Sawing Cherry for Quality

Sawmillers advise on how to get the best quality lumber out of a Cherry saw-log. July 30, 2007

What is the best way to get the most value when sawing cherry logs? We have a good production band saw and are about to start on several thousand bf of southern grown cherry logs. Should we grade saw, flat saw or what? We generally sell to small cabinetmakers and furniture makers. Some like the light sap wood while others want all heart. What do you do about that?

Is there a problem with pith in the center as there is with walnut? We have not had trouble kiln drying any of the cherry through the center as you would with oak pith, but are concerned about salability. Sawing starts Monday!

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor M:
Your post reads as though you have sawn before, but possibly not cherry? I usually take a few thousand board feet every spring from my farm in NE Ohio and have gained some experience. My goal is for forest sustainability, so I am removing more poor quality trees. My sawyer and I go for grade and I can't imagine any other method for cherry. You will end up with a 4x4 or 5x5 cant, just accept it. It doesn't sound as though you have much experience with sawing for grade, so I suggest some of the references on this site. You don't say what size logs and how long they have been down. I would recommend sawing the logs as soon as cutting and bucking to reduce the checking (with the weather pattern the last few years, though this year we are getting a good cold snap). Figure with good grade sawing and average logs, you will get about half of the boards with top quality and the other half with low quality. All in all, grade sawing yields less total board feet but with a higher quality product for cherry.

From contributor D:
My experience with cherry is that the heart center is pretty shaky and prone to splitting, so therefore cutting for grade is the ticket, and throw the center cant in the firewood pile.

From contributor T:
Attempting to sell boards of any species to any woodworker with the pith in will be the doom of your business. There are exceptions, like an enormous carving blank, or a huge turning, but these sales are far and few between. If a customer wants you to custom saw their logs, and have them sawn through and through, that is another exception. By through and through, I mean all cuts are parallel to each other, and no boards are edged. The pith is not a stable piece of wood; there are too many grain directions to work together.

You shouldn't be concerned about salability, but rather stability! If your market is higher end woodworkers, it is your responsibility to produce high end lumber. You should research grade sawing, and practice it. Also learn what sawing methods produce stable lumber according to species. An example would be that quartersawn generally produces the most stable lumber.

Log centers are typically used as ties or beams. Structural beams should have the pith in the center, but this is a whole other topic. Your price matters, too. If you are selling boards with the pith you are selling your wood extremely cheap for your customers not to care (and for them to be willing to work around it).

From contributor M:
The best place to start is to call the NHLA and get their grading rules. There is no way anyone can post enough info on what the rules are. Also keep in mind a lot of logs are worth more than the time and work involved in sawing them. Take it from someone who has been sawing for a long time. Don't saw the first board until you have every board sold, and until it's sold, it's just wood.

From contributor E:
Saw down as far as you can - until boards start coming out with pith in them. You'll know it - there's usually a lot of gum when you get close to the center. I saw down to a 1x2 sometimes. You can have half the board length in pith and still make a 2 common board.

Take every board you can. Even 3 common cherry boards bring better than average prices.

Save the cants. They will often yield turning blanks, especially on crooked logs.

Grade sawing rules say that even a board as short as 6' long and 3 1/2 inches wide can make select. You can sell select and better lumber to anyone anywhere for a premium.

Pin knots in cherry are not usually a defect. And even lumber with defects will still command a premium from some markets. Gum stains are not a defect, unless they are unsound.

Save every board. Even your trimmings. Small 1x1 trimmings are treasured by carvers who use them to make pens. There are kits available for this market.

You can sell character and interesting pieces on e-bay. Take good pictures and find a good way to ship, and you're in business.

When you get cherry, saw every log, even when they look crooked, or have sweep. You'll have fun sawing up the swept logs and watching the boards come off the mill move 6" to the left or right. Even those boards are useful. Stack them in with the rest. Every board is useful. Anyone you meet who's a woodworker or wants to buy lumber will ask you about cherry. It's a fabulous and beautiful wood.