N. Medium resistance to rotting and insect attack. If dried slowly, it does not develop tensions and does not crack. Problems may occur with forced drying. Once dry, it is quite stable. Bends well to steam. Low water absorption capacity due to small and rather small pores.

Cherry wood is easy to process, both by hand and with machinery and tools. It is easy to turn and carve. No problems with gluing or varnishing either. Due to the low absorption, problems may occur when staining and the wood may stain. But due to the special natural colour, it is rarely varnished. It is useful to note that cherry coloured berries are mostly different from the natural cherry colour. Usually these berries have a strong red tinge and are much darker in colour. Cherry wood only turns pink immediately after cutting. Otherwise, the pink (not red) is barely noticeable.

cherry wood
photo source: delta-intkey.com

Uses of cherry wood

Although a fast-growing species, European cherry wood is quite expensive due to its special natural colour. Unlike American cherry wood, which is cheaper and easier to find, it is often used for flooring.

European cherry wood is used both as a solid wood and as veneer, in furniture, in the decoration of luxury cars and boats, in the manufacture of musical instruments and various turned or carved objects of special value. In the musical instrument industry, it is used not only for its appearance but also for its resonance properties.

Its ability to split well also makes it a good firewood, with a good calorific value.

The special smoke smell and taste it gives off when burning has made cherry a highly prized wood for smoking meats, to which it gives a fruity, slightly sweet flavour. It goes very well with poultry, pork or game. Outstanding results are also obtained when smoking cheese.

Cherry is also used in herbal medicine. The gum secreted from the bark has antitussive properties, and the stems of the cherry are used to make a highly prized diuretic tea.

cherry wood
photo source: S3.amazonnews.com
cherry wood
photo source: greentreenwatch.com
cherry wood
photo source: studiokotokoto.com

I hope you find the above information useful. As usual, additions are welcome. And if you have any questions or queries, please leave them in the space below. I'm sure I'll reply.

About the author

Mihaela Radu

Mihaela Radu is a chemical engineer but has a great passion for wood. She has been working in the field for more than 20 years, wood finishing being what defined her during this period. She gained experience working in a research institute, in her own company, as well as in a multinational. She wants to continuously share her experience with those who have the same passion - and more.


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  • Hello.
    My name is Nicolin and for more than 12 years I have been a modest restorer of wooden objects (furniture, interior and exterior doors, pretty much everything made of wood).
    For a few days I've been in Italy on Lake Como reconditioning a 1768 church door, and resin and various materials.
    I have a small issue of contention with the priest here and that is the essence of the wood.
    If I send you some photos, would you be able to identify the wood used in the construction of the door?
    Thank you in advance for your help
    Email address :

  • [...] Oak and cherry are options for wooden furniture. Their choice is good both in terms of interior design and durability, aesthetics and warm colours. While it may seem like an expensive investment, the return to valuable woods has been going on for some time and the trend is continuing. So the investment is in it for the long haul as long as you bank on durability. [...]

  • Hello! I would like to ask you if cherry wood is recommended for the manufacture of doors in solid state, what is its behavior over time, is it prone to bending, twisting or other problems? Thank you!

    • Good evening!
      Cherry wood can be used for both interior and exterior doors. It is a dense and strong wood with very good moisture resistance. It behaves well to variations in humidity, with very little shrinkage and expansion. It does not develop high stresses leading to twisting or warping. These can only occur from poorly chosen construction solutions. It is also resistant over time and to rotting. It stains and finishes very well, with no patching problems. The only problem may be the price.
      All the best!

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