by Eric Meier

Do you want that Bloodwood to stay red?

Padauk to stay orange?

Osage Orange to stay yellow?

Purpleheart to stay purple?

Cocobolo or Tulipwood to stay rainbow colored?

 

The lure of color

In my younger, more naive and delusionally-optimistic days of woodworking, I was immediately drawn to the intense colors of Padauk, Bloodwood, and Purpleheart—as many of us are. I imagined colorful creations that I could make that would endure for years. Despite reading multiple reports of the color in these exotic woods not lasting—and actually turning dark brown—of course I knew that the rules of the universe didn’t apply to me, and that somehow, I would beat the system.

And so I cranked out some amazingly colorful creations with exotic woods, and do you know what? They looked fantastic.

Purpleheart, Pink Ivory, Spruce, Maple psaltery

Destined for brown

 

And again, in my usual state of delusions, I reckoned that these colors would last forever. They had to. They looked so good. It had already been, like… three whole weeks, and no noticeable change in color had occurred, so what could any further ravages of time possibly do to my wood creations? As it turns out, plenty.

You are fighting a losing battle

I remember showing someone a section of Pink Ivory on a project that I had completed several years ago, and said, “Check it out, this is Pink Ivory. Amazing, isn’t it!?” The person, with an unbiased (and unimpressed) response said coldly, “but, it’s brown…” And then it hit me. That Pink Ivory was pink at one time, but the color had faded so gradually, to my delusional eyes it still appeared pink, when in truth, it had become an ugly brown.

Here’s my take on wood color: every piece of wood has a “freshly-cut” color, and also a “settled-in” color. Yes, most woods tend to get darker over time, but it’s not limitless: i.e., all woods do not continue to get darker and darker until they become completely black, they eventually stop at a certain hue/shade; this is what I’ll refer to as a wood’s “settled-in” color.

colorshift of purpleheart

The problem arises in that we can only see the initial color of the wood, and have no idea where the settled-in color of the wood will end up. Imagine how differently you’d buy and use woods if you could only see the final color of the wood!

Now, we can play games, and do certain things to slow this progression (see tips below), but just realize: you are only slowing the inevitable. The wood is in the process of oxidizing and shifting in color, and it will do so sooner, or it will do so later, but it will still happen.

Dealing with reality

Here’s some insights and perspectives to take into consideration regarding wood colors:

  • One nearly foolproof way to prevent color changes in woods is to hermitically seal away your project in a darkened vault. So, go ahead and store it away where no one can ever enjoy it, and you’re all set! (Please excuse my sarcasm, but I couldn’t resist.)
  • You can adopt a “it was fun while it lasted mentality.” Chances are, most wood creations give the most enjoyment during the first few weeks or months of ownership, after that, people just sort of take things for granted.
  • If you’re of the personality type that’s highly bugged by these sorts of things (you want to make heirlooms that endure for generations), then learn to use woods that get better with age, (such as Cherry, Mahogany, Oak, etc.) and time will be on your side!
  • Use wood with interesting grain patterns to have some sort of visual interest to fall back on once the color fades (this is the Achilles’ heel of Purpleheart, which usually has very bland grain patterns.)
  • If you absolutely must have a certain color *pop* on your next project, use dyes. I can’t stress this enough. Some dyed curly maple or quilted maple looks out-of-this-world, and you can tailor the color exactly how you want it, and it will actually last—provided you use quality lightfast dyes, such as TransTint.)
  • Don’t be delusional. It really is only a matter of time. Like so many other things in life, you are not an exception to the rule. However, if you’re already in the midst of a project, and you want to make the best of it, see the tips below.
Quilted Maple (dyed blue)

Dyes give the best shot at lasting, vibrant colors

 

Tips to keep the delusion going just a little bit longer…

  • Be sure to use several coats of finish to block out as much air/vapor as possible. Studies have shown that the more coats of finish that are used, the less the wood is effected by changes in humidity. Using a simple rub-in oil finish or paste wax offers very little resistance for the wood; you’re after a film-building finish.
  • Keep the wood out of direct sunlight, and try to avoid placing it in areas of high light. (UV light tends to shift the color of certain woods.)
  • As an extra precaution, you can use an exterior-grade spar varnish with UV inhibitors.
  • If you are trying to maintain the color of a light-colored wood, such as Maple or Holly, use a water-based finish, or a finish that doesn’t yellow with age.

Colorful woods and their chromatic fate

Wood

Colorfast rating

(1 – 5)

Notes
RED
Bloodwood 2 Turns a very deep reddish brown—almost black.
Chakte Kok 1 Turns brown fast, but doesn’t darken.
Jarrah 2 Inital color isn’t quite red, and settled color isn’t great either.
Tulipwood 3 Colors desaturate and shift toward brown, but maintains contrast.
Cocobolo 2 Colors can darken to nearly black, sometimes contrast is maintained.
ORANGE
Padauk 2 Turns a very deep reddish brown (lighter pieces turn brownish gray).
Brazilwood 3 Initial color isn’t always great, but retains colors slightly better.
Chakte Viga 3 Initial color isn’t always great, but retains colors slightly better.
Buckthorn 3 Starts pinkish orange, slight shift toward brown.
Canarywood 3 Colors tend to desaturate to shades of brown, still maintains contrasts.
YELLOW
Osage Orange 1 Drastic changes toward dark brown inevitable.
Tatajuba 1 Not great color to start with, not great color to end with.
Yellowheart 4 Retains color fairly well, though some browning occurs.
GREEN
Lignum Vitae 2 Darker pieces can turn nearly black.
Verawood 4 Retains olive color well, may actually increase in coloration over time.
Sumac 3 Colors desaturate to a more neutral olive-brown.
Pistachio 3 Colors desaturate to a more neutral olive-brown.
BLUE
Blue Mahoe 3 This wood is not blue, it’s a cool gray at best. Dyes give a true blue.
PURPLE
Purpleheart 2 Gives a good run for a while, but inevitably turns brown/black.
Bois de Rose 1 This wood is the worst. Expensive, endangered, and turns really black.
Katalox 3 Already nearly black, it is more suited for black than purple.
Kingwood 3 Starts a reddish purple, shifts toward brown/black. Maintains contrasts.
PINK
Pink Ivory 1 Turns brown fast, but doesn’t darken.
Tasmanian Myrtle 3 Initial color isn’t the best, but only slight shift toward brown.
Box Elder 2 Much of the color fades to brown.
BLACK
African Ebony 5 Starts black, stays black.
Wenge 3 Starts very dark, can actually lighten over time.
Panga Panga 3 Starts very dark, can actually lighten over time.
African Blackwood 5 Starts black, stays black.

See also:


  • Carl Hill

    Thanks for the article on gluing exotic hardwoods. It was precisely what I needed for a turned urn project where the customer brought me the woods he wanted to be used. I have no option but to glue Cedar to Goncalo Alves. This will help immensely.

    Carl

  • Tom Tsouris

    Hi…Great article on preventing color changes in those brightly
    colored woods..especially the reds, purples and oranges.
    I’m not sure who added this section about pink Ivory below:

    Please note: an exception to this appears to be Pink Ivory, which seems to thrive in conditions of exposure to light and air.

    I would love some elaboration on this as it is the 1st time I’ve
    heard it and it’s very difficult to get any good information about
    finishing Pink Ivory. I have some Incredibly figured and colored
    pieces and I’m afraid to take them out of the box LOL. Thanks Tom

  • Simon

    Hi,
    Great article. I have created a Purpleheart woodturned pen. One of the troubles with Purpleheart is that you WANT it to get that ageing look to it, turning it a deep purple. I didn’t notice your article before turning the pen and finishing it with several coats of thin Cyanoacrylate.

    Will Cyanoacrylate inhibit the natural shift to the purple colour? If so, I would be inclined to sand it off and allow the wood to age naturally, then coat it. Thanks in advance for your reply. Simon.

  • Simon,
    That’s a great question. From what I’ve read online, the *good* color change in Purpleheart is just about unavoidable, and will shift regardless of the finish applied or exposure to light.
    (For once something goes right in wood color shifting…)

  • Simon

    Thanks Eric. Great news. I’ll leave it out exposed for a week or so and see what happens.

  • Jay Spencer

    Hi

    Im having trouble with spar urythane drying completely on granadilla and padauk. It just stays tacky. I coated some acacia with the same spar at the same time and it dried nicely. Does it take longer to dry on the other woods? Will it ever dry completely?

    Thanks!

    • sawood

      Hi Jay, sometimes if the wood you are trying to urythane may have a lot of oil in it this will cause coatings to take a long time to dry if it drys at all I would suggest that you check info on the wood, possibly on line some wood can’t take coatings

      hope this helps

    • ejmeier

      Jay, I just finished a long overdue article on finishing exotic woods. This should answer your question: http://www.wood-database.com/wood-articles/finishing-exotic-tropical-hardwoods/

  • Jay,
    I’ve had the very same trouble that you describe. In my experience, it will never dry. In my case, I had to strip off the tacky finish and try again. I surmise that the oil(s) in the wood interfere with the curing process of the finish, and prevent it from setting up properly.
    What I’ve found that works is if you seal it in several coats of shellac first (you can also buy Zinsser’s Seal Coat if you don’t like/want to mix your own shellac), and then apply the poly or spar urethane over top. I found that one or even two thin coats didn’t fully solve the issue, and three medium coats seemed to be enough to prevent the gumminess.

  • Jay Spencer

    hey thanks for the answer. I stripped the granadilla and rubbed it with tung oil. It seamed to cure better, so I rubbed in three seperate coats. I did a very gentle sanding with 1000g and then rubbed in a beeswax wood conditioner. I couldnt be happier with the results! so I tung oiled the Padauk and it cured very nicely, so I sprayed a coat of spar over that and it seems to have cured completely! Maybe the tung oil seals in the oils and doesnt allow it to react to subsequent coats of varnish?

  • curly pio

    I was hoping Simon would report back on his experience with CA stopping color change on the Purpleheart…

    Eric, the Wood-Database is very helpful and informative online asset.
    thank you for all of your work providing such a valuable resource.

  • Simon

    Hi curly and others. Sorry I forgot to respond. It worked great worth Purpleheart. Even with the CA finish on the pen, after a few days in the sun it turned from brown to a brilliant purple. Great trick

    • Garry Freemyer

      You said “It” works great with Purpleheart. What is “It” you are referring to? Thanks.

  • mikmckn

    African Sumac pulls an interesting trick. The wood has a very light creamy colored sapwood and some reddish tint to the heartwood when you first cut it. But, leave it out in the sun and it all turns a really pretty ruddy red color and seems to retain that color very well. I’ve made a couple small knife handles out of it and used a very basic oil rub on it. Takes stain well enough on a test piece but give it a sun tan and a clear finish over the top. Fairly soft if I had to venture a guess.

  • Jim Coogan

    With purpleheart I found that if you sprayed “Son of a Gun” or something like it on the wood that it protects it from UV related issues. Son of a Gun is the stuff you spray on the inside of your car to protect it against damage/color change from the sun. I got this tip from an older woodworker that has been doing this for years. You can also use head to change the color of purpleheart to what you want and then seal it. I would give it a try. I think it would even work with other woods.

    • Garry Freemyer

      You said you can use “Head” to change the color of purpleheart. What is Head?

      • Dave

        I think he meant ‘heat’. Probably cell-phone auto-correct!

        • Dominick Curto

          Try baking at 300 degrees for 30 minutes. Use foil to catch resin drips. Also, makes a stink. Heat sets the color.

        • james

          Yes, heat sets the colour, making it darker, deeper, and permanent (I think we all discover this by accident, when cutting routing p’heart with dull cutters, lol!)

  • DANGALLAGHER81

    Will Wood stabilizer preserve coloration, such as with boxelder. I really need to permanently preserve that red and yellow. Must I encase it in resin?

    • Brian Mcdonald

      That post on using Son of a gun dashboard spray? I’m in a wood turning club and a guy gave a wood turning demo and said to use Armorall dashboard spray, must be the(original) then use a coat of shealac and then any thing you want on top of the shealac, he said this will keep the color.

      • DANGALLAGHER81

        Great! TY. One more question: Will a decades-dead boxelder tree keep its red spalting on the yellow pulp due to no sun penetrating the tree? I ask this to determine whether to fell some that I have identified, and I do not want to take on useless work to fell a tree that, being dead decades, is likely to have grayed out pulp. Thanks!

        • james

          The red spalting in Boxelder can only be maintained in the dark; no matter what finish, if it gets any light (natural or artificial) it doesn’t “fade into brown” (as stated), it DISAPPEARS, literally. In this case, one way to use it, while showcasing/preserving it’s colour, is to use it on the internal parts of finished items, such as boxes, humidors, etc. (ditto for any wood [eg. Padauk] where you want the colour to remain…)

        • DANGALLAGHER81

          Now THAT makes me sad! So the Armor All dashboard trick is bogus or brief in its effect? Is the only method that helps keep the red (other than keeping it in the dark) the technique of meticulously painting the red with some sort of dye or red stain so that the natural fades but the artificial remains?

        • james

          Re the “Armorall” technique, I have heard of this, but have never tried it, so I can’t say (must try it, sometime!)…re painting/dyeing, I think that, to avoid a garish/artificial appearance, painting/dyeing could be used in an obvious way, or the piece can be left “natural”, and left at the mercy of time (and the SUN!), but to try to mimic the red spalting w/dyes would be very difficult to achieve a natural look…in this connection, bear in mind that there is always a contrast between natural colours and artificial (years ago, for a craft sale, I covered my table with a green plastic tablecloth, and all my p’heart, bloodwood etc. creations turned into visual mud!)..this contrast can be used to advantage, it just depends what one is trying to achieve (I’m thinking for example of the woodturners who paint their turnings when they are done…)…I’m more of a “purist”, I like to work with the natural colours as best I can…I “stretch” that aspect, by using heat (like on p’heart, which deepens/darkens the colour and sets it so it won’t fade) and natural alterations, like fungi, spalting…re the boxelder, I think it is sunlight that is the main culprit here…items made with the red, and kept, say in a room/area with no windows..but again, as Erik rightly says, you are “putting off the inevitable”…I have found re boxelder, that the orange colourations seem to be more “coulour-fast” than the red….last comment re the red boxelder, depending on the context of the piece, a light re-sanding does bring back the colour, temporarily, of course….cold comfort, but what do you do, while we wait for that ultimate finish that DOES truly block UV?

        • DANGALLAGHER81

          I found that Armor All’s new non-oily product, Outlast Protectant, does not hamper adhering of poly atop the treated wood when one full smearing & wiped-off layer is applied & allowed to dry at least 1 hour. Beyond this finding:

          I believe that a frank note, attached to the piece you are gifting or selling, about how wood coloration fades is a best practice that will actually set your company or activity apart from the competition. As to further helping marketing, the following appears to me in my research and experimentation:

          Best practice is to compare the problem explicitly to silver tarnishing & eventual reduction of available silver. Mention that no sealed-in or surface UV protectants, not even polyurethane, have been either approved or disapproved by the FDA as suitable for food vessels but that solid resins are known to leach their components if microwaved or heated. As to cracking and stability enhancing chemicals, state the same except that CA glue is approved by the FDA for food contact (such as in cutting boards). As to color: State for the consumer the method of color preservation used (and shielding by the consumer after purchase). That is, state the color preservation technique, of which only these are proved to work:

          1. Color reinforcement with a painted-on dye (and then only UV-resistant dyes),
          2. Armor All (there may be other chemicals that work as well) was used to delay color bleaching,

          3. that more than one layer of poly also reduces discoloration, and

          4. that the only perfect preservation technique is to keep the piece in a closed box until use / displaying for friends.

          A related issue for marketing materials, if you create these, is estimating color-fast duration, and this is not well known with these techniques because exposure to UV varies by room, thickness of finishes, lack of formal studies, etc.. But one could inform the consumer of general estimates found on the internet among woodworker/carver blogs: For example, I found from numerous sources that Box Elder is said to hold its color better than most species, losing it in an indirect sunlight environment of a typical dining room over a period of 5-10 years. I read various opinions * articles asserting that this duration can be extended to perhaps as long as a lifetime with Armor All application topped with poly. These can be used with or without wood stabilizer in the wood. Color duration can be extended perhaps into an heir’s lifetime or several generations using the technique of totally shielding the piece in a box or under a thick cloth when not on display, depending upon amount of UV exposure during displays.

  • Roman

    Thanks for the info especially since I use the natural color of wood for a lot of the work I do. I will have to disagree somewhat regarding blue mahoe being cool grey and not blue. I’ve used it quite a bit and find that while it’s definitely not BLUE!!, it is still distinctly blue compared to anything else. I’ve attached some pics where I’ve used it (all the color you see in all woods is natural). I’ve found the best way to bring out the blue color is to orient the grain horizontally and light it from overhead; this maximizes its blueness. Vertical grain orientation or direct lighting pushes it towards looking brown.

    Another consideration with blue mahoe is when you purchase it – it can vary in color from cream to blue to brown and you have to be careful what you buy, especially if buying from an online vendor. You need to be very specific in telling them you want a piece that is blue and not brown or cream or whatever. Ask them to send you a picture of the exact piece you’re buying.

    Roman

    • james

      Years ago, I worked at a wood store, where we offered planing service…guy walks in, asks me to plane a board…I do so, it comes out the other end, in various shades of steel blue, green, brown and gray (at this point my knees are shaking!)…I ask the man what it was? “Oh, it’s called ‘Mahoe’, it grows all over, back in Jamaica where I’m from, we use it for furniture, fences….” that board was a “microcosm” of what is available in the wood from that species….the colours will fade, though, and go brownish….another option for those same shades, is the “mineral staining” in Yellow Poplar (Liriodendron tulipfera), which can be black, steel blue, green, turqouise, and cool shades of pink/purple/gray…finishing can be tricky…sometimes entire heartwood sections are green, but the green turns to the color of a rotten apple, with exposure….however, I have found that with UV inhibiting finishes, and kept out of direct sunlight, the green can last several years, with a very slow, prolonged, “fade-oiut”

      • Adi

        What kind of UV inhibiting finishes would you suggest I use? I am building several furnitures for my house using poplar. I loved the beautiful greens and purples it has and that is why I chose this wood, but now I learned that these colors are going to turn brown and I’m disappointed. I would like to keep the wood light and natural, almost white (maybe even do a water-based white wash). What kind of clear coating should I use that will not turn yellowish and will keep the green color as long as possible?

        • james

          I used to use a product called Behr Tung oil, which had uvi inhibitors; what I found is that the colour change in the Y. poplar was pretty proportionate to the degree of uv exposure; i.e., articles/furniture ending up in a basement with no or very little sunlight, will retain the colours almost indefinitely, if finished with a finish w/uvi…if it’s, say, upstairs in blazing sunshine, there’s really not a lot (at this point in time) that can be done…Re finishes in general, remember that differing finish option/formulations often have differing results/effects on wood colour/appearance. Examples, water-based finishes tend to look slightly anemic/bright on whiter woods like maple, oil-type finishes tend to cause a “murky” look on some species, while fast-drying “nitro” type finishes ten to preserve colour and “flash”…. So, what I suggest: make some small samples (anything with up to 4” of area is fine) of y. poplar with the different colours you like, and then finish them with a few different finishes (make sure they all feature uvi), and then “test” them in your home environment, by just leaving them exposed, and see what they do…ideally, the longer they can be tested/observed, the better idea you will have of how they will look in finished furniture…not sure what your timeline is, but I would think a minimum of 6 months observation of the samples would give a good estimation of how well the colours would “hold up” over time….

    • KEVIN BUTLER

      Hi Roman…I just noticed your pictures… …athough I have read the above article a few times previous.
      Those are some nice plaques you have done there… Are you involved with Olympic Rowing in some way? My father was on the 1948 – 8 man team that beat out the British on their own river & took the gold! I have been fairly interested in the sport from a young age as a result. Afraid I seem to be in a minority in that.

  • Michele

    My father and I made a Hat Box (military Chief thing) out of purple heart, paduk and ash with a few slivers of zebra wood. Boy was she GORGEOUS. For about a year. Now four years later the box is brown on brown with pretty ash and zebra wood being the only elements that endured. I should have saved a ton of money, bought regular hard wood and stained it the pretty colors.

  • brown wood

    Old yew lutes from the 17th century have turned from pink to a warm golden brown: it takes a certain time but exposure to direct sunlight will quicken the process in only a couple of years.
    Black locust turns from a light golden color to a deep chocolate brown not only when exposed to UV but even when slightly heated (sun, iron, steam etc). Rotary cut black locust is only sold in deep brown , since the logs are steamed .

  • AC

    I have a question about a couple of different species:
    What of the color-fast rating of “European Hornbeam” and “Steamed Swiss Pear”?
    Also, does the Madagascar Violet Rosewood (“Bois de Rose”) retain a degree of purple glow even when it’s at the point of “really black”?
    I’m new to wood, and so I have little experience in any of this.
    Thanks,
    AC

  • AC

    I have a question about a couple of different species:
    What of the Color-fasting of “European Hornbeam” and “Steamed Swiss Pear”?
    Also, does the Madagascar Violet Rosewood (“Bois de Rose”) retain a degree of purple glow even when it’s at its stage of “really black”?
    I’m new to wood, so I have little experience myself.
    Thanks greatly,
    AC

  • Nissa Armstrong

    I am curious if beeswax might help keep the purple in the purpleheart wood? I like to make lucets and in Medieval times they would use melted beeswax to treat their wood objects, drinking vessels, bowls, etc. I have used beeswax before and had good results, though it takes some use before the wax feels good to the touch. It does give wood a nice waterproof and slightly shiny sheen with use. It does go a shade or two darker in the process though. So I am curious what you think? Thanks.

    Nissa

  • evelyn bagnasco

    Most of your mistakes come from not treating the woods with the appropriate solution of acid/basic solutions. You have to experiment with a lot of substances to find out. Bus as an example purple hart turns hot pink when washed with muriatic acid. Take notes of times and percentages in distilled water, then age the test pieces in thew sun, with and without different varnishes. The PH of the wood ( and therefore its colors) may change just because you have not tested the substances you put on them. Even your sweat can interfere. There are antique pieces that still retain the colours, why ? because old times knew what I am telling you now. Also natural shellac always takes the best out of marquetry pieces. So now you know, the trick is in the PH .

  • DANGALLAGHER81

    I found that Armor All’s new non-oily product, Outlast Protectant, does not hamper adhering of poly atop the treated wood when one full smearing & wiped-off layer is applied & allowed to dry at least 1 hour. Beyond this finding:

    I believe that a frank note, attached to the piece you are gifting or selling, about how wood coloration fades is a best practice that will actually set your company or activity apart from the competition. As to further helping marketing, the following appears to me in my research and experimentation:

    Best practice is to compare the problem explicitly to silver tarnishing & eventual reduction of available silver. Mention that no sealed-in or surface UV protectants, not even polyurethane, have been either approved or disapproved by the FDA as suitable for food vessels but that solid resins are known to leach their components if microwaved or heated. As to cracking and stability enhancing chemicals, state the same except that CA glue is approved by the FDA for food contact (such as in cutting boards). As to color: State for the consumer the method of color preservation used (and shielding by the consumer after purchase). That is, state the color preservation technique, of which only these are proved to work:

    1. Color reinforcement with a painted-on dye (and then only UV-resistant dyes),
    2. Armor All (there may be other chemicals that work as well) was used to delay color bleaching,
    3. that more than one layer of poly also reduces discoloration, and
    4. that the only perfect preservation technique is to keep the piece in a closed box until use / displaying for friends.
    5. In the case of figured/colored-wood cutting boards and food trays: No UV protectants should be used at all but sanding periodically followed by oiling will restore color and fine finish (and this is why one should consider thick boards rather than department store offerings).

    A related issue for marketing materials, if you create these, is estimating color-fast duration. Duration of color preservation is not well known for these techniques because exposure to UV varies by species of wood, species of fungus infection, sun exposure in particular rooms, thickness of finishes, lack of formal studies, etc.. But one could inform the consumer of general estimates found on the internet among woodworker/carver blogs:

    I found from numerous sources that Box Elder, for example, is said to hold its color better than most species. It loses color in an indirect sunlight environment of a typical dining room over a period of 5-10 years; a multi-window living room in half that time. I read various opinions: Articles asserting that any species’ color duration can be extended to perhaps as long as twenty years to a lifetime with Armor All application topped with poly.

    Products like Armor All, especially the non-oily product Outlast can be used with or without wood stabilizer in the wood. Color duration can be extended perhaps into an heir’s lifetime or several generations using the technique of totally shielding the piece in a box or under a thick cloth when not on display, depending upon amount of UV exposure during displays.

    • james

      As stated, I can’t speak re the “Armor-all” treatment, but re Boxelder, my experience with it has been that the browns/orange/burnt orange colors (which are quite nice, especially in the burl) can last quite some time, but the deep red/pinks fade very quickly, in UV…as stated, not just “fading to brown”, but actually disappearing, like they were never there….years ago, made a fridge magnet from nicely red-spalted Box-elder; about a year later, I visit my bro’s place (I had given it to my sis-in law as a gift), and lo and behold, NO colour; I thought, ‘I’m sure that sucker was RED!”..I smuggled it back home, sanded/refinished it, and RED it was again (for awhile, anyway…)…although there is dispute re the origin of the red spalting, it seems very clear that whatever causes it (Fusarium infection vs. internal healing), it seems to be different than what causes the other colors…I have also noticed, that (in contrast from the other colors) when the deep reds appear in non-burled sections (branches/trunks), the deepest reds are quite often accompanied by splitting along the red lines (this is not usually so, in the burl)…

      • DANGALLAGHER81

        Thanks, James, though I am saddened to learn the reality about box elder in particular. I do suspect, though, that the various articles and blog items to which I referred around the net are accurate. If so, and I also have some of my own experience (more in a moment), I stand by the numbered techniques I offered earlier. I especially emphasize telling the consumer that their “special” pieces you sell or gift be kept out of sunlight even though you took treating steps, such as starting with Armor All. Consider this: You might even use this “sad news” disclosure to sell a container box or cabinet as a supplemental sale; owner takes piece out to display then later replaces into total darkness. It’s certainly ethical to disclose the problem prior to sale anyway, and that sets you apart from most vendors.

        Recent experience: One year ago, I made a flaming red/yellow boxelder dragon-head bookend for my niece (more red than most segments view at CarolinaCustomMade.com/products.html . Somebody tell me how to post a before/after picture here please). I told her and her mom about the discoloration problem. I used four layers of poly, each a tad thicker than one might normally use. It has been in the corner of their living room for one year, receiving indirect sunlight from three roughly 5’x5′ windows (not UV enhanced). I noticed recently that the red had bleached to about 80% of original intensity and the yellow had dulled similarly. At this rate, it will fully blanch in four to five years, which is the estimate I told them a year ago. So, perhaps with some pieces the red that the tree secretes (U of Minnsoooota study found that this red is a secretion of the tree in response to the infection, not a secretion of the fungus). For all you Minnesota fans wondering whether this study was authoritative: “Well, yer darn’ tootin and ‘hey, soooweather’s gettin’ kinda cold, eh? Have some mooore coffee, then.”. Anyway, back to wood: I will soon experiment with the new Armor All product to determine whether more than one soak-in / wiped dry application will still allow poly to adhere reliably. Glad also to share or learn of experiments from y’all (what’s the plural of “y’all”? “all y’all!” of course).

        • james

          My jury is “still out” re the fusarium vs. secretion debate…sometimes the botanists (for whatever reasons) leave out the reality that it is notoriously difficult to make iron-clad declarations re the interior machinations of trees, due to the (current) impossibility of actually getting into the tree to determine what’s going on…I compare this to the plethora of misinformation re figured woods, burls, etc. (eg. “burls are diseases”, “birds-eye maple comes from birds pecking at the tree”, etc.) trees still hold some deep mysteries, which they are not yet ready to reveal…checked out your pics, nice work! I would be interested to see just how long that horse will keep its reds, for sure…another one is what I call the “pink ivory” of the flowering crabapple trees…several varieties of these trees produce wood (in sapwood only, twigs-branches to maybe, 3″ diameter) that, when freshly cut, are the most purple-pink you’ve ever seen! Then, as the wood dries, 90% of it goes away with the water…had such a tree in a rental home years ago, Arborists pruned it in winter, I gathered these branches, waxed them, all excited, then watched them fade to pretty much nothing, as they dried out over a year or so, lol!

        • DANGALLAGHER81

          Well, the LOL is on me, as what you thought was a horse head was actually a dragon head (waterhorse, perhaps)! Best to you, James!

        • james

          Oops, I’m getting old…I was so focused on the wood, I didn’t notice what the piece was!! Years ago (at the wood store I worked at) a customer made a really nice pair of horse-head bookends, out of butternut….I think I had that image in my mind, when I was looking at your…ahem..dragon, lol

  • james

    Another consideration in the whole “color” debate/discussion involves working with the “color-wheel” (and the principles it reveals) in selecting woods for various projects..example: years ago, I made a coaster set/base out of Zebrawood (the African Macroberlinia sp.); I wanted a complimentary wood for the legs/coaster holder pegs, but to my initial chagrin, none of my dozens of wood samples would “work” with the Zebra, due to the contrast of dark/light in the zebra…everything I tried clashed with either the light or the dark…finally, I found it: Pear worked; its softer, pastel orange/red hue worked perfectly with the zebra, adding some color, without dominating or clashing with the Zebra. Lesson, is to keep a lot of finished samples of various woods on hand, then you can compare them, one with another, to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t….some colored/non-colored woods will “pop” the color(s) in other woods, just due to the nature of colors in general….(note that Pear and Zebra are also fairly “color-fast”)….another note: Finish choice: In the project just referred to, I used a tung oil, which I like on the Zebra, to “soften” the contrast; if you want to preserve the stark contrast, a fast-drying film finish does the trick (years ago at a millwork where I worked, we made an all-Zebra “race-track” boardroom table, solid edged, w/veneered middle, sprayed w/catalyzed lacquer…wow…years later, my eyes are still sore, lol!)

  • james

    A few hints, re black wood: 1. Yellow Poplar (Liriodendron tulipfera) can have jet-black “mineral streaks” that present a nice black coloration (oil finish brings out nice)…the streaks are not very big usually, but for small projects/accents…and can often be found in pallets, crates, etc. 2. “Ebonized” walnut (Juglans sp.): Iron, dissolved in white vinegar (eg. steelwool, completely dissolved in a jar with vinegar) then applied to walnut turns the walnut jet black (this is kind of a “half-way”, quasi-natural solution, between a naturally black wood [i.e. ebony], and dyeing a whiter wood [holly, poplar]). 3. African Wenge (Milettia laurentii), ON THE FLAT-CUT orientation, will oil up jet-black; on the quarter, you will have the alt. black/dark brown contrast, but on the flat surface, something changes, and oiling it (I used Tung oil) turns the whole surface black…

  • james

    Here’s a (possibly) silly one, I throw out to all of you (Eric, too!)…re “white” woods, the whitest I have ever seen (don’t laught!) is a Chinese wood (I don’t know which!) that, over the last decade or so, has been showing up at “home-ware” and/or “dollar stores”, in the form of kitchen utensils, particularly spoons, usually in “5-packs” or such…it is a softer wood, fairly smooth, and can run from a cream/off-white, to an almost snow-white that rivals holly! On a more serious note, “Blue Beech” (aka “musclewood”, Carpinus caroliniana) has a very chalk-white sap-wood; the tree is small, and sapwood comprises the majority of the stem, until very old; the wood does have a more prominent grain-structure, though, w/visible rays…)…also certain sapwoods, like in Schubert Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana “schubert”) are very white; winter-harvested is (as usual) best; film, or water-based finish presents whiter finish; does have a “growth-ring” figure; slight, but it is there…)

  • Ben B

    Hi, I just want to comment on a few replacements forforperson some of those evil red looking woods, like redheart and cocobolo. I would suggest using either red cedar heartwood, which, when finished, looks anywhere from a deep red, to a lighter purple-red. I also would suggest the red cedar heartwood for a replacement with some purple woods, too. The other wood that I would suggest is plum. Plum can have beautiful red streaks in it, however, not always, but is one of my personal favorites to work with. The only issue with plum is that it is VERY hard to find commercially, and isn’t found in large thicknesses. Just a closing point, if you want to go cheaper, go with cedar, but make sure to see it in person (all cedar is different shades of red and purple) but if you want to have an artpiece of its own, go with the much more rare and expensive plum.

  • andy

    The appeal of cocobolo is in its beautiful grain, not bright colors. If this fades, it would be a huge waste, and no dye will be of any use. Do you suppose a UV blocking deck oil followed by UV blocking epoxy finish would keep cocobolo looking good?

  • Will Stewart

    As a scientist/engineer I can confidently say that no polymer, wax or organic coating (that is any normal clear coating) will block oxygen or moisture on a timescale of months or years. This is why buried cables have metallic layers (which can) to stop them filling with water. Clear moisture-and-gas-blocking alternatives include silica glasses and diamond but these are hardly practical.

    But I think that all preventable (that is surface) darkening effects are actually about blocking light, especially uv, and coatings can block this. I do not especially see why tougher-seeming coatings like acrylic might be more effective, except that they are thicker. It would be interesting to know whether the clear inorganic nanoparticles in modern sunscreens (often titania), which should be stable and permanent, could be incorporated into wood coatings.

    • andy

      Aren’t you a bit pessimistic? As a fellow engineer and material science enthusiast, I’d say that your analogy to buried cables is a bit ridiculous.
      Epoxy is completely waterproof and some varieties are UV resistant/blocking. They are very commonly used in marine applicaitons including wood boats.
      Plenty of stains already contain UV blocking oxides that you mentioned.

      • Will Stewart

        No not at all! Being ‘waterproof’ for a boat just means not leaking. Waterproof for a wood coating just means that the short-term diffusion is small – if they were immersed the water would in time diffuse through, as would Oxygen. They normally look dry because they normally spend most time in the dry, but all wooden items, even if polymer/wax coated, will adjust to the average local humidity over time. Thus changes in colour over months or years that can be stopped with coatings must in fact be light-, not oxygen-induced. And yes, there are UV-blocking coatings, the question is do they degrade and stop blocking. Inorganic coatings probably do not, most others are likely to.

        • ejmeier

          I remember watching a video by Matthias Wandel where he briefly mentions that plastic isn’t nearly as effective as metal in moisture exclusion, and gave the example of the insides of potato chip bags, granola bars, etc. — the plastic bags are almost always lined with a metal/foil to help preserve freshness.
          https://youtu.be/KCcKmVJ2hKo?t=5m50s

        • Will Stewart

          You are exactly right – even a thin metal layer can block gas and water diffusion, hence indeed metallised crisp packets and Helium balloons (I remember the very short usage lives of He-filled rubber balloons). Clear diffusion-blocking layers exist (think silica, nitrides & diamond-like carbon for example) but are not easy for wood, and would probably crack with wood movements anyway. Note that water is actually a very small molecule that diffuses fairly easily – water is only a liquid at room temperature because when in liquid form it forms larger molecular groups.

      • Hew Hamilton

        Epoxy isn’t as waterproof as you may think. The barrier coats they put on fiberglass boats, to keep water molecules from penetrating the gelcoat and forming blisters, have to be applied in several (4-5) coats. The recommended thickness is up to 10 mil. And this is on a one-piece fiberglass hull.

    • james

      The term “oxidation” is/has become a general term to refer to the “colour-fastness” (or lack thereof) in wood, both natural and finished. Though most woods change colour due to UV rays, some (such as Lignum Vitae) change due to contact with oxygen. As far as UVI permanence goes, the sun is still in our day, a pretty formidable opponent, and (to my present understanding/experience) man hasn’t quite developed anything that will truly block those oxidizing rays, completely and permanently; therefore, the basic options are: 1) stain other woods with pigments (natural and/or artificial), 2) utilize coloured woods ephemerally, knowing they are going to change (some, like Bois de Rose, almost literally “before your eyes!”), or 3 utilize the coloured woods in a way that the colours will endure. Examples of “3” include pool cues, which usually retain their natural colours almost indefinitely, because they almost never see any UV exposure (i.e. they are finished with heavy coats of UVI finish, are usually “pricey” enough to come with a case, and are utilized in pool establishments/environments which almost never feature “natural” sunlight)…another example is to use “colour-fickle” woods as interior components/linings on such things as humidors/boxes, where again, no “sunlight, no fade”…

      • ?214

        Guitar factory worker, here. I can confirm that most issues are due to exposure to light. Very easy to see in the sometimes poorly stacked first pair of top/back/side panels on a pile. In a matter of weeks, everything from rosewoods to mahogany & cousins to cherry to maple will show where the light was hitting. Mind you. this is inside with limited natural light (probably with UV blocking dopants), so in the sun it might take just an hour or so.

        The whiter softwoods are not very affected.

  • Frank Smiley

    TransTint dye is not for exterior, what do you recommend to use for exterior?

  • Bill

    Ph.D. Chemist here, look into the various additives used in Museum restoration waxes and coatings, typically in two general catagories:
    UV absorbers: hydroxybenzophenone or hydroxyphenylbenzotriazole
    HALS: hindered amine light stabilizers, which trap the breakdown products (free radicals, reactive oxygen) from UV exposure.

    BASF’s Tinuvin® is a family of products which could be very useful additions to many wood finishes.

  • Ryan Moore

    I never finish my pens or other wood projects with cyanoacrylate as I don’t want a plastic pen. I want a wooden one. I want to feel the texture and see it age and develop a patina over time and use. I see this issue as related. Yes, my purpleheart pen will fade to a dark aubergine over time. It won’t last forever. All the more reason to treasure it now. Like a beautiful woman in her eighties, the beauty may have faded somewhat on the outside but deep within she’s still gorgeous, even if much of the “beauty” exists in memory. If you want something to stay red or purple or yellow or whatever colour forever, use acrylic or plastic. Otherwise embrace the natural decline as being the exact aspect that gives this material its true beauty.