Why was fruitwood used in cabinet making?

During the 18th and 19th centuries fruitwood was widely used for the construction of vernacular or “country” furniture in England.

The most commonly used fruitwood was the timber from the native or wild cherry, Prunus avium, which produced a decent sized trunk and fine, wide planks. The wood is of a close, firm texture and reddish colour, and cabinet makers were drawn to it for various reasons; firstly, availability: a ready supply of locally produced timber. It is also very easy to work: the grain is fine and smooth, light in weight yet stable, and relatively free from knots. It holds a finish well; whether originally oiled or varnished, it acquires a lovely silky sheen over the years.

Another factor was its reddish colour and superficial resemblance to mahogany. At the time mahogany was a very expensive imported timber, only used on the finest “town” pieces; cherry was often used instead, such as in this delightful glazed corner cupboard, dating from about 1800. A country piece made in the “style” of a much grander one, it has a lovely, mellow colour and waxy finish.

Different types of fruitwood are notoriously difficult to distinguish from each other. Pearwood is strong, heavy and fine in grain, tinged with red. It was used from a very early period for simple country furniture. Stained black and polished or varnished, it was also used to imitate ebony as stringing and inlay, and in 18th century bracket clocks. It is the only fruitwood to display “fiddleback”, the curious crosshatched figuring that was traditionally used on the backs of violins.

Apple is pale and hard in texture, sometimes speckled with tiny knots; plum was also occasionally used, a pale cream when fresh, turning to a reddish brown – quite similar to cherry.
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