Is it Beauty or Blotch?

When a dye, pigment stain or oil is wiped onto raw hardwood, the wood can develop an uneven color.

Many people would find this picture of maple, found on the Internet, to be stunningly beautiful.  The displayed figure is known as curly, tiger or fiddleback.  (It’s not known, and really not important, if the picture shows solid wood or maple plywood.)

Like the above maple, this birch plywood shows lighter and darker areas (in addition to the band of darker heartwood in the middle of the picture).   This figure is known as blotch.  (After a water based dye was wiped on and dried, three coats of an oil-varnish blend were wiped on.)

Like many hardwoods, maple can show blotchy figure, and birch can show curly figure, both as solid wood and as the surface veneer of hardwood plywood.

In both pictures, the light and dark areas are due to the wood’s having an uneven rate of absorption – the darker areas absorb more color and/or oil.  Although they were probably different in these two pictures, it is possible that a similar sequence of color and finishing steps were applied to the maple and birch.

When the uneven rate of absorption is very regular, as in the first picture, many will say the finisher was especially skilled.  When the uneven rate of absorption is irregular, as in the second picture, some will say the finisher was unskilled.  Both pictures show the natural response of hardwood to wiped color and/or oil.


Improving Board Matches

(Part 3 of 3)  The final step in board matching is trimming edges for an even better match.

Here are four boards in selected orientation for a specialty cabinet side.  Color and grain pattern flow across the four  boards, but the overall appearance can be improved with five minutes of work.  On the right edge of the 2nd board from the right, there is a strip of sapwood that will stand out after finishing.  On the left edge of the 2nd board is a small defect on the back side.  And the grain pattern on the 3rd board from the right is diagonal to the edges, making more visible the joint with the adjoining boards.

Those trims have been made.

With the trimmings removed, the resulting matches between boards are improved.  The eye now sees the grain and fiigure of the wood without being distracted by joints.  It is hoped that with this attention to detail the piece of furniture is more likely to be used and enjoyed for many many years.

Matching Boards in Furniture

(Part 1 of 3)  It is always extremely rewarding when visitors ask how many boards are in the field on this cherry blanket chest top.  Unless creating a decorative effect such as a bookmatch, my objective is to minimize changes in color, grain pattern, grain direction and figure at joints.  Ideally, the viewer’s eye is drawn instead to highlights such as dovetailed corners and to the overall style of and proportion of the piece.  (There are two breadboard ends and four boards in the contained field.)

Good matches seldom happen by accident.  But only a few minutes are needed to evaluate alternative orientations and select the best.

These three all white hard maple boards were selected for the bottom of a sideboard.  In this orientation, rejected, the oval-and-arch patterns in the outer boards are too close to what will be the edges of the glued assembly.

By simply swapping the first and third boards, a much more balanced appearance results.