Cherry is a beautiful wood that is easy to work. But it is a problematic wood to finish because it has a tendency to blotch, even with just a finish applied—no stain.
Everyone working with cherry wants to know the “secret” for avoiding blotching in cherry, as if there is one that they just don’t know. The real secret about cherry blotching seems to be that there isn’t any way to avoid the blotching. If the cherry boards or veneer you are using include blotchy parts, you are going to get blotching.
The only way to avoid blotching is to use boards or veneer that don’t blotch, or cut out the blotchy areas from boards or veneer that do blotch. You can see the difference in the accompanying photograph of two veneered cabinet doors next to each other. There is virtually no blotching in the door on the left while the blotching on the right door is very pronounced.
Blotching is not necessarily bad. It can be very beautiful. The curls in curly maple, for example, are blotching.
You can test if the wood is going to blotch by wetting it. Be aware that using water will raise the grain, and using mineral spirits could cause leveling problems if you intend to use a water-based finish. Denatured alcohol won’t cause any problems and is fairly safe to work with.