Matching a vintage stain

      There's much to consider when attempting to match a stain from early in the previous century. March 23, 2000

I am trying to match a color on Douglas fir to some original work from the early 1900s. I can get pretty close by custom mixing the stain, but the depth and richness just aren't the same. Any ideas to get the same look?

Also, some new pieces I made have some lighter and some darker wood. The lighter wood gets a little blotchy like regular pine would, where the darker heartwood is fine. What can I do to avoid this?

I have to guess at the color from your description, but perhaps a coat of "natural," i.e., unpigmented stain, followed by a coat or two of garnet shellac would produce a suitable match. You can always match your own stains by purchasing a few key woodtone colors of Japan Color, and mixing these in your favorite "natural" base.

With regards to the blotchy sapwood, cut it off first before using the lumber! Or, at this point, consider the use of a sealer coat of shellac or lacquer, sanded back before staining. Sometimes the sapwood will be a little punky, or was just beginning to break down, and thus will absorb stain much more readily.

The color that I am matching is very close to what most call "Early American." Not too dark, not too light.

Douglas fir is sort of like cherry with color variation. You can't just "cut off" the light stuff. It is generally cut so that one face is darker than the other, but some pieces will be a blend of both. If I use any type of sealer, or a seal coat, I am afraid I will never be able to get the color dark enough.

I should also mention that I am looking to do all of the wood (door frames/jambs, baseboards, crown mouldings, etc.) in the entire house. So I'm looking for a procedure that is sort of time-sensitive. I'm not looking to hand rub everything, in other words.

I do have a garage that I am taking down that is built almost completely out of the same fir, from the same vintage. So I have plenty of new material to work with where needed. That's what I'm trying to match to the color of the original.

Use an NGR dye stain, toner, washcoat, then wipe stain. You may not have to have a toner but the NGR will definitely give you more depth.

Since what you are matching was finished in the early 1900s you are also seeing some yellowing and age in the finish which also adds depth. Tinting your lacquer will help; you probably need to add just a little yellow to it. When you break your color down to using more steps you will get more depth and a uniform color, and won't have that light, dark, and splotchy stuff to deal with.

Also, what grit are you finish sanding to? The finish process starts with your white wood sanding. I wouldn't sand smoother than a 180 grit.

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