Evening Out the Color Variations in Cherry

Playing with a color wheel will help you understand how to tone and stain Cherry when you want more uniformity. January 14, 2013

I recently made some bookcases with cherry that was delivered on plywood/mdf. Some panels are reddish and others brownish (same company not same tree). The client wants a light brown color. Does anyone have any ideas about how to reduce redness of those panels without going too dark?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor C:
Try a few light passes of a green dye to kick the red over to a brown.

From contributor G:
It won't really matter in the end. They will both darken to a similar patina. The wood has variations, and it is the nature of wood. If they want perfect colors mention to them to paint it or use wood grained Formica.

From contributor R:
I agree with Contributor G. Cherry darkens as it ages; that's the beauty of cherry. Try a dilute walnut stain and try to bring them to a similar shade. Walnut stains have a little green in them (some more than others) and I often use a red dye to lessen the green a bit. The most you can do with cherry is sort the heart from the sap wood and try to keep it from blotching. With sheet goods, don't even bother. I've even had problems hand sorting solid stock when given the run of the stack.

From contributor G:
With solid cherry I find on average there are three color groups; orange, yellow and green. You sort them into their respective piles and then work from there. By the time you deliver the kitchen, or within a month after (depends on the sunshine in your shop) everything has started to even out. Since the veneers on plywood are just real wood it will do the same over a short period of time.

Giving them a choice at the raw/new stage is just setting yourself up to a much more expensive proposition for your shop and less profit. If they insist on having proprietary perfect color matching tell them you will need to charge them a select charge so you can buy 20 sheets to give them 10.

From contributor R:
To contributor G: One other thing. He said he used MDF core, so his sheet stock is not the highest grade.

From contributor G:
The veneers are the same on the VC or MDF cores. An A1 is the same on either. In some respects MDF is a superior core because it is almost always flat and true as opposed to a VC which almost always has a bow in the 8' direction and is wavy on the surface because it telegraphs the wooden core.

From contributor H:
I am with you on the veneer grade between VC and MDF, but it seems that the manufactures use thinner veneers on MDF than standard ply. Some of the MDF ply we get you can hardly say machine sander around them without having a burn through!

As for the subject in question: We recently refinished 40 new cherry door units where the customer had a violent reaction to anything red. Yes, why would you purchase a rather large house full of cherry and not want even a soft warn red tone? With a grey/green wash stain and a grey/green toner we ended up with a light translucent color that is warm without being in your face red. I did warn the client that the natural tones will come out over time, but since they are living in the home every day the change will not be as noticeable.

From the original questioner:
Contributor H Grey/green, I have never heard of that before. Do you mix yourself? I usually buy toners, but grey?

From contributor H:
Check your color wheel. Green is opposite of red and the grey will decrease the intensity of the green but increase the value. Lamp black and white pigment will work. For my project I substituted Van Dyke brown to get a little smoke brown to dull the green. 824's or 844's will work, but the more pigment you add the more cloudy the final toner will be. We custom mix all of our toners, unless we are doing a large project, then we will get our finish supplier to formulate in bulk. Two rules of toning: Light coats are better than one gun stripped heavy one, and stop one coat before you think you are done!