Cherry and mahogany are both dark, reddish coloured woods used in cabinetry, fine furniture, decorative veneers and flooring. Both are highly durable, though mahogany is significantly harder, and work well in high-wear situations. These woods can look very similar to the untrained eye, but have a number of differences in colour, texture and growth pattern. They also have very different working properties.
Cherry trees produce narrow sapwood with white to reddish brown colouration. Some cherry trees may produce creamy pink sapwood. Cherry sapwood is vulnerable to attack by furniture beetles. Mahogany trees produce white to yellowish white sapwood, which is strongly distinct from the heartwood. The sapwood is somewhat resistant to attack by insects and fungi, but less so than the heartwood.
Heartwood from cherry trees is reddish brown to deep red, usually with brown flecks and gum pockets. It can vary significantly in colour from tree to tree. The wood has a fine, uniform texture. Mahogany heartwood can be yellow, red, pink or salmon when freshly cut, but always matures to deep red or reddish brown as it ages. Mahogany fades in strong sunlight. It can sometimes develop dark gum pockets or white deposits in its pores.
Cherry trees produce a fine, uniform grain with dark wavy streaks. Cherry is relatively stable after seasoning. These are especially striking when the wood is quartersawn. Mahogany has a uniform grain that runs the gamut from fine to coarse. The wood has a high lustre and is extremely dimensionally stable. The grain is usually straight, but may produce interlocked figures such as mottles, blisters or fiddlebacks.
Both woods are relatively hard, but not as dense as many other hardwoods. Cherry is the softer of the two, rating only 660 on the Janka scale. True mahogany rates a little over 800 on this scale. By comparison, white oak can rate as high as 1360. Cherry wood saws cleanly, though it can blunt tools slightly. It planes, turns and bores well, responds well to moulding and holds nails, screws and glue effectively. Mahogany is more likely to resist cutting and blunt saws. It planes easily unless figured. Mahogany with a figured grain tears and chips. This wood turns, bores and machines easily, and accepts fasteners and glue well.