Q: I was in a furniture store recently and saw a bedroom set that was made from walnut but had a very light color. I tried to duplicate that color by applying household bleach to a couple of pieces of scrap walnut. Everything I try seems to leave the walnut the normal dark color. Can you suggest anything that would lighten the color of walnut?
A: You were on the right track, but used the wrong bleach. Laundry bleach will remove dye stains, but it will not remove the natural color from wood. For that you need so-called AB bleach, a wood bleach sold as a two-bottle kit.
The bottles contain strong solutions of lye and peroxide, and when the two come in contact with the wood and each other simultaneously, they will bleach wood white. Because both bottles contain strong caustic solutions, they are dangerous to handle. Read the safety warnings carefully and wear appropriate safety gear, including gloves, goggles and protective clothing. Do not let it get onto your skin or in your eyes.
By the way, are you sure the wood was walnut? It might be butternut, which looks almost exactly like walnut except that it is a light beige color. Other light colored woods can also share walnut’s grain patterns, and there are some fruit woods that often pose as walnut in furniture.