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Wood Stain

Selecting the Right Color for Wood


Wood and wood finishes will have a big impact on the overall color scheme, style, and mood of your kitchen or bath. Dark, grainy woods look more traditional while lighter woods with a tighter grain appear sleek and modern. Mid-range tones are more versatile, but when the grain and texture is prominent, the wood has a warmer country appeal.

Selecting a type of wood goes hand in hand with choosing a stain. Stain adds color to wood, unless you plan to paint. A stain can range from transparent, which allows the grain to show completely, to semitransparent, semi opaque or opaque satin, which looks a lot like paint. The darkest wood treatment is an ebony stain: a rich black that can add richness to a less expensive wood. A Jacobean stain is another deeply saturated color- dark brown- that reveals a minimal amount of grain.

Dark woods tend to look best when they are finished with rich warm stains, frequently those with brown- black undertones, such as deep cherry, walnut, or mahogany. Cherry has depth to it; it shows the grain and the natural variations in it. Second to cherry, is walnut. A darker brown with the slightest hint of olive, walnut has less color but it is deep. With a touch of red, mahogany is a great choice if you are willing to carry it over to other wood elements in the room- the table and chairs, for example. Perhaps more than cherry and walnut, mahogany is often associated with traditional decor. But if you use it as an accent with a contrasting color, such as light maple, you can achieve a sleek contemporary look.

The mid-range wood colors include classic oak, rustic chestnut, and pine. Each one has its own identity, but all of them are cozy and warm. These midrange wood colors have a visible grain.

White oak is lighter then red oak, which has hints of red or pink. Both have an open grain. Yellow pine has a strong golden overtone to it. Alder is becoming increasingly popular for cabinets and floors. It has a straight grain, and it ranges in color from the mid- tone reddish- brown to a pale yellow.

The lightest woods, a tight, clear maple for example, are both sleek and dramatic. With the least amount of color, the delicate tone of this wood gives the impression of purity and cleanliness. For a dramatic approach to your design, you might pair white pine with a contrasting color. Used with an alternating ebony black or rich Jacobean stain, the look is as classic as black & white.

In addition to staining, applying a toner can affect the color of wood. The purpose of a toner is to even out a color. This finishing layer can be tinted with a pigment or dye to camouflage imperfections in the wood, such as areas that are brighter or darker or vertical striping that shows where separate sections have been joined.

Glazing is way of highlighting the architectural qualities of cabinetry. A glaze consists of pigmented stains applied to a surface that is sealed. A glaze color that contrasts with the wood brings out details when it sinks into crevices, such as those on molding, the edges of recessed panels on cabinet doors, or the grain in panel. When you wipe off the glaze, color remains in places you cannot get into with a rag or a brush.

Pickling, or color washing, is another way to alter the color of wood cabinets, floors, paneling, or trim work. The process involves applying a thin, almost sheer, semi opaque coat of paint to the wood, letting it soak into the grain, and then wiping it off of the surface. Depending on the color of the paint and the type of wood, it can lighten or darken the appearance and accentuate or play down the grain. Pickling works best with woods that have an open grain becasue thinned paint will not soak into wood with a tight grain. Instead, it will merely sit on the surface; once it is wiped, the look is inconsistent. For contemporary decor, use thinned down white paint. For a vintage look, try color washing with a deep green, blue, or rich golden hue.

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