I have some pallet wood that I think is Kempas. Before I started to clean, cut and sand it the wood had a nice orange brown colour. After cleaning and sanding much of that colour was gone.

I want to finish the wood to bring some of that colour back. A collegue had mentioned using oil but for this particular use I am making some blocks that will hold up paper like small calendars and other paper (For indoor use so the sun should not be a major factor). Oil would seep into the paper.

What can I do with this wood to bring out its colour and finish it so that the colour is "sealed".

While answers about stains are valid I was hoping for something that I could without chemicals and fumes.

  • There have been several comments about leaving wood in the sun. This may help or make it worse, it depends on how the wood reacts to UV light. If you have a sample, you could leave it out and see how it looks after a day in bright sun. If you think the change is an improvement, then you have your solution. If not, you may need to protect your piece from light with a UV resistant finish.
    – Daniel B.
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 17:25
  • I am already doing just that. The sun is taking sooooo long though so it might be a while.
    – Matt
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 17:44

7 Answers 7


Some woods like cherry are very pale when freshly surfaced but will darken with time. Here is a photo I took of an experiment I did a couple years ago. enter image description hereI planed this (oddly shaped) piece, put a drink coaster on it and left it outside in the full sun for about four hours. As you can see, simply exposing the fresh cherry to sunlight for one afternoon darkened it dramatically. Since that time, the piece has aged to an even darker color. Perhaps your wood is a species that does this as well. You could put one of your pale pieces out in the sun for a day and see what happens. If you do, I'd put something opaque on it like a coaster or coffee mug so that you can see the difference.

As far as oil finishes go, as long as the oil finish has cured, it should be fine. I only have direct experience with Watco Danish Oil and it is not a pure oil. I think it is a thinned boiled linseed oil with perhaps a bit of varnish in it. To me this is a good thing since it will fully cure in 24 hours.

Any finish will darken the wood at least a bit and thus enhance the color. I have no data to back this up but it seems to me that Watco Danish Oil enhances the natural color better than shellac or polyurethane varnish. Even wax will enhance the color as noted in another post.

  • 1
    I edited this post to include a photo that I took to illustrate the point.
    – glw
    Commented Mar 31, 2015 at 13:02
  • Did additional sun exposure even out the color or did you have to sand/plane it to get it 'clean' again?
    – FreeMan
    Commented Mar 31, 2015 at 14:17
  • @FreeMan That particular piece was a scrap so I didn't bother but much later when I wanted to use it for something, I did plane it again because the pale spot was still there although it had aged some. Cherry seems to darken with time even if it is not exposed to light which suggest there is an oxidation reaction somewhere.
    – glw
    Commented Mar 31, 2015 at 14:46

Good question. Several others have offered good suggestions. Let me add a couple more. I've never worked with this particular wood, but here's been my experience with others.

  1. Tung oil (100% pure tung oil, not tung oil finish) tends to make the grain pop. It also adds a nice warmth to wood. I've also experimented with boiled linseed oil, but didn't like the results (at least on walnut and birch).

  2. Letting the wood bake in the sun (as mentioned by glw). I've had LOTS of success with poplar in sun baking. After spending an afternoon in the Oklahoma sun, all the greens turn deep brown and all the light areas turn a warm orange.

  3. Oil-based varnish. Like tung oil, this tends to make the grain pop and warm it up. I do not recommend a water-based finish for that--it tends to retain the wood's original color (which, in some instances, may be exactly what you do want....e.g., I almost always finish maple with a water-based finished because I like its natural color.

With that said, here's some examples of things I've had success with.

Sun-baked poplar desk, tung oil finish, topped with oil-based varnish (polyurethane):

enter image description here

Walnut box with tung oil only:

enter image description here

Walnut baby bed with tung oil + polyurethane:

enter image description here

Birch countertops with tung oil + polyurethane:

enter image description here

A jewelry box made of walnut (tung oil + lacquer) and maple (sans tung oil + lacquer)

enter image description here

I hope that helps!


I use Carnuba Wax for a most of my turning projects, and it will work just as well for a project like this. Carnuba Wax is the hardest natural wax out there and it also happens to be food safe and hypo-allergenic. It will give you a similar pop in color as an oil finish but once it dries you can buff it and it won't leave an oily residue on your paper.

  • Cool beans. I will try this out. Carnuba Wax is in everything.
    – Matt
    Commented Mar 31, 2015 at 0:58

A collegue had mentioned using oil but oil would seep into the paper.

The oils usually used for wood finishing are called drying oils, once dry there's nothing to soak into the paper. The common drying oils are boiled linseed oil (shortened to BLO often) and tung oil.

The colour your wood had before you worked on it was due to light exposure and exposure to the elements. Some of that will come back in time naturally, but it will take a while, and you may not get exactly the same colour again with it sitting in an interior setting.

However BLO has a natural brown-yellow colour and it adds this to wood when used as a finish. Products such as the previously mentioned "Danish oil" also usually add some colour to the wood.


It really depends on the wood. I'm not sure how well Kempas reacts to sunlight, but it may help or hinder you. I would suggest cutting a sample and leaving it to sun bake for a day or three, then compare it with an "unbaked" piece and see if you like the change.

The wood database has a good article on how you can cope with wood changing colors over time: treat(chemicals/dyes), postpone(UV protective finishes), or accept(Love the new color, maybe even try to encourage the shift).

There are chemical treatments for wood which permanently alter the color of the wood. Some are very simple even, but not only do they vary from wood to wood, but from cut to cut. So if you have several boards in a panel, each panel may take the chemical treatment differently. Something as simple as rubbing lemon juice on the surface might change it.

This page has a lot of possibilities for less common staining methods. The idea of using coffee as a stain intrigues me. Other possibilities include adding extra tannins by soaking it in tea, using various household chemicals (bleach, baking soda) to alter the color.

You could try ammonia fuming, though I have no experience with it. It reacts with tannic acid in the wood, which would have different levels from tree to tree and species to species. Once again I'm not sure how it would work with Kempas.

Unfortunately, as far as preserving the original color of the wood, that's harder. When the tree is dead and the wood is cut, it will be difficult to fully halt the chemical processes that have begun.


I would recommend a natural stain (i.e. no pigment) to bring out the grain and color. Did this with floors made of hickory and it turned out fantastic. After the stain simply apply poly.


Dyes allow you to impart any color to the wood desired and look completely natural. It's a bit like literally looking through rose colored glasses, except any about color is achievable. The right color combination could bring back the weathered color to the pallet wood. I use Transtint alcohol/water soluble dyes, and there are other brands as well as oil based dyes. Also, for those WB finishes, tinting the finish will provide close to the same result as oil based finishes, like solvent poly. Pour a little solvent poly in a cup and let it cure. Look at that dark amber color. Pour a little WB finish in a cup and let it cure. Nice and clear. Add some tint to the WB finish so it looks like the solvent poly after curing.

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