One of the things that makes wood so desirable is the fact that it’s an organic product. Each board is completely unique: There is no other board quite like it, in all the world. The beauty of being a natural resource comes with a backlash, though: It can be difficult to color-match boards for a uniform appearance. In today’s world of plastics and the PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM®, sometimes we need to be reminded of all the intricacies of nature’s finest building product.
Basics of Color Variations
Anyone who works with lumber often enough can easily tell the species of a board by looking at it. At the same time, a stack of boards from the same species will demonstrate vast differences in color, grain, and character, and sometimes a board has such unusual coloring that it defies typical characteristics of the species. (For instance, Walnut and Ipe can sometimes appear green.) Many factors affect the color of wood. A few of the main ones include these:
• The location and climate in which the tree grew
• When the tree was felled
• How the boards were sawn and dried
• When or if the lumber has been milled
• How the lumber was stored (and for how long)
Because so many things can affect the color of lumber, what’s really amazing is that color-matching is possible at all, to any degree.
When someone who realizes the intricacies of lumber selection views a project comprised of defect-free, apparently matching boards, he or she can appreciate all the work that went in to finding and processing the wood to get it to that point. However, when most people see such an end result, they assume that it’s typical and easy to achieve.
The Role Grain Plays
Perhaps the biggest factor in color variation within a species is grain. Even boards all milled from the same tree can display distinctly different colors based on where the board came from in the tree and how the board was cut. The reason grain affects the color so greatly is due to density. Different cross-sections of the same log will vary in density, causing it to reflect light differently and reflecting differences in color. While we might wish all trees had perfectly straight grain with parallel fibers, then wood would be much more like plastic, and that’s really not what we want! As grain flows around knots and shifts to stabilize the tree, the density will cause color variation even within a board.
Various growth periods will cause the rings to spread further apart, depending on how fast or slow the growth was during a particular year, based on the temperatures that year. In addition, figured grain exposes end grain on the face, which causes some amazing curly and quilted effects. In such cases, even the angle at which you look at the board can affect how it looks.
In Part 2, we’ll look at how weather, climate, travel, and sawing impact color variations.
J. Gibson McIlvain Company
Since 1798, when Hugh McIlvain established a lumber business near Philadelphia, the McIlvain family has been immersed in the premium import and domestic lumber industry. With its headquarters located just outside of Baltimore, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company (www.mcilvain.com) is one of the largest U.S. importers of exotic woods.
As an active supporter of sustainable lumber practices, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company has provided fine lumber for notable projects throughout the world, including the White House, Capitol building, Supreme Court, and the Smithsonian museums.
Contact a representative at J. Gibson McIlvain today by calling (800) 638-9100.
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