Matching Natural Maple Finish to Existing Yellowing Cabinets

Thoughts on how to make a new finish match an existing lacquer coating that has yellowed over time. April 21, 2008

I am finishing maple doors to match a kitchen that was originally finished, I'm assuming, with just clear lacquer, but I'm not sure. Those doors and drawer fronts have yellowed and the customer wants the new doors to match (at least close). Any suggestions?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor J:
I am not sure about the exact formula for maple. Cherry aged would be to mix a small amount for burnt sienna Japan with some burnt umber into lacquer thinner and lightly tint it until it matches. So I am assuming maple would be some French yellow ochre with maybe a drop of burnt sienna Japan into some thinner, in a cup gun and lightly sprayed on. If you wanted it to be an exact match, I would also throw in a few drops of yellow ngr stain with some lacquer into the cup gun and spray that on as well. Then top coat the whole thing.

From contributor D:
Wouldn't there be a problem as the newly stained wood ages and becomes slightly darker than the wood you are trying to match?

From the original questioner:
The only burnt umber and burnt sienna that I have ever used is the UTC, but since this is mixed with lacquer thinner, I'm assuming it's not UTC. Where would I get burnt sienna Japan, French yellow ochre and yellow ngr stain?

I was thinking the same thing about the newly finished wood possibly darkening and getting darker than the original. Fortunately, they gave me a sample drawer front that has two pieces that are glued together and they said go with the lighter. I don't think the originals are very old (maybe a year), so they may get a little darker too. This brings up another question: is there a point where the yellowing stops? I know with cherry, it's the wood and not the finish that makes it darken. I'm sure there is some yellowing with cherry too, but it's not seen because of the dark color.

From contributor S:
I have to do this regularly. Depending on how yellow it needs to be, I use between 1 and 3 coats of orange shellac followed by a coat of clear shellac. I then top with NC lacquer to the required sheen. Matches perfectly! Be sure to test some samples first.

From the original questioner:
Hmm, that sounds pretty easy. Keep in mind (everybody) that I am by no means a "finisher." I used to mix my stains with UTC and paint thinner, then when dry good, topcoat with high solid semi-gloss sealer, then lacquer. Is shellac sprayed, and where do you get it? Also, "NC lacquer" - is that the same thing as the lacquer that I've been using?

I think I'm making a mountain out of a mole hill, but what do you think is the simplest way to mix stains? I've always wiped on the stain, then sprayed the clear coat (and the occasional fogging stain over the sealer, but not unless I'm at gunpoint). I'm not in an area where high end finishes are important to customers - they want cheap, cheap, cheap.

From contributor S:
NC lacquer is probably what you use. You cut it with lacquer thinner. Shellac is one of the oldest finishes around and is alcohol based. You can buy it at any hardware or big box store and yes, it can be sprayed, but it dries quickly. Like I said before, this is probably the easiest and by far the cheapest way to do this. Between the orange of the shellac and the slight amber color of the lacquer, you should have no problems. Just my opinion, though.

From contributor C:
Without good photos, I could not begin to tell you a color process to start with - all cellulose nitrate lacquer formulas differ and amber out at varying rates. Please post a picture of the door to be matched and the new door you want to match it to. Then I believe you'll get more accurate info on how to proceed.

From contributor I:
Transtint amber dye in your topcoat. Start light and build the coats until you get the right color. Problem is, in a year they will be too yellow, but by then the check has cleared and you can strip and redo them.

From contributor N:
If it's only a few pieces, sit them out in the sun for a few hours - monitor the progress. Otherwise, we use dyes and sometimes a little dye in the first or second top coat.

From contributor P:
Hey, there's an inexpensive idea. Only a few hours? Is the dye lacquer based?

From contributor N:
Yes, just a few hours. I'd check hourly - you don't want them to get sunburned. :-) We just placed them on a box or bucket out in the drive. Probably we've only done this in the summer. So I'm not sure how much weaker the winter sun is. For the dye, we use ML Campbell's Microton tinters. Practice and samples.

From contributor R:
Since your customer wants a color match on new doors to match old doors, I see two options for you. One is to do whatever color work you need to do to make them match. What colors to use can only be determined by you. The other option is to do no coloring at all. Explain to the customer that one color will eventually catch up to the other.

You're in kind of a damned if I do, damned if I don't quandary. If you do stain the newer doors to match the older ones, the color will be spot on for awhile. As nature does its thing, the newer doors will eventually darken with age. If it was me doing the job, I would simply explain to the customer all the pros and cons about staining versus not staining. Once they have made up their mind, have them sign off on your sample and venture forward with the job.

From contributor B:
I'd use a water based dye (Lockwoods). Just a pinch/dash should do. You can also tint your SS and topcoats with it. These dyes aren't super lightfast and will fade. This will work well as your finish and the wood reacts to the UV rays, whether direct or otherwise. Transtint is also a good option, though I haven't used them that much.

From contributor M:

Don't mess with Mother Nature. We've had more than a few customers thank us for explaining the aging process before supplying new NM parts to them. After a year or so, everything blends.