Here at New Venture Products, we’re frequently asked how best to treat wood and although we’re happy to advise, we know it’s never a one-size-fits-all situation. Even if you’d like to treat something as simple as oak, there are many factors that play a role in wood colour and the end result your stain or varnish will yield. Even just by looking at the pile of harvested logs below, we can see how very unalike they all are. In this article, we’ll not only be exploring some of the factors that decide the colour of wood, but we’ll also be giving you some of our expert tips on achieving your desired wood colour.
Ready for the biological explanation as to why wood products of the same species can differ substantially? Okay, you asked for it. Wood is made up of tiny cells that look somewhat similar to little straws; they’re responsible for transporting the sap of the tree and contain chemicals. However the chemicals in those cells aren’t all the same. Every type of tree will have a very individual makeup of chemicals which changes colour as soon as they’re exposed to oxygen. Of course this will have no effect whilst the tree is growing, but as soon as it’s cut open, oxidation will occur.
It won’t happen immediately once harvested, but over time, the lumber can become darker or lighter, depending on the tree, meaning you’ll end up with something that’s poles apart to when you started. Purpleheart wood, as an example, changes from a grayish purple to a vibrant purple in about five years and then settles into a brown after about another five years.
That’s not the only thing to look out for either. We all know that there are thousands and thousands of tree species around the world, but were you aware of the impact environmental conditions can have on two trees of the same species? Light and humidity can both play a significant role in the density and colour of the timber, meaning that an oak growing with more light than another, or in wetter conditions, might have contrasting qualities.
Speaking of different, we also have to take variants into consideration. Let’s stick with oak for this example; you have English oak, white oak and red oak, but white oak has subspecies like bur, post, swamp white, southern live, swamp chestnut, chestnut, chinkapin, canyon live and overcup and the red oak species is made up of northern red, eastern black, laurel, southern red, water, willow and nuttall’s. All unique, these natural organisms will all vary from each other even if they’re family. A good way to look at it, is that no two people are alike and the same can be said for trees.
So given all we now know about how age, species, density and growing conditions can affect our timber, we wanted to show you how an assortment of wood reacts to the same colour. In the picture below you can see that just like coffee, they’ve each taken on a different hue of brown. Beautiful if it’s your desired effect, not really what you want when you’re set on achieving a consistent finish.
We think we’ve done a pretty good job of establishing that trees are fickle. No two pieces are the same and therefore, all wood will react distinctly to products. If your product is sanded, it won’t end up being as dark as rough sawn timber with a more open grain structure. If your oak dresser is older than your oak wardrobe, the results of the two will vary. If you have something you think is oak, but is actually pine, it can cause the finished product to look very differently from what you imagined.
You can see why you can’t rely on a swatch or the colour on the tin to ensure your desired wood colour. Instead, we encourage everyone to test and test again. Committing to a wood finish is a big decision, because whether it’s your first DIY project or refreshing an heirloom, we want you to be happy and take pride in it. Almost every Osmo and tinted Fiddes product is available as a test sachet, so add some of your favourites to your cart and get testing, but always remember to do so in an inconspicuous area.
Know how when you go to the hairdresser or barber, it’s much easier to start long and gradually go shorter instead of going too short and then you’re stuck, unable to put hair back? Well, wood is kind of similar in that it’s much easier tinting lighter wood dark than making dark wood lighter. So trying to stain your Walnut coffee table with an Ash wash probably isn’t going to turn out well, but transforming Oak to Mahogany will be a whole lot simpler.
Wet the wood you’re working with to get an indication of what it’ll look like when treated with a clear hard wax oil, but take care to clearly identify which sachet was used for which area and ensure there is no cross contamination.
Test, test and test again. This might seem like an arduous process, but for you to truly be happy with your finish, some work might be required. Most of our products come in 5ml sachets, which is the right size for doing a small test area, if you want to do a larger area most products are also available in 125ml (Osmo) or 250ml (Fiddes) test pots.. Have a look at the Osmo Wood Wax Finish Intensive for example.
Always mix the sachet contents by running your finger up and down the sachet several times before opening it and take careful note of the recommended coverage figures.
However natural, when it comes to cracks and gaps in the wood, you may want to fill them before staining your wood to ensure an even finish. Osmo do a range of wood fillers and sealants which you can still apply hard wax oil to.
It’s also really important to focus on sanding your wood evenly for a smoother end product. Rushing this process might leave you with a patchy finish. Always take careful note of the product instructions as sanding too finely can prevent the absorption of the wax oils.
Look at the colour instead of the names on swatches as everyone has different expectations. Even if you’re opting for a light oak, you might not get so stuck on the name that you miss out on a great tint. Let’s look at the Fiddes Tinted Hard Wax Oil as an example, the Dark Oak, Rustic Oak, Smoked Oak, Walnut and Whiskey are all great options for a rich, dark tint.
Remember that the species of wood, colour and condition all play a factor in how the item finishes, which is why it’s really important to always test an inconspicuous area.
In saying that, don’t forget that wood is still a natural product and will therefore have lighter and darker patches. Even when testing on one area, it might display differently on another. Work with those natural characteristics though by enhancing them rather than trying to hide them. There’s no better way of doing that then using a clear product like Fiddes Clear Hard Wax Oil. It not only protects, but it can mattify your surface or add a gloss or satin finish to it.
Both Fiddes and Osmo offer a “natural or raw” product that uses a small amount of white pigment to offset the wet effect that oils and waxes have, but only ever use these on light coloured European woods as the white pigment will appear against the dark wood or knots.
Generally it is recommended to use a clear coat over the top of a tinted product but if the first coat is a white, use a product like Osmo Polyx®-Oil Effect Raw or Fiddes Oak Lightening (Natural) for the second coat to avoid any yellowing of the final finish. When staining outdoor products, opt for a product like Osmo Natural Oil Woodstain that not only looks great, comes in a large range of colours whilst still retaining the appearance of the natural wood grain, but also protects against the elements. Weather and UV resistant, this particular stain reduces swelling and shrinkage of the wood, protects against dirt, algae and mould, and allows the wood to breath so it doesn’t end up cracking or peeling.
When using Natural Oil Woodstain on your decking, Osmo recommend Osmo Anti-Slip Decking as a second coat. It contains a biocide to prevent mosses or algae, as well as a special, highly compressed organic anti-slip granule that’ll help reduce slips.