Sun-Tanning Cherry

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Forum topic by TheWoodenOyster posted 03-05-2014 12:40 AM 1102 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1317 posts in 1958 days

03-05-2014 12:40 AM

Topic tags/keywords: cherry

Hey guys,

I am making a cherry dining table as my second commission and I was hoping y’all could help me out. I know cherry will turn a beautiful rich red color if treated properly. I have heard about just setting it out in the sun to let it age naturally before applying finish. Sounds like a plan to me, but I have a few questions:

1. At what point do you set it out in the sun? After initial rough sanding? After final sanding? After finishing?

2. How long does it need to sit out there? I am in Texas, so we get a decent amount of good sunlight.

3. The top is straightforward, put it out, flip it over halfway through and you’ll get even color on the top and bottom. However, how would one approach “tanning” the legs? This is a trestle table with a stretcher, so I could set it out and leave it without the top on, and let the sun move across the sky and hit the different surfaces. Would that work?

Thanks again guys.

P.S. Any tips on a durable foodsafe finish are appreciated as well. Right now I am thinking wipe-on oil based poly.

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

11 replies so far

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2384 days

#1 posted 03-05-2014 12:50 AM

It’ll darken naturally over time anyway, so setting it in the sun makes no difference. Go ahead and finish it.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

View Ocelot's profile


1980 posts in 2661 days

#2 posted 03-05-2014 12:56 AM

I have some cherry parts that of a cradle I started 2 years ago. They’ve been in the shop not in direct sunlight, yet darkened all by themselves.


View mahdee's profile


3888 posts in 1791 days

#3 posted 03-05-2014 12:57 AM

+ clint,
Don’t rush it; put the finish on in and even out of the sun you will notice it getting darker by the day. Exposure to sun might warp, cup one side and ruin your work.


View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1317 posts in 1958 days

#4 posted 03-05-2014 12:59 AM

Does an impermeable finish, like poly, “lock out” the aging process? I guess it comes down to whether it is aged by UV light or by oxygen…


Clint – I am biscuiting the top and saw a remark of yours a while back saying not to put glue in biscuit slots. Why do you do it that way?

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View bondogaposis's profile


4757 posts in 2374 days

#5 posted 03-05-2014 01:53 AM

Finish it first, no need to put in the sun it will achieve it’s natural patina over about a year. It has nothing to do w/ oxygen, not that you can seal that out anyway.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View sras's profile


4806 posts in 3152 days

#6 posted 03-05-2014 01:57 AM

As I understand it, UV causes the color change. A UV blocking finish will slow this process down – maybe to a stop. The one thing about letting it darken over time after finishing is to get even exposure. If you left a centerpiece on the table too long, you would see a difference in color.

You can speed the process up with a solution of potassium dichromate. There is a good summary of the process here.

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2384 days

#7 posted 03-05-2014 12:05 PM

No glue in biscuit slots because the moisture may swell the wood and telegraph a bump to the surface that, when the top is sanded, may result in a slight depression. I only use biscuits for alignment; they don’t add noticeable strength.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

View CharlesA's profile


3329 posts in 1821 days

#8 posted 03-05-2014 12:21 PM

I am amazed how quickly the cherry darkens indoors as well. Sanding removes the darkened outer layer, so anything you do to darken it should be at the end. I use GF Arm-r-seal and Gel topcoat and cherry darkens fine under those.

-- "Man is the only animal which devours his own, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." ~Thomas Jefferson

View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1317 posts in 1958 days

#9 posted 03-05-2014 03:47 PM

Thanks guys for the tips. Sounds like I ought to just finish it like I would anything else and It’ll darken itself over time. That sounds easier than trying to follow the sun and make it all work right.

Clint, thanks for the heads up on the biscuits. I would have been infuriated if I had had bumps.

One last thing: If the dining table is decorated within a week or two after I hand it over with placemats or vases, will the table get rectangles and circles on top from uneven aging?

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View jumbojack's profile


1677 posts in 2647 days

#10 posted 03-05-2014 03:57 PM

I used the sun to decorate some rocking horses made from cherry. On the saddle I put a star cut from contact paper, left it in the sun for a day. Peeled the paper off and finished it. Although that horse is several years old now the star is still visible, not as prominent but still there.

-- Made in America, with American made tools....Shopsmith

View Bob Areddy's profile

Bob Areddy

192 posts in 3425 days

#11 posted 03-05-2014 05:39 PM

I’ve done artificial darkening of Cherry with Lye (Easy Off Oven Cleaner) on smaller projects, like picture frames.

Spray on, let site for a couple of minutes, and wipe down. Haven’t done it on larger projects, so please test first before doing on your real deal! It tends to raise the grain, so wet the wood first so you can sand it smooth first.

-- --Bob

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