While there’s no substitute for good, old fashioned weathering via wind, sun, and water to mature your new exterior wood, did you know that dirt may be the secret force behind achieving the interior wood color you like best? If the famous rich color of antique Cherry furniture and cabinetry is your personal favorite, it really is.
Of course, there’s a bit more to it than rubbing dirt all over your new Cherry lumber — think chemical interactions plus time, time, and more time. Once you understand the process a little better, you’ll probably appreciate your favorite pieces even more.
Basic Interior Color Change
Just because lumber is stored and installed indoors doesn’t mean it won’t change color; it will still react with the air around it and whatever finish is applied, over time. You can clearly see the change when you compare a freshly cut or planed board to one that was processed yesterday — or just earlier today.
Just like when you wet the surface of wood, finish causes the color to change; unlike water which dries though, various finishes continue to react with the wood after it has cured, changing the color for good. If you work with wood at all, you probably understand that basic concept. What you might not understand is that the chemicals of the finish applied actually continue to react with the chemical properties of the lumber; for some species, like Cherry, that continual reaction creates ongoing color change.
Traditional Cherry Appearance
The famous “Cherry finish” seen in antique furniture and historic homes isn’t something that can be replicated in an instant. Freshly milled Cherry is actually a light pinkish color, far different from the deep reddish brown color people often think of when they say they want Cherry. Without finishing, Cherry will become more brown than red; however, when the right stain or dye combines with years of accumulated dirt — yes, I’m serious — it creates that deep reddish color often associated with Cherry.
Today’s furniture makers know that patience is not a virtue most of us possess. In order to give customers what they want, suppliers may actually use other species of wood, instead of Cherry, but then add an abundance of dye in order to achieve that deep, sought-after look. The problem is that the chemicals in the finish will continue to interact with the chemicals in the wood, creating an even darker end result than what you bargained for. If your Cherry furniture is partially in front of a window or you have Cherry floors with some area rugs, you’ll notice the change over time.
Of course, Cherry isn’t the only species that has this kind of intense color change produced by chemical composition. In Part 3, we’ll look in greater depth at the chemical “culprits” beneath the surface and another species that’s famous for its color-changing ability.