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Why Is Some Barnwood Siding Grey?

by Jake Park 

Barnwood siding is the term used for wood that's been weathered and reclaimed from the exterior of the barn. Its distinctive color comes from the way that tannins are leached out of the wood, along with exposure to light, air and moisture. The longer it takes for the weathering process to take place, the more drastic its effect will be on the color of the wood. Different types of wood will produce different effects as well.

barn exterior
Barn Exterior: Batsto, NJ

Tannins are the compounds that give wood its color.

Tannins are plant-derived compounds found in the bark, leaves and heartwood of trees. These compounds can be extracted from the wood by soaking it in water or boiling it over fire, which is how you could create your own unique shades of barnwood.

Tannins also give tea its color (but not flavor), wine its color (and flavor) and persimmons their deep red fleshiness when they're ripe!

Exposure to sunlight makes wood turn darker.

Tannins are compounds that give wood its color. They're found in bark and leaves, and when the wood is exposed to sunlight, tannins are released into the air. This oxidation causes the wood to turn darker.

  • The variation in shade comes from two things: how long you let your wood sit outside before using it (more time = more sun exposure = darker) and what species of trees were used for your boards (some species have more tannins than others).
Various colors of Barnwood

Hardwoods and softwoods have different chemical compositions, leading to different color variations.

The color of barnwood is in part due to the species of tree that it came from. Hardwoods and softwoods have different chemical compositions, leading to different color variations. Hardwoods tend to be more dense and contain more tannins than softwoods, which means they'll have a darker hue with deeper tones. Additionally, because of their density and durability (as well as other factors), hardwood boards are often used for flooring or furniture while softwood boards are typically used for wall paneling or trim work around windows and doors.

Softwood lumber tends to be lighter in color than hardwood lumber because it contains fewer natural pigments called lignin compounds; these pigments give wood its distinctive hues depending on what type of tree it came from. For example, red cedar looks red because it contains large amounts of lignins with carboxyl groups attached; black walnut has high levels too but also contains melanin granules giving them their dark brown coloration. You can read more about melanins here.

The time it takes for the wood to weather changes its color.

The weathering process is a natural one, and it can be sped up by artificial means. Weathering occurs when the wood is exposed to the elements. The sun's UV rays break down lignin in the cells of the wood, which causes them to turn brown or grey over time. This same process happens naturally in outdoor settings, but it can also be accelerated by applying water or pressure (for example: sanding).

Weathered Barn Siding on Barn Exterior
Wagon Barn: Batsto, NJ

Different types of wood and their exposure to light, air and moisture lead to unique colors.

The color of barnwood is largely determined by the type of wood it's made from. Hardwoods tend to be lighter in color than softwoods, but this is not always the case. Some woods, like oak, tend to be darker than others--and the time it takes for wood to weather changes its color as well.

Oak: The most common type of barnwood was oak because it has such a high natural resistance to rot and insect damage. It was also often used for building ships during WWII and where its nickname "ship-lap" was derived. Because of its durability and sturdiness, oaks are also ideal materials for flooring boards or decking planks if you're looking for something sturdy enough to stand up against heavy foot traffic while still being beautiful enough that people won't mind walking on them every day!

Conclusion

As we've seen, the color of barnwood is dependent on a number of factors. Exposure to sunlight and air causes wood to darken over time, as does its chemical makeup. The amount of time it takes for a piece of wood to weather can also affect its appearance, leading us back again to our starting point: that there really is no such thing as "barnwood" color.

Jake Park
I am a timber expert and serial woodworker dedicated to helping you get educated about the finest woods and materials in the world. Join in my journey on the Modern Timber Craft blog.

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