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TIP: Make Cherry Look Old

Jun 30, 2016 | Expert's Corner | 0 comments

One of the great unknowns commonly pursued by woodworkers is how to make new cherry look old without any blotching. Here’s a discussion.

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.

But to get all the way, you have to use a dye stain or chemical such as lye, and these colorants cause much more blotching than linseed oil or any other clear finish. Moreover, the dyed cherry will continue to darken, probably leaving you with a color darker than you wanted.

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 using any combination of UV light, linseed oil, washcoat and stain, toner or glaze. But the cherry won’t have both the color and vibrancy of old cherry.
You may have noticed that factory-finished cherry furniture is darker than old cherry and also not as vibrant. Factories 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.

Or you can let the cherry age naturally.