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Oak vs. Cherry Wood (for Furniture, Flooring, and Cabinets)

We set out the differences between cherry and oak wood to help you choose which of the two will be perfect for your wood project whether it's furniture, flooring, or cabinetry.

Eat-in kitchen with oak cabinetry matching with the dining set and hardwood flooring.

Cherry and Oak are woods that are used in the furniture industry. These hardwoods are deciduous to North America. Both are frequently selected for their natural appeal and complex grain patterns. They possess unique qualities.

Oak and Cherry (hardwoods) possess distinct strengths and weaknesses for furniture, flooring, and cabinets. Oak is significantly denser, stronger, and more durable; it’s shock-absorbent yet easy to shatter. Cherry is less dense and supple; its flexibility lends it strength but will warp, dent easily.

Both Oak and Cherry hardwoods are versatile and ideal for furniture, flooring, and cabinets.  In the United States (US), Oak is more available and more affordable than Cherry wood. Both are high-quality woods that are valued for their aesthetic appeal and durability.

Related: Oak vs. Beech | Oak vs. Cedar | Oak vs. Poplar | Oak vs. Birch | Oak vs. Pine | Types of Oak Wood | Cherry vs. Birch | Cherry vs. Maple | Cherry vs. Pine | Cherry vs. Cedar | Types of Cherry Wood

Oak vs Cherry Wood

Close-up of an oak table and chairs.

Cherry is a hardwood. It is a fashionable choice typically used for residential furniture in dining rooms. Oak is the more commonly used wood for flooring as Cherry wood is liable to dent under consistent foot traffic. Cherry’s timber is made up of fine grain and, as it is lighter, is easier to mill and cut with a table saw.

Oak belongs to the hardwood family and is exceptionally durable. Due to its strength, Oak, unfortunately, splinters and shatters. Frequently it is sawed as to resist warping, illustrating that it isn’t easy to work with. Oak has recognizable broad grain patterns.

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The Janka hardwood rating scale assesses the degree of hardness of different types of wood. It measures the force needed to insert a 0.444-inch steel ball into the wood; the 0.444 is one-half of the diameter of the ball.

The Janka scale is produced in units; in the US, it’s pounds-force (lbf). White Oak has a Janka rating scale of 1,360 lbf and Red Oak 1290 lbf. Cherry wood’s Janka pounds-force is 995 lbf. Oakwood possesses a high natural density with significant shock absorption, while Cherry is not too dense with moderate shock absorption.

Although Oakwood is more substantial, it isn’t stronger; Cherry is slightly supple and less likely to shatter or splinter than Oak. Cherry’s light composition makes it easy to whittle, carve, shape, sculpt, and fashion.

Oak and Cherry Wood Coloring

Cherry wood with dark shade and grains.

Cherry color ranges from reddish-brown to blond and golden hues. Occasionally the color darkens with age, which can be advantageous or not depending on the buyer. When the wood is unstained, it has deep, exquisite natural hues. 

Staining Oakwood could excessively darken the wood and overstate the grain, making it appear two-toned. Cherry wood stains well but must be oiled or protected to resist moisture. Cherry wood is susceptible to fading, and precaution must be taken.

Cherry has delicate, curvy grain variations that randomly discontinue and reappear; regular patches of deep dark wood also identify it. Cherry possesses a smooth texture with a moderate natural luster.

Oakwood is inclined to be very granular, which is visible and tangible. Oak hardwood creates a rustic appeal, and in this, it is easily recognizable. Cherry is fine, smooth, and has a moderate natural luster.

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The Availability of Oak and Cherry Wood

Close-up of oak tree trunks with canopy leaves.

Oak is widely available throughout the US, and because of this, it is less expensive than Cherry. Oak belongs to Quercus of the beech genera of Fagaceae; there are about 500 species of Oak. There are two parent species of Oak- Red Oak and White Oak.

Red Oak’s color ranges from light brown to pinkish red; it has a whirling, eddying design.  The color of White Oak can be compared to a tiger-stripe grain comprised of yellow-ray-like streaks and speckles. White Oak is more sturdy than Red Oak and less expensive.

White Oak is the preferable option for making furniture as it is more aesthetically pleasing than Red Oak. White Oak is resistant to humidity, moisture, and dampness and can be used in outdoor furniture.

Cherry is a great deal more exclusive and may need to be ordered at a high price. Cherry wood primarily grows in eastern regions of the US. It is harvested from sustainably grown forests. It is a very high-demand product, and this adds to its elevated cost. It is classified as hardwood as it belongs to the dicot family.

The Versatility of Oak and Cherry Wood

Kitchen with cherry cabinetry, granite countertops, and a decorative coffered ceiling.

Both Cherry and Oak are highly versatile and are used in a variety of ways. Oak is used to craft furniture, outside furniture (White Oak), flooring, joinery, veneers, window and door frames, decking, flooring, and Oak barrels used for aging whiskey, creating wine flavor profiles, and even smoking meat.

The uses of Cherry wood vary and range from crafting toys, furniture, veneers, flooring cabinets, and joinery. The bark of Cherry wood can be chewed like gum, and the inherent fragrance of the wood allows use for its aromatic, perfumed scents.

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Oakwood

Oak chair and table topped with a copper watering can.

Oak is valued for its beauty, strength, longevity, and accessibility; however, there are disadvantages; for example, its strength can shatter the wood. Oak has a high tannin content which, although naturally defends it from insects, fungus, and disease, will respond poorly (stain in blue and black) to metal, oil finishes, and wet climate.

Advantages

  • High availability
  • Affordable in the US due to its high availability
  • Sturdy
  • Durable
  • Longevity
  • White Oak contains chemicals allowing natural resilience to moisture (water-resistant)
  • Dense material, therefore excellent shock absorption
  • Due to high tannin content, they are naturally resistant to insect and fungal infestations
  • Not susceptible to decay and rotting
  • Not prone to warp in sunlight
  • Resistant to shrinkage (if properly cared for)
  • Resistant to corrosion
  • It is visually pleasing, especially when its quartersawn
  • Versatile
  • Stains and polishes well

Disadvantages

  • Shatters/ splinter easily (brittle)
  • Very granular therefore doesn’t stain well, can appear two-toned.
  • The natural grain is sensitive and challenging to work with
  • Require skilled labor (years of training and experience) adds to the expense
  • Oak takes 150 years to mature before use; therefore, it can be costly, especially outside the US
  • The drying method is slow and protracted, and kiln-dried Oak splits as soon as it dries.
  • High tannin element and exposure to wet, cold climate reacts poorly with oil finishes, and the Oak stains blue-black when working with metal
  • Red Oak tends to warp when exposed to elements
  • Thin Oak veneers are challenging to protect as finishes react with the adhesive used in the veneering procedure.
  • Can shrink if not polished or cared for, shrinks can turn into cracks
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Advantages and Disadvantages of Cherry Wood

Cherry wood drawers with intricate carvings and ornate handles.

Cherry wood is desired for its appealing dark reddish-brown to golden tones, strength, smooth texture, and moderate natural luster. It isn’t likely to shatter; even though it’s a hardwood, it’s supple. However, it tends to scratch, dent, and warp in constant sunlight and heavy foot traffic.

Cherry wood has a habit of collecting dust, which is stark and noticeable on the surface of the wood.

Advantages

  • Workable
  • Durable without being too dense
  • Longevity (with care)
  • Supple (won’t shatter/splinter easily)
  • Stains well
  • Absorb shock
  • Polishes well
  • The Cherry wood heart can withstand harmful elements and decay (within reason and preventative measures)
  • Wood can darken with age

Disadvantages

  • Expensive
  • Exclusive
  • Wood can darken with age
  • Measures are required to protect the wood from fading and moisture
  • Susceptible to scratches
  • Has inherent tendency toward dents and marks from heavy foot traffic
  • Direct sunlight can warp, harm, and change the color of Cherry wood
  • Not resistant to moisture/water
  • Cherry wood doesn’t disguise dirt and dust, which quickly accumulates on the surface
  • Susceptible to shrinking (only once will then be stable)

Conclusion

Oak and Cherry are hardwoods and possess both strengths and weaknesses. Oak is sturdier, dense, and more durable and Cherry is less dense and supple. Oak is available and therefore affordable, while Cherry is exclusive and expensive.

Oak is more shock absorbent; its grainy, coarse texture is moisture-resistant (primarily White Oak). Cherry is smooth with a moderate luster. Both kinds of wood are considered aesthetically pleasing and are popular choices.  

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References:

Real Simple: The Pros and Cons of Different Types of Wood for Furniture

SF Gate: Cherry Vs. Oak Hardwood Comparison

SF Gate: Advantages and Disadvantages of Different Types of Wood

SF Gate: Characteristics of Cherry Wood Cabinets

SF Gate: Texture and Properties of Oak Wood

Quora: What is the difference between oak, pine, cherry, and other types of wood (for furniture/houses)?

Houzz: Cherry cabinets and oak hardwood floor too busy?

Dummies: Types of Wood for Woodworking

Hunker: Cherry Wood Flooring: A Homeowner’s Guide

Chicago Tribune: Be wary of too-soft wood types

The Wood Database: WOOD IDENTIFICATION GUIDE

eHow: Oak vs. Maple vs. Cherry Hardwood Floor

Wikipedia: Oak

Wikipedia: Oak (wine)

Better Homes and Gardens: 8 Cabinet Materials You Should Know and How to Choose the Best Type for Your Kitchen

Designing Buildings Wiki: The Properties of Cherry Wood

Designing Buildings Wiki: Oak wood properties

Harman Flooring Co Inc: The Janka Hardness Test