In Flexner On Finishing, Flexner on Finishing Blog, Shop Blog

We may receive a commission when you use our affiliate links. However, this does not impact our recommendations.

This cherry chest is 40 to 50 years old and has darkened considerably.

It would be hard to find a question in woodworking more often asked and more often inadequately answered than how to make cherry look old without blotching. How many magazine articles have you seen with titles proposing to give you the “secret” to doing exactly this? The reason you are then disappointed after reading the article is that there is no secret. There’s no good way to do this.

The rust-red coloring in old cherry develops over many decades from oxidation accelerated by UV light­­ and possibly also by an original application of linseed oil that has darkened. You can get part way to this coloring by exposing cherry to sunlight, but only part way. You can also get part way by applying boiled linseed oil, and the wood will darken more as it ages.

To test a cherry board or veneer for blotching, wipe it with a solvent.

Then to get the color right stain the wood with a dye stain.

But to get all the way, you have to use a dye stain or chemicals such as lye or potassium dichromate, but these colorants cause blotching in most cherry. Furthermore, the dyed cherry will continue to darken over time, probably leaving you with a color darker than you wanted.

Factories typically finish cherry by putting the color in the finish using toners and glazes to avoid most of the blotching.

You may have noticed that factory-finished cherry furniture is darker than old cherry and also not as vibrant. Factories fairly effectively avoid the blotching problem by using toners and glazes to create the coloring in the finish rather than in the wood and this muddies the appearance of the wood. If there were a way to recreate the color of old cherry without blotching, you can be sure factories would use it because of the beauty and popularity of this wood.

So you have a choice. You can give new cherry the coloring of old cherry, but you may have to live with blotching depending on the specific boards you’re using. Or you can color cherry and avoid much of the blotching by putting the color in the finish using toners and glazes. But the cherry won’t have both the color and vibrancy of old cherry.

Or you can let the cherry age naturally.

– Bob Flexner


flexner on finishing

Take control of finishing by learning how to use the many finishes available — and what those products actually are. In this book, his first since Understanding Wood Finishing, Bob Flexner delves deeper into many of the issues woodworkers struggle with and he does it with an authority that leaves no doubt.

Get your copy at

Product Recommendations

Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work around the shop. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.

Recent Posts

Start typing and press Enter to search