Veneer Patch Match

You can color wood with either liquid or powdered dyes. Mix powdered dyes according to package instructions.

Dye for a Good Color Match?

No matter how precisely you patch veneer or fix other furniture flaws, the repaired area will remain glaringly obvious unless you closely match its color and finish to the original. Here s how to blend new with old.

The first choice to make is which colorants to use. Many furniture restorers prefer dyes rather than pigmented stains. Here s why:

  • Dye colors are transparent, so they don t mask or muddy the wood s grain or figure.
  • Dye imparts a uniform color to wood. Pigmented stain can collect in pores and scratches, giving a blotchy look or increasing grain contrast.
  • Adjusting colors is easier with transparent dyes. You can dye wood that s already been dyed with a different color to achieve a special look or blend of the colors.

You won t need a lot of dye colors to start with. You can match most common wood colors successfully with just five dye hues—brown, black, red, green, and yellow. (We used inexpensive water-based all-purpose dyes from a discount store, shown in the photo above. More-expensive aniline woodworking dyes do a great job, and are available in many wood colors.)

Consider How Color Works

Matching the color of an old furniture finish isn t a precise process—it strays way over into trial-and-error territory. A little knowledge of color theory can go a long way in helping you achieve a convincing match, though, so let s take a look at the color wheel (below).

color wheel.jpg

The wheel s largest circles show the primary colors (or hues): red, yellow, and blue. Between them lie the secondary colors: orange, green, and violet. These are made by mixing the adjoining primaries in equal amounts (assuming equal color intensities). Beyond these hues, you can create countless intermediary colors by mixing primaries in unequal amounts. (The six innermost circles on our wheel show some of these.)

Want more colors? You can mix two secondary colors to obtain a tertiary color. (Olive, combining orange and green, is an example.)

Colors directly across the wheel from each other, such as red and green, are complementary colors. You can reduce any color s strength or intensity (its chroma) by adding some of its complement to it. When combined in equal parts (and, again, assuming equal color intensities), a color and its complement yield neutral, a grayish dark brown.

Color value the measurement of lightness or darkness spans a white-to-black scale. You can add white (the highest value) to any color to create a lighter tint of that color. (Adding extra solvent to the dye solution gives a similar effect.) Or, you can add black (the lowest value) to make a darker shade of the color. Brown, for instance, is a shade of orange—orange with black added. Tan is a tint of brown—brown with white added. Adding grey—equal parts of black and white—to a color creates a tone of that color.

Realize also that while a color is constant, you may not always see it the same way. Color reaches your eye as light reflected by objects. Natural light contains all colors, whereas artificial light sources provide different, limited color spectrums. If a color is not present in the light, it cannot be reflected for you to see. So, a color may appear warmer (redder) when it s reflecting light from an incandescent bulb than when it s viewed under a fluorescent lamp. Likewise, a color match that appears perfect in your artificial shop lighting may be noticeably off when bathed in natural light from a living-room window.

Make a Match

The color-matching procedure is simple to describe, but getting the right results takes some experimentation. And you should do those experiments on a scrap of the veneer or wood you used in the repair, not on the piece of furniture itself.

Start by comparing the color of the new wood to the finished wood you need to match. At first glance, the mahogany veneer used to patch the tabletop shown below, appeared both redder and lighter than the rest of the table. So, we tried two approaches to make a match.

 WD319932.jpg
Green dye, applied to the pointed end of the test strip, took away some of the redness in the mahogany veneer, resulting in a close color match. Brown dye proved to be too dark.

One was to apply dark brown dye to one corner of a veneer scrap to darken it. On another corner, we added straight dark green, aiming to reduce the sample s redness and darken it, too. (Remember, the dyes are transparent, so the original color of the wood or veneer becomes an important part of the final color mix.) The green dye provided the closest match after the samples dried, as shown. (We also put some of the final clear finish material over the test spots.)

Based on our tests, we reduced the liquid dark green dye slightly with water, and brushed it on the veneer patches, as shown in the photo below. (Because we were working with water-based dyes, we first brushed water on the veneer to raise the grain, let it dry overnight, then lightly sanded the veneer.) We rubbed the dye off after a few seconds, and let the surface dry. Then, we reassessed the color match. For final adjustment, we applied a slightly darker green dye. (If you get it too dark, you can undo some of the error with common liquid laundry bleach.)

WD319933.jpg
You donʼt need a good brush to put on dye. You can even apply it with a rag—just be sure to wear rubber gloves so you wonʼt dye your fingers.

After you make your color match, allow the dye to dry thoroughly and then apply a finish over the repair to match the original. For the table shown—not a valuable antique—we sanded the top and applied semigloss polyurethane overall to make a practical piece of furniture.

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