Despite the fact that we live in an engineered world, you must remember that wood is natural. This means that there are color variations within the same species of lumber. Every piece of lumber is unique and therefore “color matching” is a cloudy subject.
Although wood that comes from the same species will have consistent characteristics, colors and grains can still differ meaning that exactly matching wood is not possible.
Grain Is A Major Contributor To Color Matching
Within a single tree, the grain is different from top to bottom. Also, as the grain weaves around knots and other imperfections it will change.
Variation in growth periods (slower or faster) also impact grain patterns.
Sun, Wind, Rain, and Snow Effects Color Matching
The elements are harsh and wreak havoc on lumber. No matter what precautions you take there will be color changes over time.
This is also true with freshly milled lumber as the newly cut surfaces become exposed to the air and any moisture that has been stored is released. This will slow down over time. You can lay freshly milled boards out in the sun for a few days to bring about some color harmony.
Color Matching is Effected by Geographic Location
Even trees of the same species will have color and grain variations depending on where they grew. With differences in climate things like temperature, exposure to sun, and moisture saturation will impact on tones, hues, and grains.
Travel Conditions Also Effect Color Matching
The travel conditions of lumber after it has been harvested can also influence color. Depending on how well the wood is protected it can fall victim to harsh temperatures and/or wind and rain that it was not previously exposed to.
If lumber is shipped in a metal crate, it can be subject to extremely high temperatures. And if left unwrapped it can collect dirt and other debris that is essentially “baked” on to it.
Color Matching Is Not A Lost Cause
Despite the uncontrollable conditions, trying to color match lumber is not an entirely lost cause. The first step is to purchase wood from a reputable distributor that has full knowledge of where their lumber is coming from. This should initially weed out any regional color variations if they consistently purchase from the same mills.
Don’t be fooled into believing that higher grades will have less color variations. Lumber yards may use this to try to get you to purchase higher priced lumber. Grade has nothing to do with color.
Keep in mind that often times simply turning a board over may reveal a color match to subsequent boards. Color can be very different on the opposite side of a board.
Color Matching and The 20% Rule
This is a good rule of thumb when purchasing material for any project that requires high volume.
“Always buy 20% more than you think you need”
This percentage can increase for projects that are much larger than normal. This allows for you to set aside boards that don’t match the current area of the project that you are working on. It doesn’t mean that these boards won’t be used at all, just at a later time.
When Color Matching, Remember that Wood Is Organic
In the end wood is a natural product and part of its allure is the unique characteristics that come with it. Color and grain variations can add dimension and individuality to your project. So, don’t fret the differences and embrace them.