Matching Colors

FlexnerUse the method that allows you to keep trying until you get it right.

by Bob Flexner
pages 60, 62

One of the most challenging tasks in wood finishing is matching the color of an existing object, color swatch or photo in a magazine. Most people try to accomplish this with just a stain, but it rarely works.

Most factory-finished objects, for example, are colored with more than one step to begin with, and even in cases where just a stain was used, or the wood has simply aged, it’s still rarely possible to imitate exactly with a stain alone.

Toning is the technique most professionals who spray their finishes use to match color. This involves first using a stain to get the color close, then adjusting the color slowly to achieve a match by spraying highly thinned lacquer with a little pigment or dye added. The problem with this method is that it’s unforgiving because the toner dissolves into the existing finish. If you get the color wrong or too dark, you have to strip off everything and start over.

So if you use a spray gun, here is a forgiving method of achieving the same thing. If you don’t like what you’ve done, simply wash it off, make the adjustments, and try again.
To demonstrate, I’m matching very light-colored, maple-veneered plywood to the leg of a 1930s gumwood chair that was colored to look like mahogany.

Articles: You’ll find many free finishing articles on our web site.
In Our Store:Flexner on Finishing” – 12 years of columns illustrated with beautiful full-color images and updated, and “Wood Finishing 101.”

From the August 2014 issue, #212
Aug14cover150