Evening Out Finish Tones

Maintain an even stain by applying multiple thinned coats. March 12, 2006

We're doing a large project (bar, built-ins, wine cellar, etc.) for a very picky customer. All of our project is cherry and we've been asked to match existing finishes in different areas on different materials. The largest part of the project to match is a walnut color on the ornate coffered ceiling, casings, columns, etc. I'm not worried about the color, rather I'm concerned about the variations from piece to piece. I'd like to be able to even them up with a spray of some sort, but am curious what others might recommend. Do I tint some lacquer, make an acetone toner, perhaps thin some stain and fog it on? Obviously at this point, I'd rather be too light than too dark. How do I proceed?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor Q:
I've never understood that "everything has to be the same" mentality when finishing wood. Variations in it are what make it real, otherwise why not use laminate? Having to deal with this all the time, though, my method of choice for speed and simplicity is to make up my stain color lighter than the desired end result, then duplicate my color formula using about a ten percent solution of the topcoat (to act as a binder). I then spray this on as needed to bring everything up to match my sample, topcoat it and then wonder what that extra picky client will choose to complain about.

From contributor D:
Not really an answer to the question, but my experience with walnut colors on ceilings is that it always looks darker when installed. So if it has to match something already up, check it onsite first.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
When customers want that uniform color look that they see in most furniture stores, I usually apply the color in layers. Typically, I'll start by dying all the wood (spray, no wipe) with a color that complements the final color. This first step helps to give the wood a uniform background color that starts the process of tying it all together. If the color is one of the medium to dark browns that are called "walnut," then I'll use a yellowish-brown or amber dye. The color you're matching will steer the dye color some. After the dye, I'll use a spray and wipe pigmented stain. Depending on the stain and the color you're matching, you may need a washcoat over the dye before applying the stain or you may be able to use the stain right over the dye. Once the stain is dry, seal it with a coat of finish and sand it smooth. Then add some dye (and/or stain/pigments) to some finish and spray that to produce the final color. The toner will help a lot in making the final color more uniform.

Here's a couple links to related information in the Knowledge Base:

Dye, Stain, Glaze, & Toner for Uniform Coloring
Even Coloring on Cherry

You may also want to take a look at these articles:
Tinting Toner Tips
'Factory Finishes' for the Small Shop

From contributor W:
Just a reminder, and another complication. Your cherry will darken further with age. What matches today might not match in time.