Ode to Black Cherry

October 26, 2017

One of the secrets to TimberHomes’ success is our extensive use of Black Cherry (Prunus Serotina), which we find to be the perfect anecdote to almost any woodworking dilemma. As a structural member, Cherry’s strength is second only to the captivating reddish beauty of its grain. Against White Pine or even a painted wall, an oiled piece of Cherry provides the rich contrast that one’s eye naturally desires. Attractive, stable, and obedient, Black Cherry is, as one friend explained, “God’s gift to woodworkers”.

Though a native of the East Coast, Black Cherry actually grows poorly in Vermont when compared to its cousins in Southern New England and beyond. Prone to pitch pockets and poor form; vulnerable to both maladies and pests, Vermont Cherry performs badly on the open market next to Sugar Maple.

Despite this, it’s most often the conventionally poor shaped Cherry that TimberHomes seeks to use in its buildings. With wide eyes and ears open, TimberHomes is constantly in search of the right logs; sizeable, sound, and curved. Though not an uncommon material, it’s been historically a challenge to find it in large quantities on one parcel combined with a logger who is willing to take the time to cut specialty logs.

With careful orientation at the sawmill, the logs’ curves are maximized for visual effect. In most cases, TimberHomes receives its curved Cherry from the sawmill in 3” slabs, which are used as brace stock. To cut a brace, the TimberHomes framer resaws the 3” slab by carefully following its curved grain using a handheld band saw.

If the slab is wide enough, the framer can use it to saw an additional brace. Together, they are a “book match” pair and are used to mirror one another in a timber frame bent or line. Often the natural curve allows for increased headroom or space for windows and doors.

After the braces have been “roughed out”, the timber frame lay out can proceed. The tenons are cut, and the peg holes are drilled. The final step of finishing the braces includes planing,  chamfering, sanding, and oiling with Landark oil.

Though a lot of work, the TimberHomes crew derives a lot of pleasure in utilizing material that is most often headed for the firewood pile. Darkening with age, TimberHomes’ Cherry is akin to a fine wine.


cherry braces

book match pair

Nice cherry braces in timber frame house

the raw material

3″ curved cherry slabs


Cherry braces and barlusters

Cherry braces and balusters

Cherry tie beam

Cherry as a Straining Beam