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Cherry takes a back seat to walnut and oak


Believe it or not, cherry’s classic look has fallen out of favor with the interior design crowd. They don’t want red, according to hardwood and veneer suppliers interviewed by Woodshop News.

Bill Brittingham of Crown Veneer in West Grove, Pa., a seller of veneer and hardwood, says cherry sales are way down at his facility, noting the strong influence architects and designers have in steering consumers towards one color or another.

“Cherry sales, from a standpoint of ten years ago, are down about 85 percent. All wood veneers and such you can lump them into tile, glass and everything else. What happens is the design community goes from one color to the next roughly ten years at a time. Today it’s walnut and white oak. In former times it was all cherry with a little bit of walnut and a little bit of white oak,” says Brittingham.

“Red, for right now, seems to be out. That includes the exotic species like the makores, sapeles and mahoganies.”

Ken Burtch of The Hardwood Connection in Sycamore, Ill., says cherry is alive and well, at least in his region. He believes that the export market is affecting suppliers where sales are down.

“Cherry is still one of our top sellers,” says Burtch, “We’re selling to the average woodworker in our region. We’re not worried about the global situation. We’re still using cherry. We’re not the sawmill, we don’t by the logs, but from what I’m aware of, the folks overseas aren’t buying the logs so much, so our mills are able to saw better logs.”

As a woodworker, Burtch is partial to the species.

“Cherry is medium-density, closed-grain hardwood that really doesn’t need any stain if you select it properly, just an oil-based finish. It just darkens naturally over time to that beautiful warm cherry color everybody likes.”

Steve Gebhardt of Steve’s Hardwoods, a hardwood retailer in Bucyrus, Ohio, first observed a drop in cherry sales about a year and a half ago.

“I don’t know why. If we could figure that out, we’d be rich. Things go in trends. Before Christmas I was doing all live-edge tables in walnut, now everybody all of a sudden wants floating shelves. I haven’t done a floating shelf in years and that’s all I’ve been doing,” says Gebhardt.

“I deal with the Amish sawmills, and last September, they were trying to get all of their cherry sawed up and get into their summer contracts because the green prices were crashing. A lot of that’s your export market, it really drives what’s hot and what’s not and what’s selling. The Chinese are consuming our red oak, and they like our walnut and white oak.” 

This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue.

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