Matching new wood to existing can be tricky. Even if you choose the proper grade, and of course the species, you still may have existing color issues to deal with because of the wood’s exposure to light. Yes, I said species, you would be surprised! All wood is photosensitive, which means it will either darken or fade due to its exposure to light. Most wood will darken slightly with exposure to sunlight, but in some extreme conditions, wood will fade. Much of this has to do with the species and where it lives in the home. You need to make your customer aware of these sometimes dramatic differences. Many of these color issues can be camouflaged if the floor is going to be colored, but it can be quite difficult if the flooring is going to be left natural.
I look to match all aspects of the floor: the grain orientation, the length average, and, if possible, the age of the wood. Aging wood is a challenge, sometimes you can salvage from other parts of the same jobsite (a sacrificial closet for example), or if you are so inclined, you can salvage from some previous jobsite tear-ups. I keep a few hundred square feet of old 2-1/4″, 1-1/2″ from previous jobs for those small board repairs or additions where I can intermix old stock and new materials on a jobsite.
I never liked the idea of staining or tinting the finish on old repairs or additions when the wood tone is very far off, such as when repairing American walnut, American cherry, or Brazilian cherry. Eventually, your new wood will age under the applied stain or tint and will progress to appear differently over time. Have an in-depth explanation of aging and patina with the client and they typically are fine with leaving the new wood new looking against the older wood. Eventually, the new wood will age, and the color match will be spot on in a few years or sooner, depending on the species (and assuming you did the other stuff I mentioned above well).
When matching a new wood floor to an existing older wood floor, we make sure we have the species and the cut perfectly matched for starters. I have worked with some local building demolition contractors to obtain a supply of reclaimed material to assist in a perfect match. If we are unsure, we will make samples of the new floor to make sure it matches the old material. And we always ensure the customer approves of our flooring and finish selection.
Some of our methods of achieving a match range from changing the color of the stain to tinting the finish so the new matches the old. Sometimes we have even water popped the new floor so that it takes color much darker and richer to match the original. Instead of a standard lace and weave, we have increased the size of the weave to yield more material as to incorporate that additional material in with our new material so that it blends better.
On a recent project, the original contractor told the homeowner and me that it was red birch installed on the floors 15 years ago. To get the correct match for the client, I ordered a bundle of red and yellow birch to make sure the homeowner would be satisfied with the match. We both agreed that the floors appeared to be yellow birch so that’s what we installed, and the customer was satisfied with the results.
We always try and refinish the existing floors at the same time we’re doing the new floors. It is very difficult to match the color change that occurs to the wood and the finish once it has been exposed to UV light.
Properly assessing the existing wood flooring is the key to a proper match. Before you go out to purchase the new material, it’s important to examine the grade, cut, width and average length.
Grade and cut are very important; for example, if the floor you’re attempting to match is a rift and quartered floor, pay close attention to how many boards exhibit wood rays. If the floor you’re purchasing doesn’t have a similar amount, the new floor will look different. Many manufacturers are subject to proprietary grading; therefore, there may be distinct differences from one manufacturer to the next.
Not every manufacturer’s select and better looks the same. Communication with your distributors and end-users is critical before purchasing material. The end-user may have to adjust his or her budget to acquire material of the same quality as the existing floor.
I also like to suggest to my clients pulling some of the existing floor and mixing it in with the new. It helps to blend the new and old together. There have been some instances where the patch will always stick out like a sore thumb and this helps to minimize that.