One of the factors people don’t always take into account when it comes to understanding color variations in lumber is the amount of time and distance the boards spend on their way to the lumber yard and to the job site. In this next article in our series about matching lumber color (see Part 1 and Part 2), we’re going to explore this fascinating topic as well as take a look at the way wood grain can greatly impact the lumber’s overall color.
Wood’s Journey from Forest to Job Site Impacts Color
Domestic wood often has a relatively short journey from the forest, to the sawmill, to the job site. The closer you live to the forest where domestic wood was harvested, the less of an impact the journey from the forest to the job site should have on the color of your lumber boards. On the opposite end of the spectrum, tropical woods, such as Ipe and Cumaru, that are used for many decking projects, start out in the tropical regions of Brazil. The climate and weather conditions which these trees are surrounded by are completely different from many of the conditions found at lumber yards here in the United States.
Think also of all of the delays the wood will go through on its way from the forest to the lumber yard and eventually to the job site. First, the logs are sawn or milled into boards. They’re often transported during the rainy season where they accumulate all sorts of muck, mud, grime, and moisture. They can be stacked, unstacked, and restacked numerous times in these type of adverse conditions. Then, they’re packed into metal shipping containers. Inside those containers, they’re loaded onto cargo ships.
On the ships, the boards will experience significant temperature changes. They can get extremely hot during the day, causing moisture evaporation. Then, as temperatures cool at night or on overcast days, they can again accumulate moisture, which can lead to water staining. They can pick up salt and other minerals from the air as they make their way across the ocean.
Once these boards finally make their way to the lumber yard, they’ll probably look pretty rough, dark, and dirty. But much of the change in color you’ll see could probably be attributed to ground-in mud and dirt from their journey. Consider how dirty your clothes can get when you go for a hike on a muddy trail or work out in the yard! Just like your clothes will look better after they’ve been through the washing machine, these boards will often look better after they’ve been scrubbed with a non-abrasive cleaning agent. It’s recommended to take this step after wood installation so you don’t waste your time cleaning off boards that are just going to get dirty again sitting around your job site prior to installation.
Wood Grain Plays A Huge Role In Lumber’s Color Variation
There may be no single more significant consideration when it comes to affecting the color of lumber than wood grain. Even if they’re taken from the exact same tree, boards can be strikingly different in their color depending on the manner in which the boards were cut and which part of the tree they were taken from in the first place. In fact, these changes can be so dramatic that you wouldn’t even recognize that the wood was the same species!
A tree’s life story can be found in its grain. You can see variations in color around areas where you see the tree responding to wind and weather events. Boards cut along tree rings vary in shade depending on whether the tree experienced more or less growth during different seasons. Though these inconsistencies in color give the wood its character, most customers want a high degree of uniformity for their decking or hardwood flooring. Our final article in this four-part series will explain steps customers can take to get the best possible lumber color match for their next wood flooring or decking project.
Learn More About the Lumber Industry
• How the Lumber Industry Benefits the Environment, Part 1
• FAQs About Meranti Wood
J. Gibson McIlvain Company
Since 1798, when Hugh McIlvain established a lumber business near Philadelphia, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company has become one of the largest U.S. importers of exotic woods. As an active supporter of sustainable lumber practices, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company has provided fine lumber for notable projects throughout the world. Contact a representative at J. Gibson McIlvain today by calling (800) 638-9100.
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