Saturday, July 4, 2015

Contemplating Cherry

Cherry logs have started turning up at the log dump in droves over the past few years. Some are diseased, but others are in beautiful condition.

A piece of local cherry was actually the first wood that I 'rescued', probably 15 years ago now. My dad had some cherry in his firewood pile, they had come from a street tree near where I had grown up. I grabbed a few of the best ones and cleaned them up. I still have some of it. Here it is on the back of a cabinet I made for my sister a couple years ago. If you look closely you can see that there are black streaks between some of the growth rings. This is not uncommon in the local cherry and is definitely a bit of a downside. I don't know what causes it, but luckily not all trees have it.

The cherry street trees in Vancouver are not the well-known black cherry of eastern Canada and the US, or commercial cherries grown for fruit. Rather they are are almost entirely cultivars of Prunus serrulata, Japanese flowering cherries, grown for their outstanding blossoms.

According to the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival website: "By the time the Park Board completed its first comprehensive street tree inventory in 1990, nearly 36 percent of the 89,000 trees on city streets were represented by trees of the Prunus genus—the flowering plum and cherry trees. Of the 479 different classifications of trees identified in the inventory, the most common species was Prunus serrulata ‘Kwanzan’, the Kwanzan flowering cherry. (12.6 percent)" 479 different types of cherry/plum trees growing in town? Wow!

Here is a photo of a Kwanzan tree in full bloom not far from my house. Beautiful!

Another interesting fact about the local cherry trees is that they are all grafted. The flowering named cultivar is grafted onto a trunk of a more robust cherry variety. I have been unable to identify the name of the variety commonly used for the trunk, although my dad, who grew up in Vancouver in the 30's, told me that there was a tree near Stanley Park from which the branches were taken to make the trunks. Don't know if that's true or not but there you have it!

I do know that the trunk wood is quite consistent across the many cherry logs I have milled, so I can believe that there was a common source for them. It has a milder look to it than black cherry, I have heard that it is more like European cherry wood.

So the graft union between the flowering branches and the trunk often creates some interesting patterns. Here is a photo of one with particularly strong contrast between the two woods. The flowering wood is on top and is much more colourful than the trunk wood below.

This was a complete small tree that my son and I rescued after a homeowner cut it down. We put it in our van just as another person pulled up who wanted it for firewood! He was not happy but we got some interesting slabs out of it. The graft line is visible, but the contrast between the two types of wood is not much.  You will note that the majority of the cherry I have is made up of the unknown trunk wood variety rather than the flowering branch wood.

Some of these local trees get quite large. This one is 3 feet across. They grow fast as they get plenty of water and they are spaced far enough apart that they do not have to compete for sunlight. The growth rings can be a bit coarse though.

Here's one that is a bit more gnarly.

And in contrast here are some nice thick clear slabs without any graft line. Sorry about the edge view!

My friend who is a woodturner often comes out and mills with me. He loves using these wide thick cherry slabs for large platters. He says they make his shop smell like cherry pie when he is turning them!

This is how these logs look before milling up. They are sometimes only three feet long, a six footer would be a long one.

Fresh off the saw they often display an orange tint.

Drying-wise I find cherry a bit fussy. I will leave it outside under cover to dry for two years (or at least two summers which is when most of the drying gets done in this part of the world), then put it in my dehumidifying kiln to squeeze out the last couple percent of moisture. My rule of thumb for cherry is that if it is milled too thin the slabs will warp like crazy, and if they are milled too thick they will crack! Slabs flat cut from the outside of the log will warp much more than slabs cut rift or quarter.

Some of the quartersawn grain can be stunning.