Lumber Color Change, an In-Depth Look, Part 3

Inspecting Ipe boards

Inspecting Ipe boards

After looking at how much grain and other factors contribute to variation in color, you may be ready to throw up your hands in frustration and resign yourself to a mismatched deck or composite materials. Don’t take any drastic measures, though. Remember that decking isn’t a finished product and not only did lumber build this country but it’s the ultimate green building material.

What’s more, not all the picture-perfect images of real wood decks in the magazines have been touched up. While some color variation is to be expected, when you’re dealing with a natural material like wood, there are some steps you can take to achieve reasonable color matching.

Forget About Grade

Color isn’t a factor in any lumber grading system, so the idea that buying “top grade” lumber will mean better color matching is really incorrect. If you’re looking for tropical decking, low grade material is virtually non-existent, since it never makes it to the U.S., anyway.

Ipe deck

Ipe deck

And do yourself a favor and resist the urge to ask your lumber supplier for color-matched lumber. (If you’re not sure why, go back and read Parts 1  & 2 again.) Maybe some dealers would be willing to try, but you can expect to pay a premium for their attempt. However, here’s the bottom line: Don’t let anyone convince you to spend more in order to try to get color-matched lumber.

What You Can Do

While you really don’t have enough money to pay for truly color-matched lumber, there are a few reasonable steps you can take to approximate color-matching on your deck.

First, plan to buy about 20% more lumber than you think you’ll actually need. The larger the project, the higher the percentage overage you should factor in.

Fresh Ipe deck

Fresh Ipe deck

You may be able to use boards that don’t coordinate well in not-so-obvious areas, or you may end up saving them for another project where you’ll use a different color family. (Color-matching, in addition to price, can be an extra benefit to purchasing decking lumber for more than one project at a time.)

Next, you’ll need to have patience. Remember, the color variation will eventually mellow out. Just a few days of tanning in the sunlight will probably do the boards a world of good.

Third, you can apply a little elbow grease and clean off the mud, do a little sanding, and be sure to flip over each board to see if the other side is a little closer to the color you’re after. Once the deck has been installed, you might be surprised at how much a little deck oil helps even out the color of your deck.

The savvy builder will be able to leverage color variation artistically in order to arrive at a unique but appealing finished project.

Grading dried lumber at J Gibson McIlvain lumber company

Grading dried lumber at J Gibson McIlvain lumber company

J. Gibson McIlvain Company

Since 1798, when Hugh McIlvain established a lumber business near Philadelphia, the McIlvain family has been immersed in the premium import and domestic lumber industry. With its headquarters located just outside of Baltimore, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company ( is 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, including the White House, Capitol building, Supreme Court, and the Smithsonian museums.

Contact a representative at J. Gibson McIlvain today by calling (800) 638-9100.

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