Color Variations in Finished Maple

A discussion of natural differences in wood color, and the effect of finish techniques that may moderate or exacerbate those differences. January 8, 2010

All the bleached maple I have seen locally (Israel) is somewhat pink.

1) Can bleached maple be neutral light tan (balanced halfway between yellow and pink)?

2) Does the bleaching process lose the luminosity/shimmer of maple (in which case it is not an option for me)?

I have before me a sample kitchen cupboard door of natural maple. The frame is solid maple, while the center panel is maple veneer. The entire door is natural (unstained). However, the solid frame is very slightly red-toned, while the veneer panel is very slightly yellow-toned. Depending on lighting, this difference changes from hardly noticeable to very noticeable.

Would this color differentiation be due to:
a) different finishing processes for maple veneer as opposed to solid maple in the industry,
b) different effect of same finishing process on veneer as opposed to on solid maple,
c) the veneer and the solid wood being from different batches of wood (maybe even different suppliers), because one can't really match the shade of the solid parts (the frame) to the shade of the veneered parts (the center panel) in a natural, unstained finish - it's a matter of luck whether the last veneer shipment matches the last solid wood shipment or not.

In short: Is there a way to be assured of getting a natural (unstained) maple veneer which is neutral, very light beige/tan (neither pinkish nor yellowish)? How varied is the natural color of maple wood?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor R:

Once in awhile the top coating can change the overall color of the wood. To eliminate this issue, use a "water white" coating. I have seen both maple and pine having a pinkish color to it even in its natural state. If a coating has an amber color to begin with, it will only enhance the pinkish look of the natural wood. Some bleaches can actually burn the fibers of the wood and this can also be a cause of the pinkish look.

You could add a little green to your coating, which will kill the red/pink color of the wood. Raw umber, which is a bit on the greenish side, might also be an option.

From the original questioner:
I was looking more for a natural finish - no coloring. I was wondering if there is a significant difference in the natural color of the wood from tree to tree (or different types). Ideally I would like to start out with a neutral tan in the wood itself and not spoil the natural color by the finishing process (e.g., pink from bleaching or yellow from lacquers).

From contributor L:
I think you are asking too much of the trees. In all wood there is natural variation from tree to tree and from board to board within the same tree. It is a natural product and you can't expect it to look exactly the same shade, tone and color from board to board, especially if you are using a solid and a plywood together. Unless you are cutting the veneers yourself and using the same solid stock that the veneers are being cut from. That is one of the beauties you get from using wood, the variation. If you want it to be monotone, you should be looking at paint or Formica.

From contributor A:
The short answer is no, you're not going to get the same finish color on veneer and solid stock with a clear finish. The woodworker should pull stock for grain and color if he knows what he is doing and do the best he can to match it. But it's not going to match exactly. Maple has a wide variation in color from tree to tree and sometimes within the same tree going from gray to amber to yellow to pink. Select hard maple if you have it available to you. We have found it to be more uniform. In my opinion, bleaching does rob the grain characteristics somewhat. I'd test it on a board from the flitch you have selected.

From the original questioner:
I don't really expect anything from the trees except for them to be themselves! I don't need to match anything, and I'm not mixing veneer and solid wood (only veneer). I like wood with a lot of pattern in it (thus the maple), where every centimeter is different. What I'm asking for is not to screw up the natural color of the wood with manmade processes which try to make the wood something other than it is. Different species of wood naturally have different colors. What are the natural color(s) of maple, and how should I finish them to preserve the natural color (as opposed to bleaching them pink or covering them with a material which yellows over time)? One can have infinite variations in color while staying within a particular tonal range. I find the pink-finished maple literally clashes with the yellow-finished maple, thereby looking mismatched. On the other hand, the neutral, beige maples I've seen with lots of patterning have a lovely, wide range of colors within the same family and are very beautiful.

Basically, I want input regarding contemporary treatment of maple veneer in the industry (e.g., suppliers of veneer) and how these processes affect maple's color and its natural play of light. (I was told that the natural play of light is destroyed by bleaching, and everyone knows about the tendency of traditional topcoats to yellow...)

Thanks for the reference to water white coating. Now I need to find out if the natural color of a single species of maple is much more varied than in other woods - whether the pinks and yellows I am seeing are coming from the wood itself or from the processes the industry puts it through...

From contributor R:
As pointed out, just about every species of wood will vary in color... even without a coating applied to it. Maple probably shows it the most, since it's a light wood to begin with. The color of the wood is affected by the soil it's grown in, the state it's grown in, etc. A sequentially matched veneer exhibits pretty much the same color since the various leafs are cut from the same log. Get a different log and the color will vary from leaf to leaf. Now, when it comes to a solid piece of wood (not that veneer isn't solid), it's really going to vary in color from tree to tree.

As a finisher, it's my job to make sure that everything ends up the same color
(within reason) and that's achieved by using a dye or a toner or a stain... It just depends on the circumstances.

I have seen many "natural" finishes on maple kitchens that look absolutely horrible. Some like the look, but I don't. I leave the color up to the customer and explain what the "look" will be once I'm finished.

Most veneer suppliers that I am aware of just sell raw wood and the raw wood will vary in color from one tree to another. Trees are just like people - we all look a little different. Even twins differ to a degree.