Applying wood conditioner can be tricky. Although necessary to stain soft woods, the process of applying the conditioner and then the stain can be confusing. But certain wood conditioning tips will provide an even coverage of stain on even the softest wood.
Wood conditioners are only necessary on the softest woods. Soft woods and pourous woods are often hard to use with stains because the stain will blotch and streak due to the uneven wood texture. Soft woods like pine need conditioners to even out their surfaces to enable smooth stain coverage. The conditioner helps pretreat the wood, giving it a more even surface to work with. There are oil-based and water-based conditioners. Use the same base of conditioner that matches the stain. If the stain is water-based, use a water-based conditioner.
Preparing the wood is as important as the conditioning. The wood should be clean and oil-free. Nicks and scratches should be sanded away. The conditioner helps even out the wood, but it does not perform miracles. If the wood is rough due to poor sanding or other cosmetic issues, the stain will not sit right.
Wash the wood with water and a mild soap solution. Allow to dry for 24 to 48 hours depending on the air's moisture level. Sand down all surfaces. It is also important to remove any previous stains if there are any. Use a stain remover or paint thinner in a well-ventilated area for this task. Clean the wood with a soft cloth to remove all dust particles; these will ruin the finish of the final stain.
Apply the conditioner like a traditional varnish or stain. Use a large brush and work in small sections. Paint on the wood conditioner along the natural grain of the wood. Apply in a thick coat and allow to sit for five minutes. Immediately wipe away the excess and move on to a new section. It is important that you allow each section to sit for exactly the same amount of time. Otherwise, the stain will soak in more in certain spots, which will cause an uneven appearance. Try not to overlap the stained sections as you work.
There are several schools of thought on how long the wood conditioner should sit. Cabot Stains says that stain should be applied immediately after applying the conditioner. However, the magazine Popular Woodworking says that most conditioners should be allowed to sit for at least two hours, and often up to 24 hours. According to Popular Woodworking, applying the stain immediately after the conditioner works best for small items, but for large pieces of furniture the conditioner should be allowed to cure for 24 hours before applying the stain. This produces the most even coverage results.