Discoloration in Wood Underneath Old Hardware

When refinishing old furniture I come into contact with new issues regularly that I have never seen or heard of before. Yeah, it can be frustrating, annoying, and overall disappointing. Your initial plans either need tweaking or complete changes. What I have come across now on 2 different projects is having discoloration in the wood underneath the old hardware, in my case under old drawer pulls.

Discoloration under old drawer pulls and other hardware happens because wood naturally changes its color over long periods of time. Wood exposed to the air vs wood under the hardware will oxidize differently resulting in this discolored wood when you remove the hardware. 

Wood can change color for a number of reasons and under your hardware can be discolored for different reasons too, but it is most likely the reaction the wood has with oxygen over the many years of its existence.

Why Wood is Discolored Under Hardware?


The main reason the wood is discolored is that wood reacts differently under hardware to oxygen than the wood directly exposed to it. Over long periods of time, there is a slow chemical reaction, known as oxidation, this reaction changes the natural appearance of the wood.

When this happens the wood is lighter where the hardware was and darker where it was not. This is the reason why people get confused. Wood darkens naturally from oxygen, but the average person doesn’t know this, and hey I had no clue either. What the average person does know is that wood can fade from the sun, but typically the sun causes the wood to become lighter, making a lighter wood tone eliminate sun damage as the cause.

Sun Damages

It’s not to say sun damage isn’t the cause of your discolored wood beneath the hardware, but it is less likely. If your wooden piece was exposed directly to the sun then consider this a possibility, but if you know it was in a bedroom corner without sun for many years you can rule it out now.

It’s common to have furniture near a window getting sunlight every day, and you won’t notice the changes overnight. It’s still a slower process, but it happens at a faster speed than oxidation to wood. Within a few weeks, you can see severe sun damage to wood.

Sun damage on wood causes severe color changes, if the wood is stained it will fade it a lighter color. You often see this on hardwood floors, people lay a rug on the floor and then move it to see a huge change in the floor color. Anyways, this can happen to furniture hardware in a similar scientific way. Pretend the hardware is the floor rug, once you remove it from the furniture you see a color difference. Where the hardware was, it is much darker, this is because the sun UV rays could not reach the area meaning there were no damages.

Staining During Creation

Another potential reason behind the discoloration of your wood is when the piece was manufactured. It might have gone through a process where the hardware was already installed before it was painted or stained, causing the wood to be different color under the drawer pulls.

I haven’t come across this reason personally but I have heard it from other people. Maybe it was originally manufactured this way or it was refinished with the hardware on it, either way it could have caused this discoloration under the hardware.

What to do about discolored wood under drawer pulls?

When I came across this issue a couple of times now I originally wanted to buy new drawer pulls to update the piece. But I couldn’t anymore, I couldn’t fix the discoloring in the wood. I sanded it down a lot, but this did not work.

1. Use the Same or Larger Hardware

I decided the best fix was to either use the same old hardware to cover up the discolored area or find new hardware that would cover it too. On a coffee table project, I re-used the old hardware by repainting it and antiquing it with dark wax. But on an old nightstand, I found a large set of drawer pulls and covered the discolored area as best I could.

Take a look at the before and after photos below.

Covering Coffee Table Drawer Pull Discoloring With Same Hardware

fixing discoloring in wood under handles
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Covering Drawer Pull Discoloring With Larger Hardware

before and after fixing discolored wood
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2. Paint Instead of Stain

Instead of staining, you can easily paint over the discoloration and you won’t have to worry about it. You can then use whatever drawer pulls and hardware that you want. This is a simple solution having discolored wood under your hardware.

3. Touch up Area to Match (time-consuming)

If you want to try something touching up the area using wax, markers, touch up kits, paint, pigmented shellac, and many other potential options. However, this is a project for the pros, and figuring out how to mix products together to match the stain throughout will not be easy, but it is possible.

I didn’t want to spend hours on this attempting to fix the issue, my flipping ROI would never make sense. But if its a personal project give it a try and see what happens. You might need to sand and restart a few times though.

Final Thoughts

Finding out that there is discoloration in wood under old hardware sucks, but you can’t change it so deal with it. That’s what woodworking, furniture painting, and refinishing is all about. Learn to adapt to such challenges and you will learn many new skills along the way. Time is what makes you a better artist and really bringing furniture back to life is a form of art.

Feel free to ask any questions! Good luck!