Is a Pre-stain Wood Conditioner Necessary?

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Jacky C

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Staining is an essential part of woodworking due to its benefits and advantages for the longer term. Stain does not only make your project look furnished and premium, but it also increases the strength, overall durability, and reliability. But the thing is, you might have heard about many woodworkers recommending using a pre-stain wood conditioner or even the brands recommending the conditioners to apply before the stain. So the question here is, is pre-stain wood conditioner necessary, or can you directly apply the stain?

The application of a pre-stain wood conditioner depends on what type of wood you are applying it to. If you are using softwood, it would be necessary to use a pre-stain conditioner. If not, you can directly get on with the staining process. 

To understand the scenario better, let’s take a detailed look into all the factors and see when and if you should apply a pre-stain wood conditioner, depending on the conditions. But before moving forward, it would be a good idea to understand what pre-stain is actually for and what it does to the wood.

Also Read: How To Remove Heat Stains From Wood? [8 Sure-Fire Ways]

What is a pre-stain wood conditioner, and what is it used for?

This actually is quite a valid question, as many of you might be wondering why someone would use a pre-stain wood conditioner and what its actual function is.

Well, the reason many brands and woodworkers recommend using pre-stain wood conditioners is that different types of wood come with different densities. Density is what defines if the wood is soft, porous and if it has absorption problems. If the wood is soft and porous, then there is a high chance that wood would absorb the stain quite heavily from a few parts, whereas other parts will absorb the stain just normally or very meagerly. 

To avoid this inconsistency, pre-stain wood conditioners come into the game to solve the problem. When they are applied on the surface, the absorption quality becomes equal to the whole wood, and you can apply stains without facing dark spots or inconsistent surfaces. Not only that, but the wood conditioners also fill the gaps and pores so that the wood won’t absorb stain in an abnormal manner.

But one thing to precisely note here is that there are a few types of wood that need pre-stain wood conditioner. Also, there are types where you can directly apply the wood stain, and you will be good to go. But if you are wondering what the types of wood that need pre-stain wood conditioner are, you can take a look below.

On which types of wood should you apply a pre-stain wood conditioner?

Following are the types of wood that usually require pre-stain wood conditioner before applying the layers of stains:

  • Pine
  • Maple
  • Alder
  • Spruce
  • Fir
  • Poplar
  • Birch

Well, if you have got your hands on any of these types of wood, you might actually want to buy a pre-stain wood conditioner. But if you are using any other wood than the ones mentioned above, you can relax and directly apply the stain without thinking much.

What happens if you don’t apply pre-stain wood conditioner where needed?

There might be many woodworkers out there who were looking for answers to this specific question. So do you specifically need to invest your money and buy a pre-stain wood conditioner that too for the stain? Well, yes, until or unless you have found another way to fill the gaps and pores within your wood (we will discuss it later in the article).

And if we talk about what would happen if you do not apply a pre-stain wood conditioner where needed, then there is a high chance you will ruin the looks and durability of your project. There will be darker spots or lighter spots on the wood, the color will be unmatched and inconsistent, and of course, the finishing would not be maintained in that case. Lastly, there will also be an effect in terms of durability and reliability as the stain won’t be able to protect the surface as it should within the conditioner.

Can you use anything else other than a pre-stain wood conditioner?

The very straightforward and short answer is, yes, you can use one thing as an alternative for a pre-stain wood conditioner. The best thing is, you won’t even have to spend a single buck for that alternative. If you wonder what that alternative is, then we are talking about water here.

Water can be a great alternative for a pre-stain wood conditioner. Of course, it will not work exactly like a conditioner, but the end results will still be satisfactory. Water will simply harden the wood and fill the gap for the time period, and the staining process will be smoother. The only critical thing you might notice is that the water-applied wood will seem darker after staining than the wood that was treated with the conditioner.

Also Read: 4 Sure-Fire Ways To Lighten Stained Wood

Frequently Asked Questions 

Q1- What happens if you don’t use wood conditioner before staining?

A- If you do not use a wood conditioner before staining, the wood will have blotches and unfinished surfaces, making it look unprofessional and incomplete. That is why it is a good idea to use a pre-stain conditioner or an alternative.

Q2- How long should you wait after applying the conditioner?

A- It is recommended to wait between 12-24 hours before you apply stain to the wood. In case you are going with water, you can apply the stain after a few minutes to get the best results.

Q3- Is wood conditioner necessary on oak?

A- Oak is a hardwood, and that is why it is not really necessary to apply a pre-stain conditioner before applying the stain. Pre-stain is only necessary when you are working with a softwood like pine.

Q4- Can I put wood conditioner over the stain?

A- Definitely not! Applying wood conditioner over the stain will only ruin the wood and nothing else. You should apply a conditioner before staining so that it can smoothen the surface, fill the pores, and remove blotches. 

The Verdict!

As for the conclusion, you should just keep in mind that a pre-stain wood conditioner is necessary, but not for all cases. You should apply the conditioner if you are working with the softwood, and if not, you can simply skip the step and apply the stain without hassling yourself with anything else.

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