Back to Ganoksin | FAQ | Contact

Fading wood color

I do a lot of work whereby I carve wood pieces and then inlay or set
them into jewellery. Dark woods like ebony for instance, when they
are polished, keep their color well.But, there are particularly two
types of wood that I like, that fade from their original ‘new finish
color’ in a matter of a few months. I know one as ‘pink ivory’ (
Berchemia zeyheri, I am told) and the other I know as ‘zebra wood’.
Pink Ivory wood is anything from a light to dark pink in color when
finished off, and the other is a deep to medium maroon, striped with
cream, when first finished. Utterly beautiful stuff. But nothing that
I have tried has stopped them from fading to a boring mahogany color
(for want of a better description). I have had this one piece of red
ivory since 1985 and it was 20 years old when I aquired it. When I
cut it now, it is still the most beautiful pink you’ve ever seen. A
color to die for. But, no matter whether I wax it,varnish it, vacuum
it with resin, or paint with linseed oil or the million other methods
I have tried, have stopped it from fading. So I figure it is light
sensitive, like UV and all that stuff. But when I put it in a dark
place it still fades, but much less that in the light and I figure
that it is also maybe the oxygen. And if I put it under incadecent
light it also fades which sort of rules out UV. And if I wrap it
tightly in shopping bag plastic and put it in the safe, it keeps it’s
color the most. I am quite certain I am not the first to see this
happening. And I am also quite certain that some one has found a
solution. I was wondering if there was not some clear paint that did
not allow oxygen or UV through.That might be a start. If anybody has
some ideas they would be much appreciated. One other method that the
local carvers in Zambia overcome the ‘color shift’ of ‘zebra wood’ is
to bury it into a dark clay like soil ( the pre-formed- to be carved
piece.) And keep the soil wet. After some time the maroon stripes
become black, but the white stripes remain cream. Like a Zebra.

Cheers Hans Meevis.

Hans - I transmitted your query to a friend of mine who is a custom
furniture maker and strongly involved with exotic woods. If she has
any solutions or suggestions, I’ll pass them on to you.

BBR - Sandi Graves, Beadin’ Up A Storm
Stormcloud Trading Co

If anybody has some ideas they would be much appreciated.

I don’t know why this popped into my head, or moreso why I’m brave
enough to share it. Have you considered experimenting with a zinc
based, waterproof, high UV blocking sunscreen? In the meantime, I’ll
ask my turner artisan friend.


Just out of curiosity, I went looking. I just found a reference that
sais it fades to an orangey color over time, without explanation.
Another one put it as one of the three rarest woods in the world. I
did find this place in Oregon, though, which I am sharing:

Exotic hardwood heaven!


There are some woodworking forums on the net that can answer your
questions. I do a little woodworking from time to time, but I’m no
finishing expert. Some wood does darken with age, like cherry. Check
with the experts on the sites and I’m sure they can help you out.

James S. Cantrell CMBJ

I can ask my father-in-law when I see him later this week. I know he
has done some work with zebrawood and other woods such as were
mentioned, and there has been no fading. He made an entire Noah’s
ark setup, with many animals, and with the zebras made,
appropriately, out of zebrawood ! It’s been on a bookshelf in our
house for years with no change. Perhaps being out of direct sunlight
is the key. I know he uses a finish, but I’m not sure what.

Brian Corll
Brian Corll, Inc.
1002 East Simpson Street
Mechanicsburg, PA 17055

My friend who is a woodworker in custom furniture had this to say
about your wood fading questions:

Of course I've heard of it, nearly all woods change color
somewhat as they age. It's only a problem if you don't like what
it changes into. *grin* Take cherry, for instance. Turns a lovely
rich dark red with age, hence all of the "Antique Cherry" color
stains on the shelf for people who don't want to wait 75 years. 

any rate, he is correct in that it is UV, or oxygen, or both.
Unfortunately, I doubt he’ll be able to completely stop the
process, but he can at least retard it somewhat. I’d recommend
trying an oil or polyurethane that has UV blockers in it. For
oil, try Outdoor Oil by General Finishes. It’s available in quart
sizes at Rockler and Woodcraft, and perhaps decking supply stores
would have it in gallons. For a polyurethane, look at a type of
spar varnish. Spar varnish is designed for use on boats and to be
out in the elements. It’s similar to standard polyurethane,
except it has more oil so that it can flex better with the wood
as it contracts and expands, and also has UV blockers in it. For
this, I’d go directly to a marine supply store, for that’s where
the really good stuff is at. Perhaps a decking store as well.
Don’t go to the Hirshfields/Home Depot counter and buy the cheap
Minwax stuff, for it won’t work as well. As for sealing it
completely, epoxy is about the only thing I know that will retard
air and water movement the most. I’ll have to look it up in a
book I don’t have here, but I’m pretty sure that’s the top
finish. Are you familiar with the 1/4" thick plastic looking
coating on bar tops? That’s epoxy. Generally, one builds a "dam"
around the edges, pour it on (it self levels), wait until it
hardens, then tear off the dam and sand the edges nicely. He’ll
have to do it before he sets it, and do all sides of his piece.
Dunno how you’d do a small piece for jewelry - maybe the bottom
first, that won’t be seen, then pour a bit over the top of the
piece and finish off? shrug Test with pine. If you go the epoxy
route, soak it in Outdoor Oil first for the UV protection.

I hope this helps you somewhat.

BBR - Sandi Graves, Beadin’ Up A Storm
Stormcloud Trading Co

Hans, this is what My turner friend had to say:

Sunlight will absolutely fade almost all bright colors (especially
reds) of exotic wood. I’ve seen the most brilliant padauk,
bloodwood, & purpleheart turn brownish if exposed to sunlight day
after day. Zebrawood and pink ivory will do the same. The only thing
you can do is to use a finish that has UV blockers in it. Many of
these are made to be used on outdoor decks. I have friends that had a
new house built with a deck of purpleheart. Unfortunately, for the
builders, they used a finish without UV blockers. When the whole deck
turned brown they had to come back, rebuild it and use a correct
finish. But I got a fair amount of scraps (cut-offs) out of the

I don’t have much first hand experience with these finishes, but
thanks to Google, there’s a wealth of knowledge out there. I found
one right off that is a non-toxic (which is all I will use these
days) oil finish.

Again, she’s a turner and her bowls are meant to be touched. Seems
you have a lot to think about as far as maintenance and durability
goes in a jewelry piece. Best of luck!


About 20 years ago I made pistol grips for my S&W 9mm with Zebra
wood. I coated them with regular urethane, I think it was DEF in a
spray can. They still look fantastic today, but its in the case most
of the time, so sun and other elements don’t really get a chance to
bother it.


Thanks to all that gave me such excellent advice. I will try out the
avenues suggested and post on any success.

Thanks again.
Hans Meevis