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I have an unfinished pine bed frame, which is very susceptible to dents and marks. I recently steamed a minor toenail dent out of one of horizontal panels. I did this by dipping a microfibre cloth in a bowl of boiled water, wringing it out, and pressing the steaming cloth into the dent for a few seconds. I then repeated this a few times. This worked well, with just a faint outline of the dent still visible (doesn't show in the photo). However, the area worked on appears to have lost a small amount of colour. At the time, after repeating the cloth treatment I noticed a small amount of brownish colour to the water in the bowl. It's as if the cloth has absorbed some of the colour.

The steaming dents out of wood solution seems to be very common on the Internet, but from what I've read, none mention the potential for colour loss. From googling around, it sounds like the colour I've managed to pull out might be from the tannin.

It's not a big deal, as the colour loss is only obvious from an acute angle, but I'm curious, is it likely that the colour will even out over time? E.g. With UV exposure and/or other chemical processes that naturally occur in the wood?

Here's a photo I took: enter image description here

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  • Meant to ask earlier, why is the bed frame unfinished? Conscious choice or haven't managed to find a window to add finish? I have mentioned here repeatedly that no finish at all is actually a viable choice for some things so I'm not by any means against the idea. But even for workshop items like tool holders and jigs I will still usually slap on a quick finish to help the item shrug off dirt; I do also appreciate the bump in looks this provides even though it's not at all a requirement for shop stuff.
    – Graphus
    Sep 6 at 7:43
  • Oh and belated welcome to Woodworking!
    – Graphus
    Sep 6 at 7:49
  • @Graphus I was originally going to add a finish back when I bought it several years ago, however not being a very experienced woodworker, and having been advised against it by my mother, I gave up on the idea. There are several other wooden surfaces (banister rails, floorboards, skirting) that are finished, but could do with sanding/refinishing, so I think if I was going to do it I'd do them all together. But, as always, time is lacking. Thanks for the welcome :-)
    – Jimadine
    Sep 6 at 11:20
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You've simply washed off some of the top layers of oxidized wood, exposing the lighter wood underneath. It'll oxidize over time.

Will it eventually match the oxidization around it? Probably. But since this is a natural product undergoing natural processes over time, who knows?

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    Wiping down the whole thing with a wet cloth would probably even the whole coloration out to the lighter color. Then as it ages, it'll darken more-or-less evenly again.
    – FreeMan
    Sep 4 at 18:52
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the colour loss is only obvious from an acute angle

This seems to suggest that the colour difference could be due to a change in the surface texture of the wood1.

While this may be part of it as you noticed some faint brownish colouring in the water obviously something coloured was removed from the wood.

From googling around, it sounds like the colour I've managed to pull out might be from the tannin.

Collectively the coloured compounds that arise in the surface of woods as they age are called extractives2.

but I'm curious, is it likely that the colour will even out over time?

The wood will most certainly darken again given time and light exposure. It should end up at least very close to the colour it once was, but whether it will become exactly the former colour, with no 'tide marks', is impossible to say.

If you're fussy the thing to do is to treat the whole surface with hot water now to even up the existing colour so the surface can age again all in a piece.


The steaming dents out of wood solution seems to be very common on the Internet, but from what I've read, none mention the potential for colour loss.

This is partly because writers just don't tell us every little detail about what happens doing any given technique! This is something you notice more and more as you gain firsthand experience in all sorts of areas and you compare it to written instruction and guides.

Some of this is due to an understandable desire for brevity and ease of reading as extremely meticulous no-detail-left-out accounts tend to be overly wordy and hard to read. And eventually the TL;DR effect kicks in :-)

But it's also because when dents are steamed out of bare wood the standard advice is to follow with light sanding of at least the treated area, if not the whole board, and then the wood is finished. The finishing step alone will usually do a lot to even up any very subtle colour differences, especially if it adds a unifying colour cast such as you get with varnish and darker shades of shellac.


1 Even subtle changes in surface can cause a change in apparent colour due to light being absorbed or scattered differently, such as when a small area is sanded more finely or rubbed with steel wool and then compared to the surrounding wood.

2 These are what are responsible for this effect.

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  • Thanks for the very thorough reply. I know what you mean about the surface texture might have changed. I experienced this when I removed a tough stain from a painted surface with a pencil eraser; the stain disappeared but left a 'rubbed' area, visible only from certain angles and lighting conditions. I managed to even it out with a green scourer. In the case of the bed frame, I didn't apply any friction, just 'blotted' the dent, and it feels no different to the areas either side (though granted, such changes can be at a microscopic level).
    – Jimadine
    Sep 6 at 11:27

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