The Beauty of Ageing Wood

Table Talks
July 21, 2021
Mavis Zhou

Wood is a natural living and breathing material. It responds to its environment just like a tree would in the forest and like humans on earth. Today we explore why hardwood furniture changes in appearance as time goes on. Much like a woman, inevitably ageing and naturally changing but remains an everlasting beauty throughout each phase.

From being harvested to being made into furniture, wood is fascinating as it will react to air and sunlight over time, resulting in changes of colour It also expands and contracts with fluctuations in humidity. Wood furniture is also known to crack and craze, giving it an aged and wisen look over time, giving it a beautiful patina that works well in wabi-sabi interiors. Let’s take a look at a few of these material properties and how they age.

Walnut Wood

Walnut trees are one of the most popular types of wood prized by woodworkers for its strength, grain and colour. Cultivated mainly around China, Iran, Turkey and Northern America, the stunningly sleek and stylish dark brown walnut comes from the Juglans family tree. The sapwood is creamy white and found in the dense inner part of the tree, known as the heartwood, appearing in dark brown and purplish tones.

Freedom To Work Walnut Writing Desk and Mulan Chair by 12 H


How Does Walnut Wood Age?

All woods will oxidise and change as they're exposed to sunlight. Walnut acquires a beautiful lighter hue with grains of honey-golden undertones as time passes on. To maintain the darker tones of walnut furniture indefinitely, most use a clear-coated or oiled stains on walnut wood. While the clear coat does not entirely stop the colour change, it slows the process if maintained regularly. An oil-finished walnut piece needs to be periodically oiled to sustain those richer tones.


Cherry Wood

Cherry wood comes from the famous cherry fruit tree. It is crafted into a stunning flat grain wood that starts with lighter tones and blends with beautiful reddish hues. It primarily grows in Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia and the sapwood is creamy white while the heartwood is a reddish-pink to reddish-brown.

Image by Room and Board


How Does Cherry Wood Age?

Both walnut and cherry are photo reactive lumber, making the ageing process much more dramatic than oak, maple, and other types of wood. For example, you can expect typical cherry wood furniture to take on an amber colour after around 6-8 months. Cherry wood has a smooth, satiny grain that you can enrich with the application of stains. Be sure to often move or rearrange anything that sits atop your cherry wood homeware as you find imprints, thankfully these can disappear and tone out as the piece oxidises.


Maple Wood

Maple wood comes from the Aceraceae family and appears light in colour. It grows in Northern New Hampshire and Northern Vermont. The sapwood is a light white colour, and the heartwood varies from light to dark reddish-brown. Maple has a subtle texture, it is known for its eye-catching tiger striping and bird-eye patterns, making this wood appealing to decorate tabletops and front door profiles.

Image by Entriways


How Does Maple Wood Age?

Maple wood begins light and bright with a few pink and grey tones, and over time, the colour will mellow into a rich golden patina, getting warmer with age. The change is natural and caused by the oxygen in the wood being exposed to UV light. To reduce the sun's fading effect on maple wood, you can use UV resistant coatings. However, this does not protect against the sun's heat, which has a drying effect on the wood and may cause cracking. Therefore, it is best to position your maple furniture in an area with low humidity and shade.  


Oak Wood

Oak is another type of light hardwood that features varied graining. It is native to the Northern Hemisphere derived from the oak tree, which has around 600 species. North America has the most species of oak tree, with approximately 90. The sapwood has a light ring of wood below the bark and a darker inner core.

Image By Furniture Land


How Does Oak Wood Age?

As there are two types of oak wood, white and red, the white oak will turn golden in colour, and the red oak will have a more prosperous and warmer tone. We recommend using protection oils and preservatives to prevent the blackening of the oak. This can happen as a reaction after water penetrates the wood and fuses the content within the oak.

Wood Cracking and Crazing

When wood cracks and crazes, it is a reaction to its environment and a natural part of the ageing furniture's lifecycle. As wood ages, you can feel the texture of a crack to the touch, but a craze is different in that you cannot feel it on the surface, but it can continue to support a load.

The process of craze growth develops before cracking. It absorbs fracture energy and increases the strength of a polymer effectively. Cracks come in various lengths and forms and in many different patterns that intersect lines which mainly flow in the direction of the wood grain, brush strokes, or spray patterns.

Cracking and crazing happens over time, it allows access for water and moisture to get in, which causes the wood to swell in varying degrees. Fluctuations in temperature take effect on the wood, and may change its shape. If wooden furniture is kept in a room that changes room temperature from hot to cold persistently, it is more susceptible to a crack and crazing. There are lots of reasons why this form of ageing occurs. Here are some other common causes:

·      If layers of finish are not allowed time to dry evenly before another coat is applied, crack and craze can occur.

·      Using various types of finish on wood furniture is another fast cause of the wood ageing process.

·      If the initial finishing coat did not adhere to the underlying wood, this would be an easy start to the crazing or cracking process.

·      Direct sunlight has an impact on the wooden furniture, changing its tones to deeper or lighter hues.

·      Naturally, as the wood ages, the finish becomes worn and is likely to develop these effects.

Should I Prevent Cracking and Crazing?

When it comes to tackling the cracking and crazing in wood, you should evaluate every piece independently. We often find these markings that have developed naturally over time hold great beauty and add to the texture of a space. Cracking a crazing is often valued in furniture that is reclaimed, making them more suitable for japandi or wabi-sabi homes. For example, suppose your piece of furniture is vintage or an antique. In that case, you may want to consider leaving the natural process to occur with its original finish, as in some cases, the removal of cracking and crazing may devalue the furniture or ruin its patina.

However, if the piece of furniture does not have any sentimental value to you and you would prefer a sleek finish you should research the type of woods that work best in your climate and apply the appropriate evaporative or reactive coatings.

Wood runs like a vein throughout human history. It is embraced globally and used resourcefully. It is one of the most longstanding materials in existence. The ageing of the wood is a part of the process and is loved by many. Some like to speed it up to get that natural silvery-grey or dark patina in their furnishings as its appearance goes beyond anything that can be found on the mass market.

Beauty is found in every part of the wood ageing process. The graceful cracks and crazes are markers of distinction through time. No matter how the wood ages, you can find perfection in the natural movement of the material. The process is rooted in simplicity and nature, much like wabi-sabi teaches us. Embracing the movement of time and finding value in the idea that nothing is ever truly broken leads you to appreciation in the wood ageing cycle.