Finishing Cherry Wood - How to...

How to get the best finish for cherry wood...patience

Cherry wood is one of my all-time favorite woods to work with; I think that goes for a lot of people. It is easy to work with, it smells great and it ages like a fine wine. For many however, finishing cherry is a tricky wicket. 

See, one of the "problems" with finishing cherry is too many people are used to store bought furniture and, as I have mentioned before, that furniture is misleading because they use a multi-step process to artificially age cherry. Why? Because what everyone wants from cherry is that dark rich color. The problem? When cherry is first milled, it has a lighter, creamy color. So, what do people do? Stain it! Kind of like "don't fruit the beer", "don't stain the cherry wood"...just don't. 

Blotchy Cherry Finish

The main problem with finishing cherry wood is that it has a tendency to blotch with any kind of stain or tinted oil. What this means is, the grain in the wood absorbs different amount of stain color at different rates and depths. This causes some areas to be darker, some lighter and blotchy. Now, you can minimize and/or eliminate this by using a pre-stain conditioner, which is really just a super thin shellac. But, like I mentioned, don't fruit the beer.

Time - The Best Finish for Cherry Wood

So, what do you do then if you want that deep rich color cherry is known for? Like Gun's and Roses said, "have a little patience". Let's take a look at the payoff. Below is a photo of a Shaker end table I took right after I finished it. The finish on this table is simply two coats of tung oil and a few thin coats of clear shellac, nothing else.

 
 
 

As you can see, this table is very light with a nice cream color with a hint of orange/red to it. For reference, the drawer front is tiger maple. It has the exact same finish as the rest of the table. So, after heeding our GnR friends advice, what does the table look like now?

 

 
 
 
 

What a difference right?! This is the exact same table as in the first photo, no changes to the finish at all, but about three years later. As you can see, the color change that the cherry wood has gone through is dramatic, to say the least. The second picture is the cherry color that cherry wood is famous for and sought after for. It is the color that most of my clients that want to use cherry wood desire as well. And, most often, they ask me if I can stain it to quicken the darkening process. I highly advise against this and typically do not do it and just ask clients to have, you guessed it, patience. 

Cheating Father Time

So, you don't have a lot of patience huh? So, other than staining; which we never do right? Right? What other options do you have. Well, one easy technique is to simply put the furniture out in the sun; simply give it a tan! See, the UV rays are what primarily give cherry its deep color; UV and oxidation really. By simply placing the cherry in the sun, you can significantly speed up the amount of time it takes to color the cherry. 

There is another technique, that I've never really used, but tested and it does work. This technique involves diluting baking soda in water and applying it to the cherry wood. This creates a chemical reaction with the wood and causes it to darken very quickly as well. For me, this is just too messy and complicated. 

Conclusion - Patience

So, in conclusion, cherry wood is an awesome choice for building furniture and is highly desirable. The reason people love it is for that deep rich color. In my opinion, the best way to achieve this amazing color is by just using a little patience and let nature do her thing and naturally darken the wood over time. As you can see from the photos, the change is amazingly dynamic and beautiful. I believe that by the use of stains and chemicals, you are messing with the natural beauty and process and it ultimately turns into something that is not cherry; it looses its character. 

What do you think of the results? Let me know with a comment! Interested in your own piece of furniture, contact me to get started!

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