Matching Hickory Heartwood Color

Advice on a toning formula to blend Hickory sapwood into heartwood so the difference can't be detected. May 28, 2010

I'm pricing a cabinet job and they want hickory, just the heartwood. The problem is I can only get calico hickory plywood for the cabinet boxes. I was wondering if there is another type of plywood I could stain to match the color of hickory heartwood? They will be going with a natural stain on the hickory.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor R:
Have you checked out other lumber distributors for the hickory?

From contributor L:
I believe pecan and hickory are considered the same species. You may want to look for pecan.

From contributor O:
You can get just the heartwood or sap hickory veneer. You have to buy it by the sheet and apply it to your own substrate or you have to order in enough sheets that your veneer supplier will lay it up for you.

From contributor P:
I've been faced with this issue. My solution was to do frame and panel for all exposed ends, sorting the lumber for all heartwood, only leaving plywood for some exposed horizontal shelves (a little stain solved that).

From contributor C:
The color of hickory heartwood can be fairly easily matched with dyes, on hickory sapwood or other light colored woods. What can't be matched is the grain on other woods without faux work.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
Last year I was working on the Carter Museum and there was hickory trim on some of the exhibits that was getting a clear coat. Mixed in with the planks were quite a few that had light colored sapwood - ranging from small streaks to large sections that covered the majority of the board. To avoid the expense of buying more lumber with all heartwood, I was asked if I could color the sapwood to blend in with the heartwood.

I came up with a mix that worked well and in most cases no one could tell where the sapwood was after I applied the sap stain. The mix I used was:

1 part Microton Oak
1/2 part Microton Cherry
16 parts lacquer thinner

I applied it with a spray gun turned down to a very narrow fan whenever I was coloring in alongside the heartwood and just shaded the sapwood to blend. On larger sections that were all sapwood, I opened the gun up and sprayed a little more freely.

The key is to spray it just enough to see the wood fibers appear wet for a brief moment, and no more or less. Too little and the stain sits on the surface of the wood and looks lifeless. Too much and it starts to make tiny puddles of color that look odd. It doesn't take very much practice to get the gun set up and your distance and speed down.

Here's a picture of a sample board I did. On the left side I just applied a clear coat and you can see the light colored sapwood above the darker colored heartwood. On the right side, I used the sap stain to shade the sapwood darker until it blended with the heartwood. If you need to go a little darker, you can go over the area repeatedly until you get a good blend. Or you can add a little more of the Cherry Microton to the mix.

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