Sawing Techniques for Cherry

Pros explain how to go about getting the best lumber from some nice cherry logs. July 28, 2006

I'm a new mill user. I've cut a bunch of softwood, but am making my first venture into sawing cherry. What are some tips on cutting cherry? These logs are 8 ft. long and approximately 24" wide, very straight. The customer I'm sawing them for is going to edge them and he wants 1" and 2" lumber. How can I yield the most good boards? Any help would be appreciated!

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor G:
Add that 1/8 inch to your cuttings. I don't cut, I make, and would love true 2 in and not 1 7/8. Find your potential customers first and cut custom for their needs.

From the original questioner:
Yeah, for sure I'll check with him to see if he wants true 2". I'm just curious if there is any other advice? I heard it's important to cut around the heart to prevent cupping.

From contributor T:
You've got to box the heart. Maybe make him a couple 16/4 boards or if you are sawing for grade (which you should be in cherry), then I'd make 4X4's out of the hearts. Definitely have him there and show him the faces and maybe ask him for input to see what is best for his needs. You should cut some 5/4 boards for table tops. If you are cutting 4/4, then the board needs to be 1 inch thick when it is cut. If you are cutting 4/4, then you need to be 1 and 1/8 thick.

From contributor R:
Cherry has a lot of shake in the pith and a 4x4 may not be big enough to box it. If he wants to edge it, I'd flitch saw it. He'll end up with the widest boards possible and some will be quarter sawn. Of course that's a generic response without actually seeing the logs.

From contributor L:
Dependent on what the logs look like, I would think about full taper sawing, especially the butt log. I would also saw in a 180 degree rotation to provide the best looking boards... Some people donít mind sapwood in cherry if it is balanced on both sides of the board.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
You need to read the book "Sawing, Edging and Trimming Hardwood Lumber." Contact the Forest Products Society, who published it. See page 12 at this link:

Forest Products Society Catalog

From contributor T:
Contributor L, can you elaborate on that? How would flipping the log 180 degrees for each cut make the lumber better? Crap logs in, crap lumber out. I think I'd be more inclined to saw for grade on any of the four faces, and if I found a crap log I'd certainly be more inclined to make it all 8/4 or even 16/4 to try to hide the defects (not from the customer) and to try to recoup as much usable stock as possible. I certainly don't see where flipping the log 180 will make anything any better.

Square up your cant and saw for grade, turning whenever necessary to find the best face, but do not saw through the pith. It'll cause problems down the road. I'd even go so far as to use a sharpie on the end and draw the box that you want, and measure the rest of the cant to decide what I was going to saw out of it.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Contributor L is correct. Saw full taper on a good face and then rotate (when adjacent faces will produce better lumber) 180 degrees. Full taper this second face also if it is good. Full taper provides longer pieces of high grade lumber. The 180 degree rotation will provide wider lumber, less warp in drying and less edging, etc. It will also provide more flatsawn grain pattern, which in cherry is certainly worthwhile. This process is detailed in the above mentioned book and is also the suggested technique in the US Forest Service publication dated 1956. It is also discussed in the archives here at WOODWEB. This process is called grade sawing. Sawing to the pith or center is called live sawing (or through and through sawing).

Incidentally, 2-inch lumber, called 8/4, is usually sawn 2-1/8 inch thick or even a bit thicker. It is only when 8/4 lumber is dried and planed that it would be 1-7/8. As you already have your customer, you should ask him for the green size that he wants. Recognize that the thicker you cut it, the lower the grade will be. Further, 8/4 No.2 Common cherry has very low prices, as nobody wants this item.

Regarding cupping, it is best controlled in drying. Cherry is not known for cupping when drying is done correctly.

I agree with contributor R and I would not cut 16/4 (or a 4x4) out of the heart, as this is very hard to dry and may miss some nice pieces of lumber. Instead, cut 4/4 or 5/4. Low grade cherry still has good values. Overall, 4/4 cherry is a premium product. Do not worry about using 5/4 for table tops; most manufacturers use 4/4.

As the best part of a log is on the outside, cut thinner lumber (4/4) from the outside for sure, unless your customer wants all of it thicker. For lower quality logs of cherry (I believe that is what is meant by the term "crap logs" in one posting; but you did not mention that you had such logs), still grade saw them as you will still recover some upper grade pieces. After drying, lower grade pieces can be remanufactured into clear small pieces.

For the future, it would be better if the logs were 10 or 12' long, as longer lumber has many advantages in processing and value.

From contributor T:
Oh, I certainly agree that if you have two good faces 180 apart, then I'd flip the log that way, but I'd certainly look at the other faces first. Doc, I'm curious about "the thicker you cut it, the lower the grade will be." That is interesting and I'd like to know more.

From the original questioner:
Wow, this is so helpful. Much appreciated. What is the harm in cutting through the pith? My customer only wants 1" and 2" boards and doesn't have much use for 4x4's. Is it hard on the saw or is the pith on cherry logs typically of no use (warping, rotten, etc.)? I should make 1-1/4" (5/4) cuts? This is so when it's finished it becomes 7/8 boards? I'll see what he wants as far as finished boards go. He is handling the finishing. So to recap, I make my first cut, flip the log 180, make another cut, and continue this process until the log is finished?

From contributor T:
Whatever thickness of wood you want (4/4), you need to add in the thickness of your blade. If you have a bandsaw, then add 1/8 inch to 4/4 to make 1 1/8th inch. When you cut the lumber you will get a piece that is 1 inch thick because you "wasted" 1/8 inch of wood with your band blade. A 5/4 thick piece will technically turn out 1 inch wood when surfaced. Most people prefer a thicker table top and use 5/4 wood.

As far as sawing through the pith on cherry, it isn't any harder on the saw. It is usually just juvenile wood and soft, checked, rotten sometimes, etc. I've heard of most people boxing the heart to avoid this, but some do not.

Doc, I am young, so sometimes I question things written 50 years ago. Would you say that the writings in that forestry book are still the norm today? Have things changed with time and technology?

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:

The thickness of hardwood lumber is always a bit thicker than the nominal size. So, 5/4 must be at least 1.25" thick and is typically 1/16 or 1/8" thicker. And 5/4 does not make 1" lumber when dried, but is much thicker than that.

Regarding sawing, you do not flip after one cut. Let's say you start on the best face and saw with full taper. Then you continue sawing on that face until the adjacent faces promise higher grade (in the sawyer's opinion). Then flip 180 and saw a piece of lumber. If this piece is low in grade or the next piece will be low in grade, while the adjacent pieces promise higher grade, then it is time to turn the log 90 or 270 degrees. This is the standard rule for turning a log. Again, read the book, etc. In practice, the sawyer may delay turning in order to obtain a certain smaller size cant that might be needed for a resaw, or other reason.)

The lower grade portion of a log is on the inside, generally, so the deeper you cut, the lower the grade of lumber. If cutting 4/4, you might get an FAS-1 face piece on the outside and then a No.2 piece next. If you cut 8/4 instead, you would get a No.2 Common piece, as that is the grade of the inside face. Remember that hardwoods are graded from the worst face.

Regarding the question asked, you would continue cutting the log entirely into lumber, rotating according to the rule mentioned. You would not make a 4x4 cherry cant or other size as there is really no market for low grade of such size. Saw the entire log into lumber.

Regarding lumber size, if he wants 7/8" or even 15/16", then cut 4/4, which is actually 1-1/16" or a bit thicker. Do not cut 5/4 (1.25 or so) to get 7/8" finished.

Note to contributor T: Technically speaking, the rules are that 5/4 must be 1.25" minimum thickness green and also when air-dried. When kiln-dried, the thinnest allowed is 1/16" under 1.25", or 1-3/16". This is the minimum and so most pieces will be a bit thicker rather than having all pieces right at the minimum.

I am not clear on what the discussion is about when saying that you add the thickness of the blade to the size of the lumber. Perhaps he means that when sawing 4/4 (actual size 1-1/16") that you do not move the log or cant 1-1/16" and take the next cut, but you move the log 1-1/16 plus the thickness of the blade, so that the lumber will be 1-1/16 as you require. (Some saws move the saw and not the log; so just change the wording if this is the case for you.)

From contributor T:
Doc, I was just basically trying to make sure that he made the boards thick enough for their required usage, i.e., he didn't cut a 4/4 board 7/8 inch thick. That's about it. Thanks for the explanation on the 8/4. It made perfect sense.
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