Matching stain to existing work

Techniques for matching the finish of new work to that of the existing cabinets in a cherry kitchen. November 7, 2000

I have a small shop doing custom cabinets on the side. The latest job is a cherry cabinet that the customer wants stained to match the cabinets in his kitchen. It's a deep red, perhaps a burgundy. I don't do much finishing and can't afford to foul it up.

I'm looking for some input on possibly using analine dyes. My problem with other stains is that they tend to get blotchy. I tried using a gel stain but it won't get dark enough and there is too much area to cover by hand. I want to spray the cabinet with a HVLP. Also, will the analine dye stain the cherry edge banding, the cherry plywood, and raised panel doors (end grain on the panel) all the same? And can I finish it with lacquer?

Forum Responses
Not sure about the dye, but a coat or two of sanding sealer with sanding in between will insure an even coat of stain.

I use a product sold by Sherwin William's Paint, called Cordovan by Shurwood. I usually apply it by hand using a soft rag. Then, if it needs to be darker, I add a small amount into my wood sealer. I use E-Z Sand Sanding Sealer. It's a laquer-base product by Sherwin Williams. You can darken it as much as necessary this way, then sand out with 220 Garnet paper and apply your top coats of laquer.

We just did a cherry kitchen and had the same concerns, although I was lucky and didn't have to match a dark finish. I did have a very picky customer, however. I ended up using wood conditioner by Minwax. (By the way, stay away from Minwax stains--they create lots of problems, but that's another story.) Then I used a stain by Benjamin Moore. This turned out very uniform in color. I am now going to do a maple kitchen and it looks like we will use the wood conditioner again with a dye stain. Check on the finishing forum on using dye stains.

Cherry gets darker with time. Depending on the age of the kitchen, the change from original to now maybe be profound. Different finishes have UV-protectors to slow the change. But for your matching purposes, I suggest: Remove a door from the existing cabinets and take it to your best finish supplier, given they can match the color for you. Give them a piece of the cherry that you used on your cabinet. When the match is made, they will provide you with the steps required to produce the match. Here in Maryland, I use Industrial Finishes. You are not alone--if making good cabinets is what you do, matching finishes doesn't have to be your problem. Let someone who knows how to make the match do it for you.

Test, test, test. Do some homework. Make small samples and see how they look. You spent too much time on your project to botch it up now. I myself am not a fan of any stain. I find that the true beauty of any wook comes from time.

You can also use what they call "glue sizing"--using hide glue thinned to prevent uneven and blotchy spots. It's very cheap and works well with analine dyes. Also, it's the best to experiment with. But to make sure, check with a good finish supplier to get an exact match.

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Comment from contributor D:
I always point out to my customers that cherry darkens with exposure to natural and fluorescent light. If the stain matches now, it probably won't in six months. As another poster said, get a cabinet door from the client and use that as a control for your color matching. Better yet, remove two cabinet doors and compare the inside of one to the outside of the other.

This should give you some idea how much the cabinets have darkened in time. It may be a good idea to match to the inside and know that the exteriors will match in the near future and thereafter. Most importantly, talk to the customer and let them know what to expect.