Wood of the Month:

European Cherry is a Rare and Valuable Cabinetry Wood

By Jo-Ann Kaiser

FAMILY NAME

Prunus avium, Cerasus avium of the family Rosaceae.

COMMON NAMES

European cherry, French cherry, cherry tree, gean, wild cherry, mazzard, fruit cherry, merisier, kers, kirsche.

HEIGHT/WEIGHT

European cherry ranges in height from 60 to 80 feet. Average weight is 38 pounds per cubic foot with a specific gravity of 0.61.

PROPERTIES

European cherry can be easily dried, but experts caution that the wood be dried slowly to avoid problems with warping. Wood works well with machine or hand tools. It has a very good steam bending rating, medium bending and crushing strength, medium shock resistance and low stiffness ratings. Preboring is recommended for screw joints. The wood glues well and finishes very well. It is an excellent turnery wood. Its heartwood is moderately durable and resistant to preservative treatment.

American black cherry has no shortage of fans around the world, but the cherry from Europe also earns high praise as a fine cabinetry wood. The only major problem with European cherry is that supplies are somewhat limited.

“The cherry used and sought after by the woodworking industry is not cultivated in the garden, but is the wild-growing tree occurring in forest stands,” write the editors of Veneers, a Fritz Kohl Handbook by Interwood Forest Products Inc., of Shelbyville, KY. The wood has a warm, reddish-orange color often with green streaks. Interwood markets the wood under the trademark Kohl cherry.

European cherry is from Prunus avium, or Cerasus avium as it is also known. In some reference books, it is also identified as Prunus cerasus, which it used to be called. Both European and domestic cherrywood, from Prunus serotina and various other species, are members of the Rose (Rosaceae) family.

Cherrywood grows in the United States and Canada. European cherry is native to Great Britain and Europe, but also grows in the mountains of North Africa and southeast Asia.

The European cherry tree, at average heights of 50 to 60 feet, tends to be shorter than its American counterpart, which reaches heights of 100 feet. Some European cherry trees, however, can grow to heights of 80 or 90 feet, with diameters of nearly 15 feet. At an average weight of 38 lbs per cubic foot, European cherry is slightly heavier than black or cabinet cherry from North America, which has an average weight of 36 lbs per cubic foot.

European cherry is often used in small sections because of its tendency to warp, so experts recommend slowing the drying process. “Heavily twisted logs should be dried separately,” according to the Kohl handbook. Some caution that contact with water will give the wood a slight yellow tint, while others say contact with iron will turn the wood grey.

The wood is moderately hard and heavy, strong, stiff and moderately stable in service. Some compare its strength properties to oak.

An Excellent Turnery Wood

As mentioned, European cherry is a well-admired cabinetwood and is an excellent choice for carving and turnery. Its uses include cabinetmaking and fine furniture, paneling, decorative joinery and architectural woodwork.

European cherry is also used for specialty items and woodenware, caskets, toys, handles, gunstocks, musical instruments and shuttle pins. The wood is cut into decorative veneers.

One of the Roses

In Hugh Johnson’s Encyclopedia of Trees, the author writes about the various cherry trees that thrive around the world.

The Japanese cherry trees are well known for their flowering beauty, but “Japan has no monopoly of the flowering cherries. Captain Collingwood Ingram, enumerating the species counts 13 for Japan (not counting the countless varieties), 23 for China, six for North America and five for Europe.”

The author states that European cherry trees have long been appreciated for ornament and fruit. The tree is also prized for commercial timber uses. “This is the tree whose wood makes so much splendid French furniture and whose fruit makes the potent Kirsch (fermented juice) of Switzerland.”

After a good start, cherry trees thrive the world over in a variety of conditions, unless they get cut back too much. Hacking at a tree will cause it to continue producing gum from a bad cut until it dies. Johnson writes, therefore, the motto of the cherry trees is “Don’t prunus.”

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.