Color Shift of Wood
Did you know that the color of your wooden cabinets will shift over time? If unprotected, a raw wooden surface can shift noticeably in a matter of hours. On the other hand, if reasonable precautions are taken this process will be slowed down. Despite any number of "reasonable precautions" (and really anything short of locking your furniture in a perfectly dark room with completely stable temperature and humidity) furniture and cabinetry made from real wood will change naturally over the months and years of their life. Don't worry, it's normal!
Depending on the species of wood, its finish, and the environmental factors of where it ends up - this process can be subtle or quite rapid. Some woods will lighten and others will darken, some will lose their color and some seem to become more vibrant or rich over time. Each species of wood has a different "settled" color. Wood generally follows the process of moving from its initial color and will work through its unique species' spectrum until it gets closer and closer to its "settled" color. This is usually where the shift will slow down and become somewhat stable. We can make predictions based on observations and trade knowledge, but the reality is that the wood from each tree can vary from one to the next, and there can be a pretty dramatic range of color, grain, and form even within a single tree. So, let's talk about this in some detail.
How & Why Does Wood Change?
When wood is exposed to the elements, its complicated chemical makeup is being altered, primarily through oxidation. Other than direct physical force, the four most commonly destructive forces to wooden furniture over time are LIGHT, HEAT, MOISTURE, and AIR. This is why we finish wood. At Scherr's we use a commercial grade acrylic conversion varnish that stays clear and won't yellow. A finish will protect wooden surfaces from most forms of humidity and direct exposure to air. Under normal living conditions inside of a house, and even with protected surfaces, moisture and air will still find microscopic pathways into your wood. Which is why commercial grade products, processes, and tools are superior to what is possible with a can of store-bought polyurethane and a brush. The process by which light can affect your wooden cabinets is slowed with a high quality finish, but it can not be stopped by any process that we are aware of. We all know from our science classes in grade school that heat penetrates into all matter regardless of what we do. So the lesson we have to learn is that it is only possible to slow the process of color shift in wood, not stop it. At Scherr's we have learned that after you protect your cabinets with a high quality finish, it's best to sit back and enjoy the developing character of your wooden cabinets as they shift through the spectrum that nature has granted them.
What Can I Do About Color Shift?
In addition to putting a high quality finish on the surface of your cabinets, there are reasonable precautions that a person can take to slow this process down even further:
If these precautions can not or are not followed, you can expect the wood that is exposed to any of these elements to look different than those that are not over time.
Remodeling or Building your Project in Sections
If you are particular about all of your cabinets, shelves, and furniture in the same area matching perfectly - breaking up the ordering of your project over time is not recommended. We want our Customers to be happy, and so we feel it is our duty to advise people against this.
Often have we experienced the story of Customers remodeling their kitchen with cherry cabinets and a few months/years later they order more for their "matching" kitchen island. Dismayed, they will call us up and lament about the two sections looking so different. Why would they ever look different?
Work WITH Nature, Not Against It!
That being said, color shift is not always undesirable. Some species of wood become more attractive as they age. Of course, this is completely subjective to the person living with the species they choose. It can only benefit you to educate yourself on what to expect from this beautiful, natural material that was once a living thing (and some would argue, still is.) There are a couple of strategies you can take when deciding on your wood choice/style that take advantage of these factors that we expect to take place.
We are currently working on a set of pictures that demonstrate this color shift on sample doors made in our shop. In the meantime, we recommend doing a http://www.google.com/ search on how your wood species selection will change over time.