Q & A: Make New Varnish Look Old

PWE150927_QAQ: I built my own kitchen cabinets a few years back. One drawer got damaged, so I stripped the finish from the drawer front, made the repair and applied a fresh coat of polyurethane. The new finish is noticeably lighter than the old one. I sure don’t want to refinish the entire kitchen. Is there a way to match the aged finish?

A: The solution is to tint the new finish with dye. Varnish yellows with age and that’s the reason your newly finished drawer doesn’t match the old. I recommend using a dye called Orange Shellac from Wood Finishing Supplies. Don’t let the name fool you; it’s just a color and has nothing to do with real orange shellac. It’s best to keep the tinting very light so two or three coats of the polyurethane give you the color that matches your old finish.

For one drawer, pour a small amount of polyurethane into a container. Add a few drops of the dye concentrate, mixing it in well. It’ll look like a dark olive oil, which seems weird, but the color looks a whole lot different on the wood. It will take some experimentation to get the dye-topolyurethane ratio correct. Brush a couple of coats of the tinted poly on a test board. If the color matches, your formulating is done. If not, adjust the number of coats or the amount of dye until you get a good match.