You’ve picked out the perfect piece of furniture and measured to make sure it will fit in the room. The last thing left to do is pick the stain colour. Choosing the stain colour is often an overlooked component of solid wood furniture. Pieces need to coordinate together and with any existing furniture in the room. It’s easy to stain a new wood dining table and chairs the same. But what about matching with an existing piece of furniture in the same room? This is where the challenge of colour matching can come into play.
Factors That Affect Stain Colour
Staining wood is not like painting wood. Paint sits on the surface and creates a thin film above the wood, which leads to colour uniformity. Unlike paint, stain penetrates the wood grain and the colours the wood from the inside. The result is a look that is more diverse and highlights the wood’s natural beauty. There are three main factors that affect how a stain will look. First is the type of wood used to make the piece. Second, the grain of the wood will impact whether the piece looks lighter or darker. Third, the humidity will impact the amount of pigment absorbed. Combine these factors with the fact that wood is unpredictable, and you start to see the difficulties of colour matching.
Wood was a living, breathing tree, not something manufactured to be uniform. Each type of wood has its own colour, which can vary from tree to tree and board to board. Dogs of the same breed don’t have the same colour fur, so why do we expect wood to be the same? In relation to the other wood types, pine tends to be yellow, maple white, oak orange, and cherry tends to be more red. The result is that a stain used on cherry wood piece will be more red than the same stain on an oak piece.
The grain of the wood will also affect the colour. The tighter together the wood grain, the darker a stain will appear. Whether the grain is vertical or horizontal will also impact how a stain appears. This is the reason that drawers look lighter than the rest of a dresser or sideboard. The grain on the drawer runs horizontal, while the cabinet frame will tend to run vertical. End extensions also have the grain run opposite the rest of the dining table. The opposite direction of the wood grain could lead to a perceived colour difference. The edge grain and end grain will be tighter than the face grain, causing tops to appear lighter than the ends.
Both pieces above are stained Royal Dark, but notice the large difference in colour between the two different woods.
The last factor that affects the colour of a solid wood furniture is the humidity. Wood used in furniture making is kiln dried wood, which brings the moisture level to 6-8%. This level can change depending on the storage conditions. It is more humid in the summer than it is in the winter, so wood will be drier in the winter than the summer. Drier wood is able to absorb more pigment making the stain darker. Yet when it is more humid, it takes longer for the stain to dry which would allow the wood to absorb more pigment.
Process of Colour Matching
To begin the process of colour matching, we need a sample of the colour we are matching. The best way to ensure that we are close on a colour match is if we are matching stains on the same species of wood. Matching a solid wood to a veneer will also be more difficult as veneers tend to be more uniform than solid wood. For larger pieces, we ask for a door, drawer or extension as the colour sample. We will not match stains to a picture.
The starting point is using one of our existing stains to gauge the shade and undertones. Often, we will need to combine different stains together to come closer to the sample colour. We may also need to add reducers to the mix to lighten the colour. It usually takes several attempts before we’re able to come up with a match. Once we’ve come as close as we can to a match, we will mix enough of the new stain to cover the piece. Any leftover stain is waste.
After staining, we protect the piece using a post-catalyzed varnish. Adding the varnish will change the colour again. This change may force us to add toner coats (e.g. adding more red) and/or shader coats (making it darker) to get the finished piece as close as possible to the sample. The whole process is more art than science and takes time and experience to master. We cannot guarantee a 100% match, but aim to between 85% and 95% of the way there.
Fees for Colour Matching
There is a cost for colour matching due to the extra time, effort and waste from making the new colour stain. If we are doing the colour matching, the charge is 10% of the total. Some of our builders that do their own finishing will charge more. If one of our standard stain colours is close enough of a match, there is no extra cost. We can also help you decide on a stain colour that coordinates with an existing piece. Due to the extra time required, it may take an extra week or two to deliver a piece that is being colour matched.