Hardwoods have the characteristic of changing color as they undergo the natural aging process. This color change occurs due to exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun and oxidation. Lighter wood becomes darker and darker wood becomes light.
Does wood change color over time? Yes, wood changes color with exposure to light and air. It is a process that you can neither reverse, nor stop. Further, there is a considerable color variation in lumber even from the same tree. Woodworkers use these color changes to create a variety in their woodworking projects.
After a few days on the beach basking in the sun or hiking through sunny hills, your skin changes color. You either get sunburnt or your skin takes on a tan. In the same way, wood that was once a living tree changes color over time.
Even after you process wood into furniture or other wooden items, it continues to change color. The way wood changes color over time is sometimes damaging to its appearance. But we generally take it positively.
Most wood when left to the elements develops an attractive patina that gives an appearance of graceful aging. Some people do not prefer this color change. In such cases, you can protect the wood from developing this patina by adopting certain measures we shall discuss further in this post.
Let us consider a prime example of what happens with cherry wood. We identify cherry with its rich, reddish-brown. But when cherry wood is freshly cut, it is so light-colored that it resembles maple wood.
Over time, this wood gradually undergoes a color change. After a few months, typically between 6 to 12 months, it takes on its deep, rich, reddish brown. The extent of darkening and the rapidity with which it occurs depends on the extent of exposure of the wood to light.
Tips to Deal with Color Change in Wood
Besides considering the wood quality, you need to be aware of the color. When you factor in the wood color for your project, you can create some unique combinations.
However, you also want to protect the wood from abrupt color changes. For example, keeping your wood away from excessive heat or direct sunlight can slow down color change. Here are some useful tips to protect the wood from unwanted color changes:
Protection From a Finish
Applying a finish to wood can slow down the oxidation of wood but will not stop it. Many manufacturers claim that their finishes block UV rays. However, the color change will still take place. You can delay the change in color by applying multiple coats of finish but they will not block UV radiation.
Keep Your Wood Away from the Sun
Keeping wooden furniture and objects away from direct sunlight can help to delay color change. You can’t do much with immovable furniture and flooring, but strategically placed rugs and curtains can keep the direct sunlight out.
Avoid Direct Heat
Keeping wood away from direct heat sources can go a long way in slowing the color-changing process. You can maintain a significant distance between wood and direct heat sources like heat lamps, ovens, and baseboard heaters.
Knowing the ultimate shade that wood may take on when it completes its color transformation is also helpful. That way you know what to expect as the final result and you won’t encounter unpleasant surprises.
Color change in wood is inevitable. But this change varies from one wood species to the other. So, when you buy a particular type of wood, you can research to know what the final shade is likely to be.
For example, a maple cabinet might seem slightly light for the surrounding décor when you first install it. But if the surroundings consist of dark shades, the wood will likely darken to match the background color and textures.
Apply Matching Stains
Using a semi-transparent or opaque stain can help you match the color of the surroundings. However, with wood, it is better to avoid opaque stain as it will mask the beauty of the wood grain.
Semi-transparent stain tinted with a particular color can help to match the décor while bringing out the wood grain pattern at the same time. You might have to experiment on a test piece until you get the desired results.
If you leave an object on a wooden surface for a long time, a phenomenon known as “shadowing” occurs. The object masks the light falling on the wooden surface, particularly on types of wood that exhibit marked color change.
The area of the wooden surface under the object takes the shape of the object in a lighter shade. If you notice this happening, you can remove the object and the affected area will gradually take on the shade of the surrounding wood surface.
Wood Color Changing by Species
As we mentioned above, different species of wood change color in different ways and to a greater or lesser extent. In an attempt to understand the way wood changes color, let us take a closer look at how different wood species change color:
Maple is a light brown wood with the shade of honey. Furniture made from this wood will exhibit a significant color difference over time. You can see this change by comparing new and old furniture.
You need to prepare yourself that after some time furniture, wood paneling, or flooring made from maple will no longer impart a light theme to the décor.
Freshly-cut red oak is light pink or tan. As it ages it takes on a darker hue. As it becomes a darker brown, it deviates from its original shade. It comes as a welcome change when it comes to various types of furniture and wooden cabinets.
With white oak, you will notice a color change that resembles the change in color of red oak. Over time, white oak takes on rich, amber overtones which look great on wooden furniture, flooring, and paneling.
Natural birch is a light brown to an ash-colored type of wood. The ash color tends to reduce over time, and the wood becomes yellowish. The color change of birch is not as drastic as other woods mentioned here. So, we could conclude that with birch, what you see is what you get.
If you want a light brown wood with a pinkish or reddish tint, red alder is what you need. This wood is reasonably-priced and readily available. The wood may fade over time but the change is not very noticeable.
Cherry is another wood that we prize for its deep, reddish-brown shades. What many people don’t know is that cherry wood actually starts as a light-colored wood similar in color to maple.
Cherry is one wood that ages in a delightful way, giving way to some of the warmest and richest color tones you can get in wood. Because of the solidity and color tones of this wood, it is much sought-after and comes at a moderate to high price.
Here’s another popular type of wood, prized by woodworkers and furniture makers the world over. There isn’t much color variation in the sense that you will see brown and dark brown with almost black streaks. Walnut wood can develop into some interesting color combinations and patterns over time.
You might be frustrated or get excited with the unpredictable way wood changes its color. This is easily the unique characteristic of wood that you won’t find in any other material.
When you first procure wood, it’s a good idea to give it good exposure to direct or indirect sunlight to bring out its final color shade. You will often see furniture manufacturers setting out their furniture in bright sunlight for a day or two.
If you have hardwood floors, you can observe the color change in the wood easily by looking under the rugs. You might like to keep a room containing expensive cherry furniture shaded by heavy drapes during the brightest part of the day.
It is useful to anticipate the way wood will change color. It can take months or years for wood to reach its final shade. But having an idea about what the final result will be can help you greatly in planning the aesthetics of your woodworking projects.