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How to match the colors of different woods

The table. (Reader photo)

Question: We are in the midst of renovating our kitchen and eating area. We want to re-stain our butcher-block table and dry bar, as well as a banister that divides the eating area from the living room, to go with our new cabinets and flooring. We’ve chosen Brighton cabinets stained in a hazelnut color and Bruce flooring with a natural oak finish. We’ve been treating the table with Watco Danish Oil Finish in a medium walnut color. How do we go about getting the wood colors to match?

— Columbia, Md.

Answer: From the pictures you sent and manufacturers’ Web sites, it looks like you want to make your existing pieces a little darker and browner.

For the table, just switch to using Dark Walnut or Black Walnut in the Watco Danish Oil Finish line. To open up pores in the wood so they accept the new color, lightly sand the surface first, suggests Ryan Coffey, a product support representative for Rust-Oleum, the company that makes Watco finishes. You don’t need to sand down to bare wood; just scuff up the surface a bit with 180- or 220-grit sandpaper.

For the dry bar and banister, which probably have varnish or polyurethane over the stained wood, you might be able to get a darker color with several coats of a tinted polyurethane, such as Varathane One Step Stain & Polyurethane. But because these coats will overlay the existing finish, the stain will darken the wood uniformly rather than accentuate the wood grain as a stain typically does on bare wood. “It’s more like putting on a pair of sunglasses,” Coffee said.

The other alternative is to sand down to bare wood, stain to the color you want, and then brush on varnish or polyurethane. That’s considerably more work, though, so you might want to begin by testing the first approach on a small area. Be sure to apply a couple of coats, waiting the recommended time between layers. If you don’t like the results, you’ll know the only option is to sand and start over.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to . Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

The Checklist: Read Jeanne Huber’s roundup of home-improvement tasks you should tackle, month by month, at

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