Color Match for Old Birch

Matching aged wood with any kind of colorant is tricky, because the ambient light is a major player no matter what you do. But here are some detailed tips anyway. July 3, 2008

Im trying to match some aged birch cabinet doors that were originally finished with clear. Now that they have aged they are good and orange. The trouble is the customer wanted only a few replaces because they were water damaged. Of course I wish now I hadn't taken the job because it appears the sunlight can do to a clear finish what I cannot!

Trying 844 yellow oxide in CV gives me a green cast yellow, and I need an orange cast yellow. Currently yellow oxide is the only yellow I have so I tried toning on some orange made of toludine red in clear CV.

It is giving me fits as in the daylight color temp my target door color (old door) looks yellower than my test piece, but under incandescent light they are reversed. When I get a match with incandescent, the next day in daylight it is way too orange. Is there a different yellow 844 that could solve my problem - one that is warmer yellow orange instead of yellow green cast

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor J:
Maybe a Mixol color (or blend) would work for you. They sell in really small quantities.

From contributor D:
I think you'll see a far better result with a dye application on the bare wood. My approach would be using a dye on the bare wood to move in the direction of what is natural aging of the other doors and then let nature do the rest. I might add a little dye to the finish also and use that as a toner, but in general I'd rule out any pigment based glazing or toning, keeping in mind that time and light is going to work on whatever I do. The more you throw at it in terms of glazing, toning, etc is not likely to help the match, and may end up a lesser match down the road.

Close is good. You know this now, but as a rule it is very difficult to match in one or a few new doors in amongst others that are several years old. If the original work is stained, the situation is easier as there is more variation to work with, but your situation (aged natural) is the most challenging in my opinion since you are pretty limited in what you can throw at it. Stick with dyes on this.

From contributor S:
For me, when it comes to matching a yellowed piece of wood that has a clear coat on it, nothing beats sunlight and good old shellac. You will have to use the amber color before going clear but it's the quickest and easiest way for me to color match what the sun has already done.

From contributor P:
The old birch stuff I've worked with was more yellow than orange. Using a dilute raw sienna dye on bare wood produces a decent match.

If you have a good supplier in your area you can send them a door and some wood cut-offs and have them match the color for you. Or you can get a color chart from Mohawk and order a few dyes that are in the right color range. Mohawk is one company that has a wide range of stock colors to choose from. Or you can take a door to the paint store, find a color chip that matches the door and have a quart of oil-base paint mixed to the color. Thin the paint way down with mineral spirits or naptha and then use it as a stain. Personally, I'd stick with a dye on bare wood. It will match the look of the aged wood better than a pigment stain or toner.

From contributor C:
Also keep in mind your match now may not match later on - as your colored products age out in time there will be difference from what you originally achieved. Let your customer know this so it does not come back on you later.

From the original questioner:
I can see why I'm having a hard time, cause it really is very tricky. I almost went 80 miles round trip to Sherman W. to get the medium yellow 844 to make a toner. I was definitely right figuring the yellow ox was not going to work, but hadn't thought about dyes.

I tried some Belen medium wheat I had which has a yellow orange tone. I thinned it way down in acetone and have now gotten very close, just need a little more orange and I got it.

But now my daylight is gone and the target is turning way to deep orange. The kitchen where these go has big wrap around windows with tons of natural daylight, so I'm not even going to attempt to match in incandescent light. I will tell the customer not to expect the match to be the same at night, and also as Contributor C suggested that the natural aging will change things the way it wants to later on.

My biggest problem now, and why I hesitate to use dyes as stains, is spraying them on evenly. I thought I had the dye thinned way out enough to not get overlap streaks but the doors still come out streaky. My best luck has been to open up the fluid some and pull the gun back farther to waft it on more gently.

Its harder than a sealer or topcoat cause there is not sheen to help me see how well its covering and the color is so light its hard to see it even going on. I guess a toner in the CV might be better for that reason. I got two doors nice but the next pair streaked on me.

From contributor P:
When spraying dye, it makes it easier to get more uniform results if you thin the dye, double the normal amount and spray on two light wet coats. Pulling back from the surface and fogging it on with low air pressure helps. Get a source of light at an angle to the surface you're spraying so you can see the wood get wet as you're spraying each pass. Overlap each pass by 50% or more to maintain even application of the dye. When spraying each pass, you want to see the wood get a wet look that disappears in a few seconds as the solvents start to evaporate.

Of course some spray guns just do a heck of a lot better than others when it comes to spraying dye without stripes. If you have more than one gun, give them all a try on some scrap pieces or even white paper.

To tweak the color towards orange add a little Behlen American Walnut dye. Spray the backs of the doors first. That will allow you to warm up on your spray technique and any minor striping won't matter since it'll be inside the cabinet. I'd do all the backs first before the faces.

From the original questioner:
If you are saying spray the dye on wet enough to see the wood get wet, then I may have to thin the dye out a lot more. If I spray this mixture wet it would be way too deep. I currently have 1.5 oz of Med Wheat dye in 16 oz of acetone, fairly thin I thought. Maybe I will try some even thinner to do the wet pass method.