Toning Down Cherry to Match an Older Piece

      Same wood, same stain, five years later, doesn't match the original. Whaddaya gonna do? March 4, 2009

I have a customer that ordered a cherry island for her kitchen. About five years ago I did there cabinets, so the cherry cabinets have been aging and getting darker. About two plus years ago I did a cherry bar for another room using the same color stain. The stain is simple - it's a stock color from Sherwin-Williams, traditional cherry.

For the island they knew it's fresh cherry so it will be lighter for awhile, and if I use the stock stain it should be fine. Sherwin-Williams doesn't have a consistent color over time as they seem to tweak their colors. I use a professional finisher in town, and they have had problems with Sherwin-Williams stains for this reason. The customer didn't like the Sherwin-Williams color sample (lacking some red-tone), so we had another company match a custom stain to a door from her kitchen, three samples on cherry. So she picks one, along with her husband. I deliver the cabinet, and there isn't a problem, but the finisher cracked some wood on one leg, and I had to take it back to the shop to fix it. She had the doors and drawers there at her home. Well now she says it's too red or almost orange. What I see is a good color match, exactly like the sample they picked, only the wood is new, and not five years old. She wants it fixed.

So the question is the best solution to tone down the red, and to make it darker to match her old cabinets. Do we make a tint and spray another coat of lacquer? What color tint? The owner of the finishing company wants to stain right over it, let it dry and spray a coat of lacquer over it (I don't like this idea myself). The finisher prefers to tint some lacquer and change the color. Any ideas would help. They’re holding money on this cabinet, and I've been all over town getting stain samples, getting there approval, and with the slow economy I need the money, and I want them to be happy also. What I see is a fantastic cabinet with a great finish that will darken with time and match up with her five year old cabinets. I have a picture of the two year old cherry bar and it looks just like the island when I delivered it several summers ago. What's a good tint and how much to tone down the red a little and make it look darker?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor P:
Adding green will tone down the red/orange to a more brownish color. Tinting the lacquer is the way to go. Try it on a test piece first, and get their approval before doing the whole thing.

From contributor R:
A toner consisting of a green like contributor P suggested or a toner consisting of a raw umber will work too. Simply explain to your customer that your stain supplier has changed their formulas to meet today’s strict VOC guidelines and you will tweak the color to match the existing color.

From contributor F:
You didn't say what you used as topcoat. If you’re using a conversion varnish, I would do a good hard sand without cut-through’s, shaded and re-topcoated. You only have a few weeks if you used a conversion finish.

From the original questioner:
Pre-Cat Lacquer. The island sits in the middle of the kitchen I did over five years ago. Same stain color, only on fresh wood, customer says it's too reddish orange, which is what the kitchen used to look like before darkening with time. In two years it should match very well, the cabinet looks great. I have pictures of other work I did over two years ago, same nice reddish, orange look she's complaining about. If we can darken it up just a tad, and cancel out the red a little it will be fine. The funny thing is they knew a new cabinet would be brighter and newer looking with the same original color. They signed off on the color, but won't pay up. We will try samples with the suggestions. They will sign off on this, and pay up before I let the finisher do his thing to it. If not I'll eat the balance and keep the cabinet. After six months of screaming from them, they will pay up, then get there cabinet.

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