The unique and somewhat unpredictable nature of wood can seem frustrating, at times, but it’s also what makes it so beautiful and intriguing! When we approach wood color realistically, we can enjoy its natural coloring and learn how to accommodate it.
Observing and Slowing Color Change
We cannot prevent color change, but since we know what causes it, we can slow it down, speed it up, or accommodate it, depending on the need at hand. To see how significant mere oxidation is on color change, you can simply cut or plane a board and compare its color immediately afterward; then wait a few hours and compare the color, and wait a few days to see how the color has changed. To slow wood’s color change down, we can bring wood inside or cover it, eliminating the effects of wind, rain, and sun. While it will still change color over time, the change will be slower and more subtle than if it is fully exposed to the elements.
Naturally Encouraging Color Change
Wood can take years or even decades to mature into the color it will ultimately own. In order to hasten color change that naturally occurs over time, you can give your wood a sun tan before applying finish — and before installing it. Traditionally, furniture makers have set out their creations in bright sunlight for at least a day.
For flooring or trim work, color change can be uneven throughout a home where some rooms receive more sunlight than others. When boards are initially exposed to sunlight prior to installation, the variations that will occur afterward will be less dramatic.
Factors Impacting Color Change
The color of a board depends on many factors, including the following:
• Local climate
• Harvest season
• Sawing and drying methods
• Timing of milling (if applicable)
• Storage method and timeframe
All of those factors, and more, play into the color of a board. While it is possible to achieve relative color-matching across a large project, such as a deck, weighing reasonable expectations is important, too. Often, builders advertise with photos of unusually color-matched boards, giving a false impression of the norm.
The Impact of Grain on Color
One of the biggest factors that impact color is grain; even boards from the same tree can display vastly different colors, depending on where the board was cut and where it came from on the tree. The issue is density: the density of wood from a cross section of a log will naturally be less dense than other boards and will reflect light differently, as a result. Figured grain leads to curves and exposure on the face, and the color can be quite different from one side of the board to another.
In addition to natural grain fluctuations, we impose some grain onto the board as we saw it from the log; boards near the center of the tree will have a different amount of grain than those sawn from the periphery, causing color to differ.