Cherry - useful boat wood?

Discussion in 'Wooden Boat Building and Restoration' started by byankee, Sep 5, 2006.

  1. byankee
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    byankee Junior Member

    Can anyone tell me why cherry is not used more often in boat building? It seems to me that it might be an attractive and reasonable substitue for mahogany in may applications - but I've been wrong about these things before. It is strong, stable (nearly as stable as Honduras Mahogany) very durable, better stiffness and bending strength than mahogany and a bit lighter. What am I missing?
  2. Toot
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    Toot Senior Member

    I'd guess it has something to do with the lack of large sizes available and the amount that is out there. With that said though, any wood can be substituted for another if you take care to account for its deficiencies.
  3. Crag Cay
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    Crag Cay Senior Member

    North American Cherry (Prunus serotina) seems to be a very popular wood for boat interiors at the moment. You can get faced ply panels, veneers and solid wood.

    I offer it as an option on all interiors partly as a reaction to the dodgy sourcing of some tropical hardwoods, and partly because it makes for a lighter feel below decks.

    If anyone visits Tatton Park House in Cheshire, take a look at the dining table by Gillows of Lancaster. I think it seats 26 or so. Can't see the joins? It's made from single peice of mahogany and the off cut was used for the sideboard, which in itself is the size of a small car. It's been a while since mahogany of that size has appeared in any wood yard I have visited over the last number of years.
  4. chandler
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    chandler Senior Member

    I would guess that cherry is not very rot resistant, as well as not readily available. You don't see many large cherry trees growing on the side of the road ,and you don't see any growing in the wild.
  5. Crag Cay
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    Crag Cay Senior Member

    Cherry grows throughout the eastern USA from Florida up to the border and into Ontario, but mainly in the commercial forestry areas of Penn, New York, Tennessee, etc. Trees live up to 200 years and Cherry timber makes up five percent of all the USA's hardwood production.

    It is readily available, with excellent working properties, glues well and is stable. The heartwood is rated as 'durable'.

    Specific Gravity: 0.50 (12% M.C.)
    Average Weight: 561 kg/m3 (12% M.C.)
    Average Volumetric Shrinkage: 9.2% (Green to 6% M.C.)
    Modulus of Elasticity: 10,274 MPa
    Hardness: 4226 N

    I guess traditionally there have been other woods for the structure of a boat, but I rate cherry for boat interiors.
  6. timgoz
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    timgoz Senior Member

    Here in the southwest of PA we do have some Cherry in the wild. Alot of it is used as firewood here.

    They (?) say that SW PA has more types of decideuos trees & bushes than anywhere in the world except possibly a forest in China.

    Makes for a beautiful Fall.

    Take care.

  7. LP
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    LP Flying Boatman

    I think the final question that needs to be answered is, "What is it's natural resistance to rot?"

    Interiors aren't subjected to continuous moisture and so just about any wood you want can be used there, but if you're looking at a structural application with continual exposure to moisture, you may want to stick with a more traditionally accepted wood that has been proven to work in your particular application.

    Construction technique may come in to play, too. Epoxy encapsulation may allow your to use a lesser quality wood (in this case, due to a possibility of less resistance to rot).
  8. bntii
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    bntii Senior Member

    Cherry is fine for interiors- beautiful in fact.
    Outside it will check to toothpicks in a short time.
  9. TerryKing
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    TerryKing On The Water SOON

    Where does this information come from??

    The US Forest Products "Wood Handbook- Wood as en Engineering Material" says Cherry is quite far up in Rot Resistance, but not as good as Mahogany. **UPDATE** The Forest Service Laboratory's detailed Tech Sheet says, "The strength properties of mahogany are generally similar to those of paper birch and black cherry."
    UPDATE: No, I found I have the whole book saved in a computer archive! Hardwood is rated in three categories, and I will put just a few examples as the table is large: (Sorry can't make a real table here, right??)

    Resistant or very resistant
    old growth teak
    white oak
    black walnut
    american mahogany

    Moderately resistant
    douglas fir
    new growth teak
    african mahogany

    Slightly or nonresistant

    Can anyone point to a Marine-specific rating of wood species, for rot, toughness, abrasion etc??

    I'm thinking of using Cherry for some repairs, as I have it on hand...
  10. bntii
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    bntii Senior Member


    Years of experience as ships carpenter and all around great guy :)

    One should note the difference between rot resistance and the ability to resist weathering.

    Mahogany will go to pieces if left bright too long cherry much more so... I would not put time and effort into building anything for the exterior of a boat out of cherry
  11. alan white
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    alan white Senior Member

    What is the nature of the repair? Speaking of familiar American woods...Cherry (or any fruit wood) makes a good interior wood. White oak and hard resinous pines make good framing stock; cedar, mahogany, and white pine for planking.
    Each marine wood has characteristics that favor certain special conditions. White oak is prone to checking unless carefully sealed if it is used for brightwork, but it is amazingly tough and it steams beautifully, so I'm using it on my coamings and some brightwork. If I were painting the same pieces, I would use the same wood because it is a bargain compared to mahogany.
    Cedar (red, white, atlantic) make good plank stock because cedar has great "memory", which is to say it can be compressed due to water absorbtion and come back smiling.
    Some woods, like cedar, do not hold fasteners very well, like oak or honduras mahogany do.
    I've heard that walnut is a good rot resistent wood. I used it for parrels on my gaff rig. I wouldn't hestate to use it for gaff and boom jaws, painted or bright. I would even use it for deck frames except white oak is so much cheaper. I would also use fir for my deck frames, but not for gaff jaws (mine are white oak). Fir is not as tough as walnut or oak, but it's lighter and strong for its weight, and it won't easily rot.
    Phillipine mahogany isn't bad for planking stock provided it's vertical grain. Chris Craft used it for years, and it seems to hold up well, probably because of the way it was milled.
    Never use maple, birch, poplar, or beech on a boat. Redwood is supposed to be rot-resisent, but it's weak and brittle. Use ash selectively---- tiller, interior, any place where it can stay dry or you can see every side of it.

  12. byankee
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    byankee Junior Member

    I was wondering if cherry would be a reasonable substitute for the traditional apple crooks used for knees and such, Any thoughts?
  13. longliner45
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    longliner45 Senior Member

    what do you mean ( mahogony will go to pieces if left brite too long?),,,I owned on boat that was over 100 yrs old ,made of mahogony,,an open skiff,longliner
  14. PAR
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    PAR Yacht Designer/Builder

    Prunus serotina (black cherry), The genus Prunus includes the apricot, almond, cherry, plum and peach.

    Cherry is brittle and typically used in furniture, interior trim and decorative applications only, though I have seen some healthy chunks of it used as knees, which I thought was a poor material selection at the time. It's so brittle in fact, that substantial limbs of live trees will fall off in moderate wind storms (much more so then other trees). It is hated and religiously cut down by farmers, because the frequently dropped limbs release cyanide as it decays, which threatens livestock and crops. I couldn't recommend it as a structural element, but it is a beautiful wood and certainly has a places for use.
    1 person likes this.

  15. TerryKing
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    TerryKing On The Water SOON

    Wood Species for Marine Applications

    Well, there certainly is a lot to learn about this subject, and some varying opinions and experiences. The Wood Handbook I mentioned is based on a lot of research and experience, but it doesn't directly address the Marine environment except in a few places.

    Maybe we/somebody could start a MATERIALS page on the Wiki

    Can anyone point to a book etc. that has a list of wood species (and maybe other materials) specifically rated for Marine Applications?? I didn't find a good reference in a quick Google search.. Some of you guys must have good book on the shelf.

    I'm going to run one test starting in May when I get back to the US: I'm going to make two exposed porch rails out of Cherry, with two different finishes - one Marine Varnish and one Oil-Beeswax based. I'll track it over the next few years. I'll do that mainly because I have lumber from my property there in Vermont. I also have birch,ash,maple and beech lumber that I cut and dried about 5 years ago, but none of those species are rated well for anything exterior as far as I can see..

    I used local Cedar (from a local mill) for the interior ribs and frame of the replacement cabin I put on Expedition about 3 years ago, and it worked well and looks great inside in that protected application.

    More to learn!
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