Does Walnut Wood Lighten Over Time?

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Do you appreciate the timeless beauty of walnut wood? If so, you may have noticed the gradual fading of its color over time, which can be frustrating. 

If you’re looking for ways to maintain its rich color, you need to understand why walnut wood lightens over time. To discover more about its color change, I will discuss this topic in this article.

Reasons Why Walnut Wood Turns Light in Color

Walnut wood, like many other types of wood, undergoes color changes over time due to various factors, such as exposure to sunlight and air, heat, rapid chemical processes, and the penetration of moisture.

However, finishing properly can protect the wood from these factors and prevent lightening over time. Unlike cherry, oak, and maple that gets darker over time, walnut tends to get lighter.

Here are some reasons why walnut wood lightens over time:

Bastogne Walnut
  1. Exposure to light: Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or even artificial light can cause the color of walnut wood to change over time. Prolonged exposure to light can break down the lignin and other organic compounds in the wood, which results in color fading. This process is called photodegradation.
  2. Oxidation: Walnut wood contains various organic compounds, including tannins, which can react with oxygen in the air. This process, called oxidation, can cause color changes in the wood. The oxidation rate can be influenced by factors such as temperature, humidity, and exposure to air.
  3. Heat factor: Heat can accelerate chemical reactions within the Walnut wood, such as the breakdown of tannins or the reaction between tannins and iron. These reactions can result in color changes, including the lightening of the wood.
  4. Rapid short-term chemical processes in wood: Some chemical reactions can occur relatively quickly within the wood, causing color changes. These reactions can be influenced by factors such as heat, moisture, and exposure to air.
  5. Penetration of moisture: Moisture can cause the wood to swell, leading to changes in the wood’s structure, which may affect its color. Additionally, moisture can also facilitate or accelerate chemical reactions within the wood, contributing to the lightening of its color.

Reasons Why Walnut Furniture Changes Overtime

Over time, wood furniture undergoes color changes for various reasons. Unlike cherry wood furniture, which develops a rich, dark hue, walnut wood furniture tends to fade. 

Walnut dresser

Direct and prolonged exposure to sunlight alters the coloring chemicals of walnut furniture, leading to a reduction of its original dark brown color. The level of exposure also affects the speed at which the color shifts from dark to pale. 

For safeguarding walnut furniture, such as kitchen cabinets and flooring, against sunlight damage, my advice is to apply a high-quality protective coating to the surface before installation.

How To Prevent Walnut Furniture From Fading

Use finishes with UV inhibitors

To preserve the rich dark brown tone of walnut furniture, I found that it’s best to use finishes that contain UV inhibitors. 

The best options are linseed oil and lacquer, which can be easily applied to the surface of the wooden furniture. These finishes have built-in agents that block UV rays from reaching the walnut surface, protecting it from fading over time. 

Lacquer is a quick and easy option. Its drying time is rapid, with only two coats needed to achieve the desired effect. But if you’re like me and want to go the extra mile for that piece you adore, you might opt for up to four coats.

staining walnut wood table

On the other hand, linseed oil is a favorite of mine. Sure, it takes a little longer to dry, but it seeps right into all those tiny pores and holes in the wood. Not only does it block out those damaging UV rays, but it also gives you some solid waterproofing.

But how about the following oil finishes? Are they recommended? Find out next!

Move furniture and rugs periodically

One simple trick I always use is to just move things around—furniture, rugs, you name it.

This will ensure that the amount of sunlight hitting each location on the wooden surface varies over time. It reduces the overall exposure to UV radiation and prevents the furniture from becoming too light in certain areas. 

Additionally, rearranging the furniture will result in a more uniform and consistent color across the entire piece to avoid the unsightly appearance of dark and pale patches that can occur when certain areas receive more sunlight than others.

Use window films

To safeguard your walnut furniture from UV rays and prevent it from lightening over time, consider applying thin films with multiple layers to the windows in your room or kitchen with walnut furniture. 

installing window film

By doing so, the films can effectively reduce the amount of UV rays that enter the space, providing protection for your furniture. 

How to Make Walnut Wood Lighter

Step 1: Prepare the bleach

Use AB bleach, which is different from household bleach. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for safety and proper use.

Step 2: Apply the bleach

Apply the bleach evenly on the walnut surface and keep it wet. This process will remove the natural color of the wood.

Step 3: Let it dry

After applying the bleach, let it dry completely. The dark brown color of the walnut will be gone.

Step 4: Repeat if necessary

Apply more bleach until you achieve the desired pale color. Alternatively, you can apply a different color stain.

bleaching Walnut

Step 5: Sand the surface

To achieve a smooth surface, use sandpaper with a grit size of 400 to get rid of the fuzzy grain texture.

Can Exposure to Sunlight Lighten Walnut Wood?

Yes, exposure to sunlight can lighten walnut wood over time. Sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) rays that can bleach the natural color of the wood.

This process is called photo-oxidation, and it can cause the wood to lighten and lose its original color. 

This effect can be more pronounced in lighter-colored walnut woods, such as sapwood. To prevent this, a simple tip I would recommend is relocating your walnut furniture to an area with less sunlight or applying a sealer to protect the wood from the effects of sunlight. 

dining room furniture made of walnut wood

Using window films on the windows can also help to reduce the amount of sunlight that enters the space and protects your walnut wood furniture from lightening.

Is Walnut Wood Dark in Color Naturally?

Walnut wood is naturally dark in color, typically ranging from a deep chocolate brown to a rich, reddish-brown color. 

This dark color is a defining characteristic of walnut wood and is one of the reasons why it is a popular choice for furniture and decorative items. 

Its natural color can vary depending on the species and age of the tree and the part of the tree that the wood comes from.

Over time, however, the natural dark color of walnut wood can lighten and fade due to exposure to sunlight and other environmental factors. This fading can result in the wood taking on a lighter, more yellowish-brown color. 

Black Walnut table top

Despite this natural lightening, walnut wood still retains a warm and inviting look that is highly prized in the woodworking industry.

Does Wood Tend to Become Lighter in Color as It Ages?

Yes, wood can tend to become lighter in color as it ages due to various factors such as direct exposure to sunlight, air, and moisture. The natural color of wood can fade or bleach over time, resulting in a lighter color. 

The amount and rate of color change can vary depending on the type of wood, the environment it is exposed to, and the finish or protective coating that has been applied to it.

For example, wood that is exposed to direct sunlight for prolonged periods may lighten more quickly than wood that is kept in a shaded area. 

Additionally, wood that is left untreated and unprotected may experience more color change than wood that has been sealed or finished with a protective coating.

walnut table

It’s important to note that not all wood will become lighter as it ages, and some wood species may actually become darker with age. 

The extent and nature of the color change will depend on various factors and may vary from one wood species to another. But does sunlight turn wood darker in some cases? Let’s find out.

Does Applying Walnut Oil to Wood Result in a Darker Appearance?

Yes, applying walnut oil to wood can result in a darker appearance. If you’ve ever thought about using walnut oil on your wood projects, I say go for it. Walnut oil is a popular choice for finishing and protecting wood because it enhances the natural color and grain of the wood, providing a rich and deep coloration. 

When I apply it, I can practically see the wood drinking it up, bringing out the natural beauty and luster of the wood. 

Depending on the type of wood and the number of coats applied, walnut oil can darken the wood’s appearance, bringing out the richness and depth of its natural color. 

Walnut oil

However, the amount of darkening will depend on the wood species and its current coloration. Some woods may darken significantly when treated with walnut oil, while others may only experience a subtle change in color. 

Overall, walnut oil [1] can be an excellent choice for enhancing and protecting the natural beauty of the wood while also providing a darker and richer appearance.

Also Read: Does Wood Expand in Hot Weather

Conclusion

Walnut wood is popular due to its beautiful natural dark color. However, exposure to sunlight and other environmental factors can be the reasons why walnut wood does lighten over time, resulting in a loss of its original hue. 

By understanding the factors that contribute to the lightening of its color, you can take the necessary steps discussed above to protect and preserve its natural beauty for years to come. 

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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