Color-matching is far from an exact science, as you’ve probably gathered from Part 1 and Part 2 in this series. While density and grain come out on top, when it comes to influencing lumber color, environmental exposure comes in a close second. After that, we have to consider the origin of a board to realize other factors that may be at play. Only then can we come close to attempting to color-match lumber — or appreciate the miracle that occurs when near color matching does take place.
Regional Effects on Color
Soil chemistry and climate both significantly impact the color of lumber from any given tree; as a result, those species that grow across large geographic regions — Cumaru and Ipe, for example — can vary greatly when it comes to color. Sometimes the difference is due to density, while other times, it’s tied to mineral streaking or temporary shifts in soil chemistry resulting from local fires or floods; dark streaks often mark the beginning and end of a significant weather event.
Effects of Travel on Color
African hardwoods may have the most empathy-evoking story to tell, but any exotic decking species has a story to tell; and with that story, it has scars, which translate into color variations. From muddy roads to extended stays in shipping containers, each leg of the journey can mean changes to the color of a board.
Tips for Color Matching
Like lumber movement, lumber color is far from a static characteristic. While we can anticipate it and plan for it to a degree, we also have to embrace the fact that there’s an element of unpredictability to it. If you start with realistic expectations tied to the fact that lumber is a natural, organic product, you’ll be starting out well. After that, finding a quality dealer with first-hand knowledge of the supply chain for each pack of lumber, including its regional origin, you’ll be heading in the right direction. After that, here are some tips to help you get as close to color-matching as possible:
• Top grade lumber does not ensure color consistency.
• Truly color-matched lumber is non-existent, and requesting it can be overwhelmingly costly.
• Be willing to do the dirty work of scrubbing and sanding boards and considering both sides.
• Realize that applying decking oil or other finishing products can remarkably help unify color.
• Remember that there is no substitute for time; the color of any species will mellow over time.
• A good sun tan can help expedite the mellowing process, but beware of tan lines!
• Purchase 20% or more extra lumber in order to attempt color matching on any project.
• Educate your customers and learn to appreciate the beauty of the organic material which lumber is!