November 4, 2021

Carving Cherry Wood | The Complete Guide

Are you interested in trying your hand at carving cherry wood? Cherry is one of the most popular woodworking species, and its bright color and lightweight make it the go-to material for making furniture. While it is a relatively simple wood to work with, a few tricks can make the process a bit easier.

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Characteristics of cherry wood

The heartwood of the cherry tree differs in oloroso. You have some in rich red to reddish-brown, and it darkens with age and on exposure to light. Sapwood is creamy white, and the cherry wood has a straight-grain, fine, uniform, satiny and smooth texture. Sometimes it comes with brown pith flecks and small gum pockets.

Cherry wood is easy to machine, and it also nails and glues well. When sanded and stained, it produces an excellent, smooth finish. It dries quickly with moderately high shrinkage, and it becomes stable after kiln-drying. 

Cherry is of medium density and with good bending properties, low stiffness, and medium strength and shock resistance. It is readily available online, in-store, and in U.S fields. It is for professionals and homeowners since the beautiful wood is easy to work with. 

It becomes richer with age. Cherry wood is reddish-brown with a golden hue. When still wet, it is paler. The heart and sapwood of the cherry tree are easy to identify, and the sapwood is narrow and yellowish. Cherry wood has exceptional workability due to its straight-grained qualities. 

Prepare it before it undergoes the staining process to avoid blemishes. Use a  sanding sealer or a gel-based stain. Cherry hardwood is a durable wood since the heart is resistant to rot and decay. It is for many different applications due to its flexibility. It has medium density, bending properties, and stiffness.

Cherry hardwood is more affordable than walnut wood and more workable than maple and oak. Its availability is in the sense that it is not harvested as often as other types of wood, although it is not scarce. It is flexible and comes with an array of colors and patterns, and its physical properties make it a versatile wood that you can use in endless applications.

Is Cherry Wood good for carving?

Cherry wood is great for chip carving and chainsaw carving. However, using the lumber for whittling is difficult since your carving tool finds it difficult to pierce into the grain, and it gets even more complex when the cherry timber has dried through.

Wild cherry is not the best choice for whittling,  but it remains a perfect wood for intricate carving methods. These include relief carving since it can hold onto detail well, and green wild cherry wood works better on carvings. 

Courtesy of Jason Coleman under Creative Commons license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

It refers to the freshly cut cherry wood from the tree that has not been dried. It is easy to cut and shape, and it has a moisture content of 100%, which makes it easy to carve. When the cherry wood starts drying, the moisture content goes down even below 20%, and it becomes prone to shrinkage, leading to cracking and splitting. 

Cherry wood tends to crack, but it depends on the part of cherry wood lumber you are using. The tree trunks consist of  5 essential parts; the outer bark, inner bark, cambium, sapwood, and heartwood. Cherry sapwood, the outermost pale portion of the trunk, tends to crack as it dries. 

It has the most build-up of moisture. So as the moisture evaporates, the sapwood shrinks and eventually cracks. Cherry heartwood does not take on moisture easily, and that is why it neither shrinks nor cracks that much as it dries. 

So, if you are carving into cherry heartwood, the cherry is less likely to crack as it dries out. But, if you are wood carving into the sapwood, cherry is more likely to crack as it dries out. Even if there is heartwood at the center of the sapwood lumber, if the sapwood cracks, it also splits the heartwood. Avoid using cherry sapwood for wood carving to avoid cracks. 

You can tell the two apart as the sapwood section of the trunk is lighter than the heartwood. Allow the cherry wood to dry slowly to avoid cracks as well. That allows cherry wood to air-dry naturally than kiln-drying. The process takes up to 60 days. 

How Do You Protect Cherry Wood?

To seal, protect, and finish off a cherry wood project, use a natural oil finish. Apply a  few coats of an all-natural linseed oil or tung oil coat in a pinch. These oil finishes can sink into the dense pores found in cherry wood.

Cherry Woodgrain

Cherry hardwood has a straight grain, and is uniform, and comes with a smooth texture. The grain has dark wavy streaks, and it is farther apart and softer than Mahogany. Cherry comes with a red hue that can be stained any color.

What is cherry wood good for?

Since cherry wood comes from a tree that bears edible fruit, that makes the lumber food safe. You are allowed to make kitchen utensils such as spoons and cutting boards using cherry wood. It makes fine furniture and cabinets, molding and millwork, floors, doors, boat interiors, musical instruments, turnings, and carvings.

Best way to prepare cherry wood

Oil it, spray it, shellac it, or glaze it. That makes cherry look great. Cherry boards come in different colors, and their sapwood and heartwood do not match. Its color varies from board to board, and for an easy finish, choose wood boards that look the same. 

Some suppliers sell boards from the same tree to ensure a good match. Usually, though, you’ll be on your own. When using solid cherry along with cherry plywood, stand the solid stock against the veneer in good, natural light so you can compare the colors. 

Wetting the surfaces with mineral spirits gives you an indication of color. Cherry darkens over time when exposed to air and light, and the color changes quickly within hours. Do not use oil stain for a dark color; seal the surface and apply coats of colored glaze for a better finish.

Where to get cherry wood blocks for carving

You get cherry wood from Amazon and eBay in log blanks that have seasoned naturally. They are from Kent-grown cherry trees, and the hardwood logs are seasoned and for carving. You get a wide variety of other log widths and lengths on the website. There are always new blanks to choose from.

Is Cherry Wood good for making desks?

Cherry wood has a beautiful texture and white to reddish-brown color that makes it ideal for making computer desks in office environments. Cherry is great in workability and comes with finishing properties in nailing, gluing, screwing, and polishing. 

It is shock-resistant and seals the desk once a year to maintain the same color. It is also water-resistant and makes it a good candidate for desk making. Quality hardwoods are better types of lumber to build a desk. Cherry wood can either be a light brown or a deeper reddish-brown color, and these colors are not a problem in desks. 

Hardwood substitutes for Cherry

  • Oak.
  • Walnut.
  • Maple.

Can you carve greenwood?

You can carve Greenwood for your carvings. It is easier to cut and shape than dried cherry wood. Since it has a high percentage of moisture content, Greenwood is easy to cut. You are allowed to cut a section of cherry wood and then freeze it to help contain the moisture and greenness. Use Greenwood if the rest of the cherry wood is too hard to cut when dry. 

Carving green cherry wood

What is green cherry wood

Green cherry wood is fresh wood from the cherry plant that has not dried. It is wood chopped from the cherry tree, and it still has the sap and moisture locked inside. Greenwood comes in variations such as branches you trim off of a tree, a tree cut down, and wood that has not dried out all the way yet.

The wood is softer than when it dries out. It allows a sharp knife to make smooth cuts, and you are more likely to split it. Splitting the wood helps you see the grain structure of your spoon blank. When carving with a knife and a hook knife you can listen to the sound of the wood. 

Listening to the grain means that you look at the grain of your piece and get an idea of what kind of spoon fits inside it. Your spoon is made stronger and looks better, as it follows the natural structure of the wood.

Characteristics of green cherry wood

  • Fine, uniform, straight grain
  • Smooth texture
  • Easy to machine
  • Nails and glues well 
  • Heavy 

Is cherry wood good for carving?

Cherry wood is great for chip carving or even chainsaw carving. However, using the lumber for whittling is difficult since your carving tool finds it difficult to pierce into the grain, and it gets even harder when the cherry timber has dried through.

Wild cherry is not the best choice for whittling,  but it remains a perfect wood for intricate carving methods. These include relief carving since it can hold onto detail well, and green wild cherry wood works better on carvings. 

It refers to the freshly cut cherry wood from the tree that has not dried. It is easy to cut and shape. It has a moisture content of 100%, and that makes it easy to carve. When the cherry wood starts drying, the moisture content goes down even below 20%, and it becomes prone to shrinkage, leading to cracking and splitting. 

Cherry wood tends to crack, but it depends on the part of cherry wood lumber you are using. The tree trunks consist of five parts; the outer bark, inner bark, cambium, sapwood, and heartwood. Cherry sapwood, the outermost pale portion of the trunk, tends to crack as it dries. 

It has the most build-up of moisture. So as the wood moisture evaporates, the sapwood shrinks and eventually cracks. Cherry heartwood does not take on wood moisture easily, and that is why it neither shrinks nor cracks that much as it dries. 

So, if you are carving into cherry heartwood, the cherry is less likely to crack as it dries out. But, if you are wood carving into the sapwood, cherry is more likely to crack as it dries out. If the sapwood cracks, it ends up splitting the heartwood too. Avoid using cherry sapwood for wood carving to avoid wood cracks. 

You can tell the two apart as the sapwood section of the trunk is lighter than the heartwood. Allow the cherry wood to dry slowly to avoid cracks as well. That allows cherry wood to air-dry naturally than kiln-drying. The process takes up to 60 days.

Carving green wood VS dry wood

Carving wood dry is harder than wet. However, the chances of dry wood cracking open is lower as it does not hold moisture. Greenwood is ideal for hardwoods that are difficult to carve, and Greenwood is for beginners as it requires less physical effort to cut through the wood. Using both come with pros and cons.

Pros of Green-Wood

  • Easy to carve
  • Smooth to use with hand tools
  • Ideal for beginners as experimental wood
  • Convertible into dry wood
  • Availability

Cons of Green-Wood

  • More moisture leads to splitting. 
  • Ideal for outdoor projects
  • Not a better option for fine detail.
  • It leaves a residue on your tools.
  • Shrinks when dries

Pros of Dry Wood

  • Minimal cracks and more stable 
  • Ideal for  indoor projects
  • Better for fine detail
  • Versatile
  • Ideal for power carving

Cons of Dry Wood

  • Harder to cut.
  • It takes time to dry.
  • Requires more tools to work with.
  • Hard to season without experience.
  • It requires more energy.

Can you carve greenwood?

Yes, you can carve Greenwood. It is soft, easy, and quick to cut, unlike dry wood. Handle with care to avoid splitting. The use of hand tools is for Greenwood since power tools are too aggressive to cut through the Greenwood. Carving greenwood saves time and extra costs. 

How do you keep Green Wood Green for carving?

If your winter stays below 40 or 50 degrees, you do not have to look for other methods since the chances are high that it keeps fresh till spring. However, warm winters make the wood rot, and that is why you should try the splitting method. 

Splitting out parts involves keeping logs big to prevent drying.  Seal the ends of the wood log with end-grain sealant to reduce checking. Apply as soon as you finish sawing the log. You can also leave the wood log a few inches longer than what you need. 

The exposed surfaces develop checks. Keep the bark on the log and your split radial. Do not forget to apply a sealant to tangential surfaces. Make sure you have ways to keep your green cherry wood from rotting. Sapwood is prone to wood rot more than other species, and that is why you should choose any of the storage methods below.

Roughing out parts  

Split the log up and rough out your parts. This method takes a lot of energy. Shape and rough the spindles to an octagonal cross-section and backs bent. Rough your turnings to cylinders so that they dry with minimal problems and keep indefinitely.

Wrapping parts

Wrap parts in plastic to prevent drying. The Greenwood stays longer in winter than during summer. However, the wood is prone to molds if it stays longer.  

Freezing

Freezing keeps the wood green. When using a self-defrosting freezer, wrap the parts in plastic to avoid dryness.

Soaking in water

Submerging wood in water prevents decay. However, the parts start smelling, and the smell goes away after the wood parts dry. Make use of your pond, watering trough, pipe, or wheelbarrow.

How do you dry green wood for carving?

As green wood starts drying, it cracks from the center out. It can be best to split it in half ahead of time, which takes the stress off and keeps it from splitting in multiple places. Cherry wood is prone to checking. That is why you have to seal the ends using wax, Elmer’s glue, or paint. 

Repeat the process frequently and keep the Greenwood in a cooler, moist area to slow the drying process.

Leave the wood for longer lengths and soak the ends in radiator antifreeze for about 5 minutes on each end. Allow them to rest in a cool area.  Keep the wood out of direct sunlight with enough air movement around them.

Expect some checking, but when the wood has dried and cut off the checked areas for perfect logs. Bear in mind that the process takes more time.

However, this method is a bit unsafe for your wood. The time and temperature method takes long but has lower chances of spoiling the wood. You can even try wax or paraffin or paint on the ends.

What you should mind is the cracking of the Greenwood. However, there are ways to prevent it, but only if you understand it. You should know how to seal the end of logs to inhibit cracking. You should take a piece of wood as a container filled with water, and when the container shrinks too much, the water inside will burst the sides or spill over. 

If it dries, it will shrink and shrink too much, making the volume inside the log breaks the outside. That makes the wood crack. To prevent shrinking and cracking, the Greenwood outside of the wood log is wet, which means keeping the water in the wood.

The reason carvers avoid using green, freshly cut wood is cracking or checking due to the wet wood. A carver should learn how to carve Greenwood. When controlling the wood’s moisture content, you will be controlling the rate of evaporation. 

The wood dries too quickly, and the outer layer shrinks too much. When the inner wood swells with water, it forces the outer layer to crack. Bear in mind that during the carving process, some water evaporates. 

Use a spray bottle regularly to dampen the piece.  That covers up for moisture loss. When finishing the carving session, spray lightly and cover with a plastic bag. The water in the wood finds a balance of even distribution. 

Enclose the carving in a bag to give moisture deep inside the wood, move toward the drier outside. For a speedy process, coat the piece with light oil or mineral oil. Long delays when drying it is not a problem, but enclosed wood leads to mold. Remove the plastic bag every day for a short period, and replace it over the piece.

Even when done carving, repeat the plastic bag process, and the enclosed carving can be placed in a sunny location to create a solar kiln in which the carving dries slowly.

To minimize cracking, soak the area by placing a damp cloth over the crack or cover the wood crack with a piece of masking tape to prevent more moisture loss from inside the wood crack. Soaking the spot with water makes water migrate from the inside. That is how wood swells, closing the wood crack. Keep filling wood cracks even after carving fill with a hard substance like wax.

Steps

  • Seal the ends.
  • Un-seal wood cracks.
  • Fill cracks with wax.
  • Mist and cover work between carving sessions.
David D. Hughes
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