Aging of Cherry

No finish will stop cherry from changing color over time — period. November 12, 2006

I am building an entertainment center out of cherry that is in front of some large windows. There is a lot of afternoon sun in the room. The client wants to coat the unit with a protective finish to prevent the cherry from darkening. I explained that cherry naturally darkens with age, but they insist that there has to be something to keep it light. Any suggestions on a finish?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor H:
You will not be able to stop the cherry from doing what it does.... darken. UV is only part of the reason it darkens.

From contributor W:
As contributor H says, there is absolutely nothing you or the homeowner can do to keep the cherry from turning color and darkening. They should understand that. Get a release or something so they won't come back to you for replacement.

From contributor R:
I agree. UV absorbers typically will provide some protection to the finish, but will have little or no effect in the patinazation of the wood itself. Cherry also changes color due to oxidation from exposure to air. Perhaps they should choose a different wood.

From contributor P:
I've read that waterbased topcoats inhibit the natural darkening of cherry. True? On the cherry projects I've done, nobody's ever complained. Most people like the way cherry ages.

From contributor M:
I doubt that water base coatings inhibit the natural darkening of cherry. I would not tell that to your customers.

From contributor P:
I always tell my customers that cherry ages beautifully. I wish I could remember where I read that WB topcoats inhibit darkening. Has anyone else heard that (or better yet, experienced it)? It could be as simple as WB topcoats not yellowing as much, therefore not directly contributing to the darkening.

From contributor M:
It sounds good… but no cigar. It's a characteristic of cherry, and most people who buy furniture never see the difference. And most finishers that I know never even bring it up to their customers.

From contributor J:
Maybe they should put UV protection on the glass of the windows. Would also keep the carpets and drapes from fading.

From contributor T:
I agree with you all. Mother Nature is a powerful force and very little can be done to stop her effects. A clear finish, even with UV inhibitors, will not stop the wood from darkening.

From contributor U:
Most waterbornes will make the cherry look lighter from the get go, but I think it will darken with time. The cherry often looks more like unfinished cherry. It doesn't do that ambering transformation that it does with solvent finishes, unless you add color or start with a shellac or oil. Many waterborne finishes will not amber over time, so they may help to minimize the change.

From contributor M:
If you used an amber, or one of the crystal clear coatings like CAB, acrylic, or water base coatings, it will make no difference - the cherry wood is going to change regardless of whatever coating you use. In fact, once the wood does change, the amber colored coating may enhance the color, whereas the crystal clear coating will show the change more because it has no color.

From contributor K:
I showed in a gallery, and the owner liked putting my work in the front window to draw in customers. This was fine, but it just cooked the finish after a while. I liked having the exposure, so I started researching UV protection for the windows. At that time the best that I could find was 50% effective. That is, it would only double the time that it took to get to the same point with un-tinted windows. For the extra cost, that was not good enough to suit me.

From contributor W:
Use alder. Looks like cherry, works like cherry, finishes like cherry, does not darken like cherry.