Matching Old Red Walnut

Advice on how to finish a new set of walnut cabinet doors so they'll match the red color that the cabinet has aged to. March 9, 2008

I built a cabinet for a customer 10 years ago out of walnut and they wanted it left unfinished and natural. Over the years the walnut has turned quite reddish and looks great. However, now they want me to make some inset doors for the cabinet, but the new wood has the typical chocolate color. Any ideas on how to make the new wood change reddish? A stain won't work, as it would look different from the original wood.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor J:
A NGR stain would do the trick. Don't wipe or brush it on. Instead, put it in cup gun and thin it 1-1 with lacquer thinner or even more if necessary. Turn the volume down on the gun and from a distance, spray a light dusting on the wood until you have the right color, let it dry for a second, and you are all set.

From the original questioner:
What is a NGR stain?

From contributor G:
Was the original air dried, or at least not steamed? The air dried/not steamed is a whole lot more colorful and rather distinctly red.

From contributor J:
Non Grain Raising, or better known as an alcohol stain. It is actually die, and dies the color of the wood, unlike stain, which stains the wood. Formally known as an aniline die.

From the original questioner:
The wood was air dried and is really great looking red. She wants the new doors to look like the original wood. This is my dilemma.

Contributor J, thanks for explaining the dye you were referring to. I am a little hesitant to spray a dye because if the wood keeps changing over time, it might not look like the doors that were dyed.

From contributor T:
Here's the theory... orange/red ngr (we use Mohawk/Behlen's) reduced with alcohol, flooded on and wiped. The new walnut will change color as the original did, and we expect (hope) the dye will fade in the same time frame, netting a match when installed and as time passes. Your concern about the existing installation continuing to change is not likely an issue. Most woods fade/darken fairly rapidly and then stabilize pretty much. Some advice often given on this site is to put cherry parts in bright sun for a week before finishing in lieu of staining, as cherry changes really fast. You could just finish natural and promise your client the new work will catch up with the existing. Make samples (you must seal and coat the stained sample to "read" the color) if you try the dye and remember, no artificial coloring will exactly duplicate the natural effects of time and environment.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the info. With the information I received I think I can now attack this problem.

From contributor E:
You can also print all the responses to your question and show them to your customer. This might help to validate your concerns and show your customer your support team.

From the original questioner:
Great idea!

From contributor C:
Buy a 300a UV lamp, place the wood under it for a week, check the color, and if still not red enough, continue till it is. Likely the wood will still not match perfectly, but will get you darn close.

From the original questioner:
A few weeks ago you guys suggested a way to make new walnut look like old red walnut... Your ideas worked so well that my customer can't tell the difference between the old wood and the new. I wanted to thank you. This website is great! It allows our craftsmen to keep our trade going by sharing information we get from our own experience. Where else could I have gotten the info from you guys?