The Magic of Cherry Winsted CT
New Hartford, CT
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The Magic of Cherry
The Magic of Cherry
"No wood can rival the depth and complexity of cherry's color and figure." - Thos. Moser
by Tom Caspar
I’m sitting at a figured-cherry writing desk I built more than 20 years ago. I intimately know every square inch, but when my eyes wander from my laptop computer to the wood, it always captures my imagination. What is it about old cherry that’s so endlessly fascinating? Cherry is surprisingly bland when freshly planed, but after a few years, it glows like the embers of a warm, comforting campfire. To make that magic happen doesn’t require smoke and mirrors, though, just smart purchasing and shrewd woodworking skills.
For my home, dark walnut is too formal, light maple too stark. I prefer working with American hardwoods rather than imported species, so when I want a medium-toned wood to relax with in my home, I build with cherry. It’s fairly easy to work, like walnut or red oak, but the real appeal for me is its rich appearance.
Exceptional Curly Figure
Curly figure is quite common in cherry. As you walk around a figured board, the dark areas turn light and the light areas go dark, just like the luster of fine silk. Even a small amount of subtle curly figure under a clear finish can make magic. This stunning 3-D effect is called chatoyancy. Large-scale lumber dealers generally don’t separate curly from straight-grained boards. When lumberyard boards are planed hit-or-miss, you can easily spot the curly wood. With some practice you can even spot chatoyancy in rough, unplaned lumber. Just look for dark ripples that go across the width of the board.
Age Improves Color
The real beauty of cherry takes time to mature. Cherry is a uniform pale salmon color when first cut, but over the course of a year or so, its surface slowly turns to a dark auburn set against a golden background. It is possible to stain or chemically treat a brand-new project so it looks somewhat like this deep color, but your best bet is simply to use a clear finish and be patient. As with aging a fine wine, let nature do its work.
Beware the Phantom
Cherry needs unobstructed exposure to light and air to turn color evenly. Don’t leave a lamp, book or other solid object on top of your cherry furniture for an extended length of time during its first year. The wood underneath the object won’t darken as fast, which results in a light-colored phantom “shadow” that may never completely disappear.
This problem starts when you first plane rough cherry boards. After planing, if you leave them piled willy-nilly overnight, you’ll get shadow lines where they overlapped. At the end of a day’s work, I stand all my boards on edge, separated from one another, so all faces get equal exposure to light and air.
Matching Color and Figure
The biggest challenge in work...