With so many engineered building products on the market, it’s easy to forget that unlike manufactured materials, wood is organic, naturally occurring in nature. As such, each board — and every inch of each board — is absolutely unique. You simply can’t color match lumber the same way you can match dye lots or poured plastics.
Sure, you can find relative continuity within specific species and grades and can certainly attempt to find boards in the same color family, but so many characteristics contribute to the color of a board — and even parts of a board — that adjusting expectations is important.
The Impact of Grain
Perhaps the greatest influence on color variation within a species is grain. Even boards coming from the very same tree can appear to have drastically different colors. The combination of where a board is cut from within a tree and how it is cut greatly impacts the grain it exhibits.
Sometimes two boards of the same species and even the same tree can look as if they’re completely different species, simply because of the high degree to which the grain impacts color. Basically, the issue is density; different cross sections of a log will reflect various amounts of density, causing them to reflect light differently and making them appear to be completely different colors.
We might wish all trees were perfectly straight grained and all their fibers parallel. But, then again, lumber might as well be plastic, and it would be far less beautiful — as would trees and forests! The reality is that the same issues that impact density have protected the tree and created a unique building material. Many variations in density are caused by the grain flowing over and around knots caused by branches or shifts required to stabilize the tree against the elements.
Impact of Growth Periods
An additional factor in wood density is growth periods; slower growth leads to rings spread apart, causing areas with less density, while faster growth leads to rings grouped closer together, causing areas with greater density.
While an area’s general climate affects the growth rate of a tree, annual climate variations lead to different spacing of growth rings even within the same tree. More extreme curves within the grain produces figured grain. This exposed end grain displayed on the face can produce amazing quilted or curly designs highly prized by many woodworkers. In such cases, simply changing the angle from which you’re looking at a board can make its color appear completely different.
How a log is sawn also impacts how its grain affects its color. Essentially, the sawing method determines which grain is imposed onto the board’s face. A board’s origination from the center of the tree or from the periphery of it will change how the fibers appear. Rift-sawn boards or Quarter-sawn boards display the kind of parallel grain that many prize. However, even with those cuts, Medullary Rays of denser fibers appear on the face, making the board appear darker or as if it’s striped.
Continue reading with Part 2.