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Thread: Walnut Fading

  1. #1

    Walnut Fading

    I've read several places that walnut fades over time if left in sunlight. Can anyone help me with more information about this? I really enjoy working walnut (probably my favorite), but I'm wondering what it will look like 20+ years down the road. How much does it fade? Anyone have examples of "faded" walnut? Is there anything you can do to prevent the fading?

  2. #2
    Yes, the sun will fade it. Some call it "patina" others call it faded. When I was a kid all the ladies in my extended family
    would go nuts if they walked into a room with framed prints, curtains, upholstered furniture,etc.and found the curtains still open! The worst thing is to leave something on the table all the time , that will preserve the color under object and fade the rest.

  3. #3
    I've been told light woods darken and dark woods lighten. Good advice about leaving something on the table all the time. I used a cherry table I built as my fly tying table. Once I quit tying my wife got the table and we were shocked to see exactly where all my tools sat. We refinished the table and it freshened up nicely.

  4. #4
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    To preserve the dark color, I use Watco medium or dark walnut as a first step in finishing.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil Mueller View Post
    To preserve the dark color, I use Watco medium or dark walnut as a first step in finishing.
    The Watco idea is a good fix. Opposite of cherry darkening over time, walnut lightens. I use a similar method to get a "just oiled" color that I favor and it has held on pieces in my own home for many years. One of these days I will take after an early piece (prior to using a colorant) that has lightened and see if I can turn back the clock ;-)
    She said “How many woodworking tools do you need?”
    I said “Why? Do you know someone who is selling some?”


  6. #6
    Walnut will fade when exposed to light. About 1980, my father made me a name plate for my office desk out of walnut. This nameplate was finished with a clear lacquer finish. I took it apart this evening to show you the difference in light exposure. This first photo shows the bottom edge of the name plate and the area on the base where it was located. This would be the effect of leaving something on the table for a long period of time
    IMG_3440.jpg
    Note that even the finished area that was shielded from light is lighter than the unfinished bottom edge at the top of the photo.

    This next photo shows the back of the name plate and the underside of the base, which is very close to the original color of the wood. The white inlaid wood is holly, the red eagle heads are dyed holly.
    IMG_3442.jpg

    This nameplate never saw direct sunlight, just ambient light in offices and rooms with and without windows over my working career. Both of these pieces were originally all a dark color exactly like the bottom edge that you can see in the first photo. These pieces show about 40 years of exposure to light after finishing. I've seen instance of walnut that received lots of direct sun exposure that are about the color of finished maple.
    Last edited by Lee Schierer; 06-24-2019 at 10:39 PM.
    Lee Schierer
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  7. #7
    Some years ago I was at a fellow WW house, as we sat in his kitchen which had a wall of glass on one side, he asked me what wood I thought his cabinets were. I said Butternut he then told me to open up a door, I looked at him and said it's Walnut on the inside. He was disappointed that it had faded so much. I told him that museums had stopped using boiled linseed oil to preserve their collection because it darken the wood. I used it on Walnut and Cherry as my base coat because it keep it dark. He looked at me and said the back in high school shop class the instructor would only let them finish with BLO (which was 60 plus years ago). Back then he had mad a bed out of Walnut which he still had and it was still dark.

  8. #8
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    Depending on which finish (or none) is chosen, walnut will always change from the freshly machined cocoa color. If left unfinished it will get a grey / tan color and perhaps lighten a bit over time. Any kind of an oil darkens walnut considerably and becomes red/brown in appearance. That same piece exposed to sun will eventually become much lighter and the brown tones will take on a yellow/ orange cast that will be very noticeable on edge-joined panels. Old walnut furnature can look like bad mahogany at that age.

    I should also add the air-dried walnut and kiln-dried walnut, even from the same tree, produce totally different final color. There is a process, I think it is steaming, that can make walnut sapwood more closely match the darker wood in the log done during kiln drying. The walnut you see for sale at a lumber yard is going to be kiln dried. A friend gave me a small quantity of air-dried walnut, much of it curly, that was stored in a barn in Iowa for decades. I made some boxes from it that were special.
    Last edited by Mike Brady; 06-25-2019 at 9:25 AM.

  9. #9
    I think a dye or stain can mitigate this. I think its at least worth checking out.

    I made a trestle dining table of walnut and dyed the walnut prior to finishing. Only been a year so may be too early to tell.

    I would point out that cherry is a dark wood that will darken with age.

  10. #10
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    Given enough light cherry too will fade, and it doesn't take too long for walnut to lighten. Here are two pictures of our floor, maple with a walnut and cherry stripe in the border. The first is in an area that doesn't get much light, the second is in front of a big window that goes down to floor level. There's almost no distinction left in color between the maple, walnut, and cherry boards, the picture is a good representation. I'm wishing I had dyed it prior to finishing. This is after five years, but it looked like this after two. The trim is also cherry and in the front window it's become quite light.

    IMG_1311 (1).jpg IMG_1310 (1).jpg

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    Thanks for posting that, Roger. The color change is amazing. Much more than I would have imagined.

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    Quote Originally Posted by roger wiegand View Post
    Given enough light cherry too will fade, and it doesn't take too long for walnut to lighten. Here are two pictures of our floor, maple with a walnut and cherry stripe in the border. The first is in an area that doesn't get much light, the second is in front of a big window that goes down to floor level. There's almost no distinction left in color between the maple, walnut, and cherry boards, the picture is a good representation. I'm wishing I had dyed it prior to finishing. This is after five years, but it looked like this after two. The trim is also cherry and in the front window it's become quite light.

    IMG_1311 (1).jpg IMG_1310 (1).jpg
    If it makes you feel any better, the dye would have faded just as badly.

  13. #13
    I have decades of experience building with walnut.

    1. For reasons I don't understand linseed oil treated walnut doesn't fade much if any. I have rifles 70 years old that look the same darkness as recently refinished rifles.

    2. Most commercial walnut is steamed. 3 months exposure in a sunny room and unfinished steamed walnut is indistinguishable from air dried. Not by speculation but by doing the experiment.

    3. There are many chemical classes that can be used to make wood dyes. Some fade and others are highly resistant to fading. Again, I have done the experiments in fading test machines. The class called "premetalized", Transtint for example, are highly resistant to fading. Mineral pigment don't fade. I color walnut with burnt umber pigment.

  14. #14
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    What about tung oil? Does it also prevent significant fading like the BLO?

  15. #15
    Couple of times when I went to work on a Monday someone making office divider-counter stuff of cherry plywood had left
    an empty cigarette box or pencil ,etc on a project ....right under a sky-light all week end. Actually less funny than it sounds since most
    of that stuff got the dark gloppy finish ,much loved by many of our interior decorators!

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