Working with Jatoba ("Brazilian Cherry")

This tropical hardwood is dense, heavy, and beautiful, but prone to movement and hard on tools. Yellow pieces will probably change to match the rest. May 11, 2011

I have a large cabinet order and they need to be made out of Brazilian cherry. I just received my lumber for the job and I noticed as I was going through it that some of the boards were yellow. Does that color fade out with light similar to standard cherry, or what do I need to do to get it a consistent color?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor P:
Iíve worked a little with the wood. The yellow is unfamiliar to me as the wood has a lot of variation and will darken some like regular cherry. This wood is very hard and very destructive on steel knifes.

From contributor Y:
Itís sapwood - we always cut it out. I would shy away from trying to make cabinets out of it. First as stated its hard on your knives (not to mention your back moving it around). Itís like working with a rock. There is usually a lot of internal stresses that comes out during and after machining. It is heavily prone to checking, splitting, and twisting as the stress is released. Order plenty of extra and cut it oversize so you will still have something to work with if it goes south.

From contributor U:
Jatoba is a nice wood to look at, and a nightmare to work with. I would say the yellow is sapwood - cut it away. As far as actually working with it, I would suggest that you mill everything oversize, sticker it for a couple days, and then re-mill. There does seem to be a lot of resin in the wood, we usually glue it up with epoxy. But I must mention we have never used it for five piece doors or anything like that - we have only made countertops out of it.

From contributor T:
We have built cabinet doors with jatoba for years - many thousands of doors. I have seen some yellow tone boards come in on certain batches. It is not sapwood, but just wood that has not oxidized yet, for whatever reason. I did an experiment at one point where I masked half of a piece and put it on the windowsill for a month. The unmasked portion got reddish/brown as typical and the shaded part was still yellow. I personally don't find it terrible to work with, but it definitely requires more attention to detail than NA hardwood.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all of your responses. I surely am going ahead with building the cabinets out of Brazilian cherry. I have mostly all of my milling done for the lumber and have not seen many problems with it, other than it being very dense and hard on knives. I did a little research on the wood and did find out that what was said was absolutely true with the yellow part of the wood. I also learned that supposedly this Brazilian cherry is more stable than oak!

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
I agree that the yellow is not sapwood but is heartwood that has not had time to oxidize. Sunlight works, but maybe a little liquid ammonia from the grocery store will help get the right color instantly.

Gluing is quite difficult. You need to clean the surface within minutes of gluing. Use a solvent (most are rather dangerous) like acetone. The wood glues like teak, in that respect. Because the wood is so dense and also moves a lot, you also need to machine the pieces you are gluing within 15 minutes of when you will glue them so they are still flat, true gluing surfaces.

To keep the pieces flat, it is really important that you have the correct MC at the time of manufacturing, usually no wetter than 7.5% MC. Be aware that pieces over a stove or sink or any other location where there is moisture may warp, depending on the wood's grain. Be aware that people are sometime allergic to the fine dust - dermatitis and respiratory issues.