Grey oak

I have 10 square meters of dry and freshly sanded oak that I would like to artificially age/weather to the colour of the above photo. Once treated the oak is to be used for a bedroom interior. I was wondering if there are any chemists out there who may know how to do this.


Graying is symptomatic of bleaching (oxidation) caused by air and sunshine. You can use chemical bleach for a similar effect. See for instance: https://www.wikihow.com/Bleach-Wood. There are a lot of guides online on the subject. This one seems pretty useful, discussing different bleaches, their safe handling, and treatment steps. Even the US Department of Agriculture has a guide on the subject.

The appropriate bleach for your application appears to be the "two-part (A/B) wood bleach" in which a mix of peroxide and sodium hydroxide reacts with the wood. Commercial kits are available. The USDA guide has the following to say:

One of the most powerful, satisfactory, and widely used bleaches in recent years is based on a strong solution of hydrogen peroxide (30 or 35 percent strength). The wood is first coated evenly with a solution of sodium hydroxide (caustic soda, or ordinary lye) containing pounds of the solid per 10 gallons of solution. After this has dried for about 30 minutes, an even coat of the hydrogen peroxide is applied. The sodium hydroxide applied as the first coat renders the hydrogen peroxide unstable, whereupon it decomposes and liberates a large amount of oxygen in a chemically active condition, which does the bleaching. The liquid on the surface should be allowed sufficient time to dry, during which time the bleaching occurs; then the wood should be rinsed thoroughly with cold water. To neutralize any remaining traces of sodium hydroxide, the surface should then be washed or sprayed with a solution containing 1 pound of acetic acid (or 1 pound of oxalic acid) per 10 gallons of water, allowed to stand for 15 minutes, then rinsed thoroughly with water and allowed to dry. After the wood is sanded lightly to remove raised grain the new finish may be applied.

See also the section labeled "precautions".

Regarding the chemistry of the bleaching process, the wikipedia provides the following summary:

Hydrogen peroxide

Using hydrogen peroxide to delignify chemical pulp requires more vigorous conditions than for brightening mechanical pulp. Both pH and temperature are higher when treating chemical pulp. The chemistry is very similar to that involved in oxygen delignification, in terms of the radical species involved and the products produced.


Oxygen exists as a ground state triplet state, which is relatively unreactive and needs free radicals or very electron-rich substrates such as deprotonated lignin phenolic groups. The production of these phenoxide groups requires that delignification with oxygen be carried out under very basic conditions (pH >12). The reactions involved are primarily single electron (radical) reactions.[14][15] Oxygen opens rings and cleaves sidechains giving a complex mixture of small oxygenated molecules. [...] While the radical reactions are largely responsible for delignification, they are detrimental to cellulose. Oxygen-based radicals, especially hydroxyl radicals, HO•, can oxidize hydroxyl groups in the cellulose chains to ketones, and under the strongly basic conditions used in oxygen delignification, these compounds undergo reverse aldol reactions leading to cleavage of cellulose chains.

Lignin is a polyphenolic compound that lends wood much of its color, so it is the main target of bleaching. The cellulose is best left alone, so a relatively mild bleaching protocol is best for wood.

Another important factor affecting the aged appearance, evident in the posted image, is more difficult to replicate with a chemical treatment. That is water loss, which is responsible for cracking. A quick surface treatment might not provide the highly aged appearance in the picture$^\dagger$.

Update (and somewhat off-topic)

$\dagger$ Oak is apparently among the most difficult woods to dry without it developing cracks. If the wood is already dry then it is unlikely to crack, but if it is fresh and is allowed to dry quickly (for instance by setting in the sun for a few weeks) than it is almost certain to crack.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thanks for that excellent, informative and concise answer! +1 $\endgroup$ – David May 23 at 11:50
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks Night Writer, I have access to a pretty good wood yard from whom I can source some low grade oak hence already containing the required faults at a somewhat reduced price. $\endgroup$ – David May 24 at 8:10

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