Matching New Stain to Old Wood

As seen on woodmagazine.com

My house was one of thousands that flooded in 2016 in the Baton Rouge, La area.  I did not have time to elevate any antique furniture, family heirlooms, etc before leaving the house.  So, upon return all of my furniture had a water line about 14 inches up from the floor.  Most of my neighbors panicked and throughout anything, including priceless antique furniture and family heirlooms, that had come in contact with the water. 

Now, a few points.  If your furniture contained any type of composite panel, particularly particleborad, fiberboard, or hardboard, it swelled and needed to go.  I had a round dining room table that was made from solid red oak.  It was nothing fancy but was unique in that it was hand made by Amish men in Pennsylvania.  I did not want to strip and refinish the entire piece.  So, I began looking at options on how to restain the bottom 14 inches to match the rest of the table.  Ditto for the chairs. 

I waited for the wood to dry back down to 6-8% moisture content, then I removed the exisiting stain on the bottom 14 inches.  I sanded it down by hand and eventually finished with steel wool. 

Matching paint is a simple process but stain is not so easy.  Go to your local hardware/paint store and get a stain wheel also known as a finisher’s color wheel.  It is a round shaped wheel that spin to try to locate the best visual match to your exisiting stain.  The wheel represents common pigments such as umber, cordovan, sienna, and ochre.  These are nothing but elaborate names for common stain colors –brown, red, orange, and yellow. These colors are printed on the rim of the inner wheel, and again on the outer wheel. When you line up different pairings on the rims, small windows in the inner wheel show how the mix creates a third color.

Line up cordovan on the outer wheel with raw umber on the inner wheel, and you’ll see in the window approximately how they mix.

Look for a close match

The windows might reveal several blends that come close to your target but rarely are perfect. If one looks too light and the other too dark, choose the lighter, because stain, like paint, is easier to darken than lighten. Now, decide which off-the-shelf stains come closest to the two stains that you selected from the wheel. Note that the grain or color of your wood may affect the results.  Some manufacturers sell inexpensive stain samples the size of ketchup packets perfect for experimenting.  Now, that you have two samples you need to mix the two together at different ratios to find the right combination.  A few tips:  Do your testing on the same wood as your project.  If not possible, then get a piece that is as similar as possible in species and sanded to the same grit.  Stir your stains well because pigments tend to settle in the bottom of the cans.  Do not make a decision on match until the test sample has dried.  Apply a topcoat to your test board.  The choice of finish will affect your results. For example, even crystal-clear finishes will alter the stain’s final color.

Darker stain

The first option to darken the color of the stain is to add another coat of stain after the first has dried. Stain is different from paint because the binders that help stain adhere to wood form a mild seal coat, which limits the absorption of excess stain. Another option is to wait to wipe off the excess stain. The time delay darkens the color because more of the stain’s solvent evaporates, increasing the ratio of colorant to liquid.  Many people incorrectly think that with increasing time the stain will penetrate the wood deeper and thus darker the color.  Without pressure, as with pressure treated wood, the penetration will be minimal.  A few words of caution.  Stain is meant to enhance the natural grain.  A heavy layer of pigment can obscure the wood grain.   

Todd Shupe is the President of DrToddShupe.com and is a well recognized expert on wood-based housing and wood science.  Shupe worked as a  professor and lab director at LSU for 18 years and Quality Manager for Eco Environmental (Louisville, KY) for 2 years. He is active in several ministries including his Christian blog ToddShupe.com. Todd is the Secretary of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men, Database Coordinator for Gulf South Men, and volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, Iron Sharpens Iron, Open Air Ministries, HOPE Ministries food pantry. Todd is currently preparing to be a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men.

Wood Staining – Lessons Learned

Slow Down and Do It Right

I love to stain wood.  It is relaxing and rewarding to see the finished product, especially when it comes out nice.  I have blogged before about the importance of patience when doing any wood working project, especially staining.  I recently purchased some beautiful 1x12x8 white pine lumber to use for bookshelves in my home office.  I bought Minwax Polyshade Classic Oak stain and went to work to apply two coats on both faces and the edges.  I don’t stain the ends because they will not be visible.  I stain both faces so I can then decide later which side looks best and install it with the best face turned upwards.

I set up a “work station” in my backyard using trash cans as work benches.  As usual, I was in a hurry with so many other things to do.  So, I made many mistakes that I would like to share with you and myself! 

Mistakes – The Ones That I Can Remember

I did a poor job of preparing the surface.  I did not rub the board faces with fine grit sand paper or steel wool before the initial stain application and I did not wipe the faces clean with mineral spirits before the first coat or between coats.

I set up a lousy work station.  I used old trash cans as work benches in my back yard.  This is fine but the problem is that my backyard is partially shaded so the stain dried unevenly.  Also, the boards were left to dry overnight and a heavy dew the next morning was not helpful.

I applied the stain too quickly and drips and runs formed on the edges, which I was too busy to notice.  The runs have now hardened and can be removed with a finger nail but the resulting stain will be uneven.

I let the boards become bone dry and then dead stacked them in my carport.  I hope that the high temperatures and humidity do not cause the boards to stick.

Take Away

So, I guess the question is what I have learned?  Well, to be honest the answer is nothing.  I already knew the dangers of doing a rush job on any wood working project.  However, I was more in a rush to get it done fast rather than to get it done right.  The faces will be covered with books, and I can retouch up the visible edge as needed, and as time permits, once the shelves are installed.  So, I will soon install the shelves and use them as a teaching lesson to myself and visitors.   I have previously refinished sentimental pieces of furniture that were handed down to me by my parents.  These pieces were done slow and steady and came out beautiful.  So, I guess I have proved that I know how to stain wood correctly and incorrectly!

Todd Shupe is the President of DrToddShupe.com and is a well recognized expert on wood-based housing and wood science.  Shupe worked as a  professor and lab director at LSU for 18 years and Quality Manager for Eco Environmental (Louisville, KY) for 2 years. He is active in several ministries including his Christian blog ToddShupe.com. Todd is the Secretary of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men, Database Coordinator for Gulf South Men, and volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, Iron Sharpens Iron, Open Air Ministries, HOPE Ministries food pantry. Todd is currently preparing to be a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men.