Managing Color Differences in Cherry Plywood

A finisher has trouble making his whole job look like the approved sample, because of inconsistent plywood. February 15, 2009

I recently finished a cherry kitchen where the customer wanted an amber brown tone. I made up a bunch of samples from which she picked one. The problem was there was such variation in the plywood that I had a heck of a time reproducing her color choice.

Hardwood wasn't an issue. The cherry plywood wasn't consistent color from sheet to sheet, and even had major color differences within a sheet. I use target WB products and I usually lay down a base color with their sanding sealer tinted to the base color and finish up with WB lacquer tinted to the finish color. I followed the same recipe but the color was not even close to the samples. Any thoughts on how to overcome the color differences I am seeing in the plywood?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor L:
Did you do your samples on a piece of wood or plywood? If you did it on solid wood and tried to transfer the same schedule over the ply, that is where you went wrong. Whenever I have to do a stain job with both I will make sure to get samples done on both.

Sometimes you need two formulas to get the same color, other times one is enough to get the job done. I have also learned to use a toner on most stain jobs so you can tune in different shades. It's a learning curve, and the more you do it though the better you will be at it.

From contributor P:
You're essentially using toning to achieve all your color. That is ok, except that you're making it difficult to be consistent, because: a) you're tinting your sealer, then presumably sanding it, which removes some of the color, but probably not in a consistent way. b) The amount of color you end up with is highly dependent on how accurate your mix is, how fast you move the gun, and how good your overlapping technique is.

The number of coats is important, too. Even if your final coat(s) are not tinted, the topcoat can change the color. Some WB products have a pretty heavy purple tint to them. I use WB dyes to lay down the base color, and then use toning to make adjustments, a little at a time.

From contributor R:
I think you’re going to have to tone the whole kitchen to even out the color. At this point however you’re going to have to tone it to match the darkest part of the kitchen. The problem with this is that the darkest part of the kitchen is probably way darker than the original color your customer expected you to achieve. Maybe you can talk her out of the color she liked and steer her in the opposite direction.

Two things come to mind here. First off, next time you do a job like this be sure to save yourself a ship load of trouble and get what’s called "sequentially matched panels". Every panel is the same.

Make your samples out of the same lumber your making the project out of. Secondly just for future reference, try not to complete the whole entire project without having the sample close at hand.