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Is Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner Necessary?

Do I Need To Use Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner On My Wood? – Our Guide

If you are planning to stain some soft or hardwood in your DIY project then you might be wondering whether or not a pre-stain wood conditioner is necessary before the actual staining?

Pre-stain wood conditioner is very important on certain types of wood which are known as porous woods, this is because porous woods have different densities throughout their wood, causing a blotchy like an unprofessional stain as a result.

To help you avoid blotchy stained wood in your DIY we’ve put together a guide below which will discuss how this conditioner works, which wood needs this conditioner, how to apply it as well as some alternatives.

How Does Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner Work? 

Before we get into discussing which woods need these conditioners and how to use them on a piece of wood, we need to understand how these store-bought wood conditioners work to eliminate blotchiness.

A pre-stain wood conditioners main job is to even out the absorption of your wood stain when applied, it does this by sealing the wood to create a more uniform coat no matter the wood density. 

Some people argue that a pre-stain wood conditioner is not necessary and make your wood stain lighter but if you want smooth stain wood projects, we would not recommend missing this step.

Types Of Pre-Stain Conditioner 

The pre-stain wood conditioner comes in the form of oil-based stains and a water-based wood conditioner, both perform well but people suggest sticking to the main type of stain you will use, for example, if you are going to be using an oil-based stain to woods then also use an oil-pre stain for the best results.

Which Type Of Wood Needs Pre-Stain Conditioner? 

As we mentioned above, all types of porous woods need a pre-stain conditioner if you want to avoid a blotchy stain, there are some more problematic woods however which are worth naming, these woods always need a conditioner before staining. 

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

How To Apply Pre-Stain Wood Conditioners 

Applying a pre-stain wood conditioner is simple and is not time intensive no matter the type of wood conditioner that you use. 

We’ve listed some simple steps to follow below which will take you through how to prepare your raw wood for staining and apply the conditioner below. 


  • Step one – Start by checking your wood for any blemishes, gouges or scratches, these can all affect how your end stain looks, we always suggest sanding down your wood for a smooth finish beforehand too. 
  • Step two – Check for any glue residue which needs to be sanded then wipe your wood down with a dry cloth and some mineral spirits to get remove leftover sawdust.

How To

  • Step one – Using a brush or a clean rag take the wood stain conditioner and apply it all over the types of wood, work with the wood grain not against it for the most natural finish if you are worried about your coat of wood conditioner turning your wood lighter first then do a small patch test first.
  • Step two – Let the stain sink into the porous hardwoods or soft woods for about 15 minutes so it can be absorbed, if you pre-conditioner stain is absorbed too quickly then you might need to put another coat on the wood project and wait again. 
  • Step three – Apply the main wood stain, this should be done anywhere from after 15 minutes to 2 hours since you applied the conditioner, the rules can change according to the pre-stain that you used beforehand.

Alternatives To Wood Conditioners 

If you want to have pre-condition wood before applying stain but don’t want to buy wood conditioners there are some cheaper alternatives to consider which will work in a similar way to help even out absorbent woods.

  • Tea stains – Tea stain is an exceptional wood project conditioner and is easy to make. All you need is some steeped black tea and a paintbrush, after the stain has dried you will also need to sand over the wood since it raises the grain and makes it rough due to the high water content.
  • Black walnut stains – This natural pre-condition wood stain is made from black walnuts, walnut hull powder and some vinegar. Simply dissolve the powder in some boiling water then wait until cooled and add in your vinegar. Apply the black walnut stain with a brush, wait until dry then apply another four coats or until desired.
  • Coffee stains – The coffee stain is an excellent natural stain for lighter woods without turning it too dark, keep it a nice golden caramel colour and help to prevent blotchy wood. To make a coffee stain conditioner for wood simply brew some coffee and apply to your sanded wood surface and seal with your main wood stain.

Frequently Asked Questions About Pre-Stain Wood Conditioners 

Should I put a pre-stain wood conditioner on soft woods? 

Pre-stain conditioner can be used on both porous softwoods and hardwoods, no matter the type of wood.

Are hardwoods or softwoods more likely to produce a blotchy stain? 

Softwoods are more likely than hardwoods to become blotchy after applying conditioner since they have a less uniformed pore structure on the inside.

How long is the window between putting your pre-stain conditioner and main wood stain? 

Most store-bought wood conditioners give you a two hour window time between applying your conditioner and applying your main stain.

Should I sand my wood before using a conditioner?

Yes, wood should be sanded smooth before applying your pre-stain conditioner for better and more even results.

Do I need to sand my wood after using a pre-stain conditioner?

For oil-based wood conditioners you do not need to sand after using them but for water-based conditioners, you should sand since they raise the grain in the wood.

Last Words 

Overall, a pre-stain wood conditioner is important if you working on staining porous woods such as maple, alder, pine or spruce as well as a few other types of wood, this is because without conditioner normal stain can become blotchy once dried. 

We recommend using a pre-stain conditioner type that matches the main stain you will be using, whether a water-based stain or oil-based stain for professional results.

Scott Buckley

Scott Buckley

I'm Scott, a Woodworker by day and book geek by night. I love making things out of wood. While I have and still, on occassion do, work with metal and plastics, I find them to be cold and somewhat boring. Wood is warm and I feel close to nature with it. I started as a means to help like minded creative folk to answer burning questions. I hope you enjoy reading and learning, and always feel free to reach out to me should you have any questions!

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