Out of my list of the best woods for picture frames, Cherry is one of my favorites.
The heartwood has such a beautiful reddish color, the grain patterns are eye catching and in some cases they produce an amazing glow or waterfall type of effect.
As time passes the beauty of the color only deepens.
There are many reasons to use cherry wood.
In my opinion, it truly is one of the best woods for making picture frames (and anything else!).
There are some things you should be aware of though when trying to decide which wood you want to spend your money on.
So, here goes:
Cherry takes stain well in general, but has a reputation of "blotching" or staining in an uneven way. It becomes very noticeable as some spots will look very dark compared to areas around it when stain is applied.
The reason this occurs is that the density of cherry often changes withing a single board, from soft to hard. This results in some areas of the board really soaking up the stain (soft) while other areas of the board may absorb much less (hard).
This can produce interesting looking frames, but in general many people feel this detracts from the beauty. The picture below shows two stained pieces of cherry. The one on the left (as if i have to point it out!) has a case of the blotches.
You can usually tell if you'll have this problem though by looking closely at the wood before staining it.
If you see glowing or waterfall type of "figure" in the wood you'll know there is trouble ahead.
The glowing areas will stain differently than the rest of the wood.
You can decide then whether you want to use that board or not.
If you don't see that type of figure, your chances of going blotch free are very good.
Some say if you pre-treat the wood you can avoid blotching, but, in my opinion, it may help some, but it doesn't eliminate the problem.
Click to enlarge picture
You can see the blotches in the wood before staining, especially if you move it around in the light. It will appear to have a 3-D effect. It's clearly visible even in this still photo.
Click to enlarge picture
You don't see any hint of shimmering or glowing in this unstained board. A good sign that you are on your way to a nice even coat of stain.
Tip: when I come across boards with the glow or waterfall figure, I don't stain them. I use them to create some amazing looking "natural" cherry frames.
I make the frames as normal, skip the stain and apply a top coat only.
Using a topcoat only, will highlight the glowing and waterfall effects, which are usually quite stunning, see the example in the pic to the right..
This picture gives you a good idea of how the blotches reveal themselves.
Imagine though the blotches as dark patches that would've occurred, like in the picture above, had I stained this frame.
Even the negatives are positives for cherry which keeps it near the top of the list of best woods for picture frames!
Click on pic to enlarge and see blotches
To fall into the category of best woods for picture frames, the ability to work with the wood has to be pretty be good too, otherwise you run the risk of wasting a lot of time and money.
Cherry, in my experience, is easy to work with. Ripping it into rails on the table saw is easy as opposed to maple for example, which has a tendency to "close back up" on the riving knife while ripping it.
When routing, as long as you take several passes to reach your routing depth, cherry doesn't typically split or tear while creating decorative profiles.
From time to time it may happen, but with patience, creativity or simply routing through the tear, you can usually overcome this issue. Overall though, this does not happen often.
You're not going to find cherry in home improvement stores. Your best bet is lumber yards, woodworking stores and of course searching on-line.
Cherry is not the most expensive of hardwoods out there because there is plenty of it available in the U.S., but it certainly costs more than pine or poplar.
Like most woods species, there are different "flavors", some are more expensive than others. Be aware of this as you check out the different flavors.
Check out the other species that you should consider