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It seems that at least half of the questions we get about finishing are along the lines of "I don't want any yellowing from my finish", or "I don't want any yellowing because of aging poly".

Just how significant does this tend to be over time?

All the woodwork in my house is either stained w/no protective coat, or painted (again with no protective coat), so I have no reference to compare original vs aged, or even un-polyed vs polyed surfaces.

Is this a significant concern or is it a simple fact that, yes, your polyurethane will yellow a bit over time, but you'll never really notice it because it'll happen slowly.

I realize that this may well be opinion based, but chat is too dead to get much of a discussion going. If this is closed as opinion based, I'd love to see some folks in chat to discuss it there.

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  • Yes very much your point about not noticing because it happens so slowly! Most people just don't notice colour changes in their woodwork until for example, the drop leaf on a table is finally used after 25 years in the down position and "Yikes, look how much the top has faded!" :-D Re. the colour change from fresh wood to varnished, that's easy enough to check quickly by just doing a few wipe-on/brush-on tests on some freshly planed or sanded wood. Obviously this should be directly compared to wetting the wood down with water or MS, since as you know that previews the effect of a clear finish.
    – Graphus
    May 5 at 18:06
  • As I was thinking about this, I also thought that generally people want the warmth that comes from natural wood, and yellow is considered a "warm" color, so that would, in fact, actually enhance the feature that people are after. My feeling is that people hear "yellowing" and automatically think it's bad without actually thinking about what it means.
    – FreeMan
    May 5 at 18:09
  • Love it when I nail the character count and have zero characters left LOL But what you won't quickly see is the colour change that happens underneath the varnish from the wood being exposed to light (which is incorrectly blamed on the varnish). All light-coloured woods darken (or 'mellows' depending on whether you like this change) with exposure, and this takes as long as it takes based on where in the room something is, how big the windows are, the prevailing light direction etc. Rooms with north-facing windows will tend to preserve the wood colouring the longest.
    – Graphus
    May 5 at 18:10
  • "My feeling is that people hear "yellowing" and automatically think it's bad without actually thinking about what it means." Yes. Not only non-woodworkers too, but people who should know better (or to be a smidge fairer, people who are in a position to find out better). I can't tell you the number of times I've read on X or Y woodworking forum — let's arbitrarily call 'em CrawmillSeek and UWKorkshop lulz — about how someone doesn't want to use an oil finish of some kind on their maple or ash, fearing the dreaded yellow, and then go on to use Hardwax oil! (which does the same thing)
    – Graphus
    May 5 at 18:15
  • One other factor I wanted to mention in case it didn't come to mind is about coat thickness. In my part of the world some of the justifiable fear of the colour from varnish is based on seeing older stuff where it was brushed on, often very heavily, leading to e.g. the dreaded "orange pine" <ugh> But of course in most cases people won't be varnishing their woodwork this way any more, especially furniture. Even if you wiped on 4-5 coats of poly (which is more than many use from what I've seen) this wouldn't even approach the coat thickness from a single brushed-on coat of alkyd varnish.
    – Graphus
    May 5 at 18:49

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