Visual Wood Match in Door Construction

Wood has natural variations in appearance you have to explain that to customers. September 30, 2010

A customer wanted her cabinets out of white maple. She wanted the cabinet doors to be as consistent as possible. She wanted solid maple slab doors, not maple plywood. I told her that there will still be some contrast in the wood (different tones) because of the solid pieces glued up side by side. She understood; she still wanted it. I hand picked the maple for tone consistency, made the doors and installed them. She said the next day that she didn't like the contrast in some of the doors, and asked me to redo the ones with the most contrast. I told her I would, but I wasn't sure I could do much better. I hand picked very carefully, but still after flipping the boards (to prevent cupping), and after gluing up and sending them through the sander numerous times I see a contrast that I'm afraid she won't like. I'm not sure what else I can do. I'm spraying a clear satin lacquer finish on, no stain.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor M:
I believe the best and only approach is to explain to her the realities of what you are running into. I know you have done this, at least once already, but it seems like she is still working with a somewhat unrealistic expectation. Is she willing to pay for each additional door until you find what she will accept or is this going to be on your dime?

It may take several approaches, and you might need to invite her to your shop to watch and give input to the process you use to select the right wood for her doors. A lot of how this is going to play out depends on what she was told to expect in the beginning. If she is a reasonable and fair person, you can educate her to see what you are up against, and hopefully she will be cooperative. If she is going to keep her expectations the same, this could end up to be a tough deal to work through. If you can, try to align yourself so that it seems that her problem is your problem. Many people will respond favorably if you work with them and let them in on your thought process and how you are trying to solve this problem.

From contributor J:
You might try bleaching the slabs, after glue-up and before sanding. Try Clorox first, and then oxalic acid. Do a couple of tests, and see if it will even out the wood. Go through the entire process with finish on some sample glue-ups.

From contributor P:
Perhaps a nice Thermofoil or plastic laminate door will give her the consistency she's looking for. It's the nature of wood to have these differences; therein lies the beauty. Sounds like she needs to come back to earth and recognize that you're doing the best job possible.

From the original questioner:
So far she has accepted about half the doors I made, so I really can't start anything different. I have never tried bleaching any wood - I guess I can try it. Heck, I'll try anything. She doesn't have a problem paying for them, she just didn't like the contrast. Just wondering how many cabinetmakers run into a problem like this.

From contributor L:
I have a stipulation in my contract about wood color consistency. How it is a natural product and it is expected that there will be some tonal differences between boards.

From contributor H:
I sympathize with your situation, but you should have walked away from this one from the beginning. What she wants is almost impossible, but if she is willing to pay you indefinitely, then have a great time making her happy. I did this once and kept the photos to show future clients what a solid slab door in a clear finish looks like. No one has ever said they liked it.

From contributor E:
You can't use chlorine or oxalic acid to bleach wood. They will not lighten the tannin in the wood. What works is hydrogen hypo peroxide. You can buy a two part bleach that will break down into that, or you can make it yourself. The easiest way is buy something like 40% peroxide from a hair dressing store, not the drugstore 3%. Also get sodium hydroxide (clear Draino or similar brand in liquid). Apply the Draino, let it set for a few and then apply the peroxide.

From contributor P:
Maybe time to take her shopping. Let her pick the boards she likes.

From contributor C:
What contributor P said.

From the original questioner:
I tried the Clorox and it didn't seem to make a difference. I will try the Drano and peroxide. I certainly like the idea of her picking out the boards.

I respectfully disagree though, contributor H. I like the look of solid slab doors with a clear finish (even with the contrast!).

From contributor L:
Klean Strip Wood Bleach is the way to go. I can get it at my hardware store in 32oz size for about $15.

From contributor P:
Is it a realistic expectation that doors that are bleached, Dranoed, etc. will match the acceptable 50% that are already finished, or are you planning to strip, bleach, and re-spray them as well?

Might be a good idea to get some payment upfront (or at least a solid, signed change order) for these customer-initiated changes. Clients have a way of underestimating the costs involved in this kind of rework, and tend to develop selective memory when it comes to retrieving verbal commitments...

From contributor R:
I'm sure it's too late for this job, but buying stock from a specialty sawmill will help in finding consistent color. Buy from a mill that keeps the log together through the handling process. Of course there will be inconsistencies through the log, but if it was big enough you will get enough stock from the sapwood. I found that is a real nice perk of milling my own stock.

From contributor B:

I would order the widest boards possible in the longest lengths. Make each door out of the same board (if possible). She couldn't ask for more, or expect more. Unless you get 8/4 and book match. Don't forget to charge for the discriminating customers.

From contributor C:
Plastic is much, much more consistent.

From the original questioner:
I have picked the widest boards possible and tried to use them in the same door. I was surprised that the tones can still vary when you flip them, and even from the length of the board. I don't have the slightest idea how to get a Thermofoil or plastic door, but half my doors are installed and I have to stay in this direction until she is satisfied or I go crazy. I have gotten some very good advice here - thank you.

From contributor L:
I actually had a woman ask me to make a kitchen out of one tree. It was to be a cherry kitchen. I told her it wouldn't matter and then took a 16' cherry board, cut it in half, and put them together to show her that the same board didn't even match itself.

If you want a natural kitchen, you are at the mercy of the wood. You can't buy 2000 bd ft of wood to do a kitchen that requires 300 bd ft without a substantial upcharge.