Can You Carve Cherry Wood?


carve cherry wood

Cherry wood holds a high status among woodworkers and woodcarvers, thanks to several key qualities. Its accessible pricing and widespread availability make it a favored choice for any wood carving project, while its beautiful color palette eliminates the need for excessive finishing procedures to get that striking appearance.

However, an important question remains: Is cherry wood good for carving?

In the world of hardwoods, cherry wood comes through as an accommodating medium for carving. Positioned between softwoods like white pine and more robust hardwoods such as oak, cherry wood assumes a middle ground that offers an enjoyable carving experience coupled with high-quality hard wood aesthetics.

Can You Carve Cherry Wood?  Best Woodcarving Tips for This Beautiful Wood

Understanding the Cherry Tree

Prized for both its fruit and cherry timber, the cherry tree (genus Prunus) is a member of the Rosaceae family. Known for its diverse species, cherry trees encompass a range of sizes, from dwarf shrubs to towering giants. Blossoming in the spring, these trees grace us with clusters of delicate, fragrant flowers, signaling the onset of warmer days. As the blossoms give way to the development of small edible fruit, they evolve into the cherished cherries we savor. 

In the world of carving, the heartwood of the cherry tree emerges as the star, offering a variety of colors ranging from pale yellow to the rich reddish-brown color, while the cherry sapwood (the outer most pale portion of the trunk) complements with lighter, contrasting tones. The journey of crafting carvings from cherry wood begins with an appreciation for the very trees that gift us with their timeless beauty and utility.

Is Cherry Wood Good for Carving?

In the world of carving wood types, cherry wood emerges as a standout contender among a bounty of options. Carvers of all skill levels are drawn to cherry wood’s blend of beauty and manageable carving properties. Cherry wood has rightfully earned its place as a cherished medium for those who aspire to transform blocks of timber into intricate works of art.

Cherry wood is characterized by its warm reddish-brown tones that mature over time, giving carvings a natural elegance. Its delicate grain patterns add depth and character to each piece, making every carve a journey of discovery.

What sets cherry apart is its ability to radiate beauty with minimal intervention. Unlike some other woods that demand elaborate finishing techniques, cherry wood often requires only a light touch of oil finishes to achieve a smooth, polished appearance.

Here are three key benefits that make cherry wood good for carving:

Uniform Grain Patterns in Cherry Wood

The consistent and even grain patterns inherent in cherry wood distinguish it as an accommodating material in comparison to various other hardwoods. In contrast, certain “fruiting” hardwoods, including apple wood, can exhibit intricate and often challenging grain patterns, posing difficulties with carving tools.

Desirable attributes in carving-wood include traits such as straight and clear grain patterns, which have a reliable and predictable wood structure for great interaction with carving tools. In this regard, cherry wood offers straight, clean, and readily discernible grain patterns, lending itself to a favorable and clean carving experience.

Cherry Wood is a Solid and Stable Hardwood

An additional aspect that cherry provides is solidity and stability. In woodworking applications, the preference often leans toward utilizing either the lighter cherry sapwood of the cherry tree, which constitutes the outermost layer of the wood, or the cherry heartwood, distinguished by its higher strength, deeper color hues, and increased density.

Both options are good wood for carving, but it is the heartwood that truly distinguishes itself as the coveted part of cherry wood lumber. While proper drying and moisture content reduction is to be expected (a reputable supplier can handle this), the pure cherry heartwood, upon attaining the desired moisture content, exhibits remarkable stability with minimal associated challenges.

With cherry wood, concerns regarding moisture absorption, subsequent swelling, and cracking, followed by a cycle of shrinking or buckling, can be forgotten. Cherrywood’s ability to withstand moisture fluctuations and retain its structural integrity contributes to its appeal and suitability for carving and woodworking projects.

Cherry Wood Sands Easily and Takes Finishing Well

Cherry wood not only has a gorgeous natural color, particularly within its deeply rich and vibrant heartwood sections, but it also has great response to sanding and finishing processes.

A measured approach to sanding is advisable, always use multiple grits, starting with courser sand paper first and working down to 220 grit or finer.  I like to use at least 3 different grits for all of my projects, sometime four, to achieve a smooth, glowing, finish.  Cherry wood is easy to sand too, offering little resistance to sanding.

A variety of finishing options are at your disposal – although a natural oil finish will always be one of the best wood finishes. Wipe-on finishes can sometimes lead to the emergence of “molting” – characterized by residual amber spots and specks – using spray finishes reduce this concern. 

Alternatively, should an robust and unyielding finish be required, cherry wood can seamlessly accommodate lacquer products. The outcome of a lacquered finish on cherry wood is truly remarkable, giving a stunning visual impact.

Whittling Cherry Wood

Whittling, the fine art of carving with a knife, finds a willing partner in cherry wood. Its moderate hardness strikes a near perfect balance between ease of carving and the ability to hold fine detail. Whether you’re shaping delicate feathers on a duck decoy or crafting the detailed work of an ornate handle, cherry wood responds with a satisfying blend of control and versatility.

The interaction between the wood’s straight grain and the knife’s edge allows us wood carvers to easily craft our designs. Working your carving tool over cherry wood provides you with a deep connection to the piece your working on.

How Hard is Cherry Wood to Carve?

Cherry wood has a Janka Hardness rating of 950, putting it about mid-way between hard ash wood and softer basswood. Positioned between the realm of soft woods like white pine and the sturdiness of harder hardwoods like oak. Cherry is one of the easier hardwoods to work with, striking a balance that supports precision, creativity and beauty.  

As either power tools or hand carving tools engage with the piece of wood, carvers can feel a manageable resistance that doesn’t compromise control. This ideal balance ensures that intricate designs can be executed with finesse while still allowing for larger, bold chip carving when needed.

The wood’s responsiveness to sharp tools means that each pass yields clean and defined edges. This encourages experimentation, enabling carvers to explore various techniques and styles. 

carve cherry wood

Does Cherry Wood Crack Easily?

The concern of wood cracking is a familiar one for carvers. Cherry wood, however, boasts a reputation for its stability. While all woods can succumb to cracks under low-humidity weather and other seasonal conditions, cherry’s moderately dense wood and tight, straight grain structure offer resistance to splitting. 

Proper handling and drying techniques are crucial to preventing cracks, but cherry’s natural stability lends itself well to carvings that will last for generations.

By paying attention to cherry woods moisture content in green wood and using recommended drying practices, carvers can navigate cherry wood’s characteristics to their advantage. The reward is the creation of carvings that maintain their integrity, preserving the artist’s effort and creativity for generations.

What is Cherry Wood Good For?

Many whittlers like to use local woods, particularly the wood from nut and fruit trees. All are hard wood that do have a tendency to check. They are susceptible to warping and insect damage if not properly seasoned. 

Additionally, they take a better finish and have a grain that does not interfere with carving and a natural wood color that makes painting not only unnecessary, but offensive to many of us wood carvers. 

Among these common nut and fruit tree woods are pear, pecan, black walnut, apple tree, and of course our beloved cherry – often harvested from American Black Cherry trees. Cherry and black walnut are particularly enjoyable to work with and result in great end products.

Cherry is fantastic for a variety of carving items and other woodworking projects. Some of my favorite uses for cherry wood are spoon carving and kitchen utensils, my favorite walking stick, wood turning projects, fishing lure whittling, musical instruments,  and kitchen cabinetry.

Cherry wood doesn’t contain any toxic chemical build-up and is a safe wood for kitchen and food-grade applications. In addition to spoons and other kitchen utensils, cherry wood makes great cutting boards, large bowls and chopsticks!

The versatility of cherry wood is rather impressive, it also is fun to use for chainsaw carving, relief carvings and the thicker slabs are a popular choice for creating a beautiful dining room table!

What is cherry wood good for?
“A cherry spoon I carved last week. Just love cherry when it’s oiled up at the end of carving.” ~Colm Reddy from Whittling Club

What’s Next?

Carving with cherry is super fun and has the advantage of being able to hold finer detail while also have beautiful grain pattern and color.  You will enjoy being able to use a variety of tools when carving cherry wood. 

To maximize the beautiful colors and grain pattern, while avoiding splits and warping as your project ages see our guide on finishing wood carvings. I hope that this article was helpful in answering carving cherry wood question!  Happy Carving!

Author: Hadwin Fisher

Hi, my name is Hadwin. I've been a long time wood carver and whittler. My day job is as a carpenter, but I like to work on and write about my wood carving hobby on the weekends and evenings. I hope you enjoy learning from my past experiences!

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