If there is a domestic wood species that can be consistently classified as a top performer, it has to be cherry. Black cherry (Prunus serotina) is also known as wild cherry, wild black cherry, choke cherry, cabinet cherry and rum cherry, and grows from Canada south to central Florida and portions of Mexico and Guatemala. Its highest concentration is in Pennsylvania, which supplies about 70 percent of the country's cherry, although it only represents 3 to 4 percent of the Appalachian forest.
"Cherry seems to be hopping here lately," says Jerry Anton, a wholesaler with O'Shea Lumber Co. in Glen Rock, Pa. "We definitely seem to be getting more activity in the cherry department. Walnut and cherry seem to be the two markets that are moving up. It seems to be the cabinet guys again; they seem to picking up. For a while there, they didn't seem to be doing much, but hopefully it is a sign that the housing [market] is improving.
Black cherry’s specific gravity: .47 to .50.
Specific gravity is the ratio of the density of a substance to the density of water.
Black cherry’s radial shrinkage: 3.7 percent.
Radial or quartersawn boards have a grain running roughly perpendicular to the wide faces.
Black cherry’s tangential shrinkage: 7.1 percent.
Tangential or flatsawn boards have grain running roughly parallel to the wide faces.
Example: A 12" wide flatsawn Black cherry board will shrink .179" (about 3/16") from 12 percent moisture content to 6 percent and a quartersawn board will shrink .093" (about 3/32").
"We have picked up some, but how long it lasts, nobody knows. But I can say it has been a little steadier. Before we would have a couple of good days and then it would die off, but the last two months it has seemed to be a little more even-keeled than it has been in the past."
Black cherry trees reach heights between 80' and 100' with diameters of 2'-3'. The heartwood is pinkish-brown to reddish-brown with a distinctive golden luster. The sapwood is narrow and is a white to reddish-brown color.
"For us, cherry has always been a very consistent seller," says Carl Mahlstedt of Goosebay Lumber in Chichester, N.H. "Our business has picked up. It's not good enough, but it is better than it was. Certainly some of my customers are showing the same trend - more inquiries, maybe more work lined up than they might have had a year ago, but not as much as they might have had two years ago. I would say most of it is for furniture and remodeling; not so much new housing."
Black cherry is used extensively for fine furniture, cabinetry and architectural millwork and, to a lesser degree, musical instruments, professional and scientific instruments, novelty items, toys and veneer. Burls and crotches usually go directly to the veneer market.
"Cherry has been excellent, but you can't compare it to four years ago," says Bob Hansen of Badger Hardwoods of Wisconsin, a retailer in Walworth, Wis. "Cherry has been our No. 1 seller; about 70 percent to my retail [customers] and 30 percent to my cabinet guys. A few years ago, I would have sold more to my cabinet guys, but now a lot of guys around here are out of business. They didn't go bankrupt, they just saw different avenues to [pursue]."
Cherry is sensitive to UV light and changes to a reddish-brown, mahogany color upon exposure. It works well with hand and power tools, polishes to an excellent finish and is dimensionally stable. The wood is straight-grained and is easily machined.
"The problem I see now is we're starting to see a little degrading. In other words, it's not the quality that it was five or six years ago," Hansen adds. "It's still good, but it is not the same. Everything is there according to grade and the expectations, but if you look at it from the bigger picture, you say 'this is great stuff,' but the [previous quality] was better."
Retail prices for 100 bf of kiln-dried, 4/4 FAS black cherry, surfaced on two sides, ranged from $5.20 to $6.40/bf in the Northeast; $5.55 to $6.50/bf in the Southeast; $5.25 to $6.50/bf in the Midwest; and $6.45 to $7.30/bf in the West.
Wholesale prices for 1,000 bf of kiln-dried 4/4 FAS black cherry ranged from $5,200 to $5,750/mbf in the Northeast; $5,050 to $5,450/mbf in the Southeast; $5,000 to $5,700/mbf in the Midwest; and $6,300 to $6,500/mbf in the West.
For information on wood properties and species information, visit the U.S. Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory's Web site: www2.fpl.fs.fed.us.
This article originally appeared in the June 2010 issue.