How to stain match furniture timber colour for dining tables, sofas, buffets, entertainment units, side tables, chairs and more
Refurbishing an aged care facility or hotel can sometimes mean blending the old with the new and installing new furniture within an existing space often means that the furniture needs to match or complement the colour of existing furniture, floors, doors, fabrics or even artwork.
When it comes to armchairs and sofas, upholstery fabric plays a large part in this, but the colour of the furniture’s timber can also impact the overall aesthetic. This calls on the timber stain colour matching skills of furniture manufacturers as they try to create a stain colour that complements the colours already found within the space.
In many situations, furniture manufacturers are also trying to match the colour of timber legs to laminate tabletops, which are popular because they provide a cost effective, durable alternative to solid timber tabletops. They also provide interior designers with limitless options in terms of colours, sizes, textures and styles.
Unfortunately for furniture manufacturers, there is no easy way to match timber stains and this difficulty comes from the very nature of wood itself: it is unpredictable. Wood consists of millions of cells which all absorb pigments and dyes at different rates. Unlike paint, which sits on top of the wood and can be sanded off, wood stain penetrates the fibres of the wood like a sponge absorbing water. This means that there is no turning back once a stain has been applied.
It’s also worth noting that stains don’t protect wood; they only colour it and a topcoat over the stain is required to protect the wood from UV damage, scratches, spills and to stop the spread of infection in the case of antimicrobial lacquer coating.
Getting timber stain matching right is difficult, even for experts and anyone will tell you that wood stains will never be 100% perfect which is understandable when you consider the whole host of factors that can influence the look of a timber stain. However, there are some things you can look out for. Here are some of the secrets to timber stain colour matching that we have picked up over the last few decades of working with timber:
1. Timber Species: Choose the same species and colour of timber.
The natural colour of timber can range from light yellows to deep reds and mahoganies to dark chocolates. The base colour of the timber will impact the end stain colour.
Even if the timber colours are similar, different species of wood can react differently to the application of the same stain.
Having the same wood species does not always solve the colour matching dilemma either. For example, the pore cells of an oak board vary in their natural color from red oak, which has a natural pinkish tint, to white oak, which is a tan colour.
2. Grain Direction: Ensure that the grain patterns and direction are the same.
Grain refers to the arrangement of wood fibers or the pattern resulting from this arrangement. The grain direction can either be straight or cross grain. Straight grain runs parallel to the longitudinal axis of the piece while cross grain can be spiral grain or diagonal grain.
It is this pattern, combined with the natural timber colour that allows us to distinguish one tree species from another.
Grain patterns and direction impact the look of a piece and can be amplified when stain is applied. The grain pattern can also be influenced by the way in which timber is sliced.
3. Humidity Level: Humidity determines the amount of stain absorbed and so a deeper colour requires a drier timber.
Moisture in a timber’s cell walls influences the depth of a stain’s colour.
Extremely dry timber can absorb more dyes and pigments than one that has a higher level of moisture. Many timbers used in making furniture are kiln-dried until the moisture level reaches 6 – 8%.
Keeping timber inside also helps with reducing its moisture content.
The age of the timber can also impact timber colour with some woods changing colour as soon as they are cut and then continuing to change colour as time goes on.
4. Stain Intensity: Understand how to achieve your stain density.
Achieving the desired level of stain intensity has a lot to do with the skill and experience of the person applying the stain.
Those who have experience in applying stains will understand how long to leave a colour to be absorbed by the timber pores before wiping off excess liquid and how much to apply.
5. Lighting Conditions: Apply the stain in the same lighting conditions as the room where the final piece will sit.
One final factor to consider when matching a timber stain is the lighting conditions that you are working under. A timber stain colour match achieved under natural sunlight can look very different to that achieved under fluorescent lighting.
The general rule of thumb is to create the stain match under the same lighting as the room where the completed piece of furniture will sit.
Timber Stain Matching: All the subtleties can add up
Whether you are trying to match new furniture to old or trying to match solid timber legs to a laminate tabletop, the skill of colour stain matching is one born out of countless years of experience and an in-depth knowledge of timber and its properties. Individually, each of the tips mentioned here can make a subtle difference to a colour stain, but applying knowledge of timber species, grain direction, humidity levels and lighting conditions all go together to make a big difference to stain colours.
Having a furniture solutions partner who understands the nuances of timber stain colour matching goes a long way to ensuring everyone is happy with the outcome of your furniture project. With over 20 years of experience in the aged care furniture manufacturing industry and over 40 years of experience in working with timber, we bring solutions to our client’s unique circumstances; it’s what we do best.