Blotchfree Staining

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Foolproof Ways To Stain Problem Woods Evenly

Possibly the most frequently asked question about wood finishing is, "How can I stain such-and-such wood evenly, without blotchiness?" The simple answer is to use a wood conditioner.

Wood conditioner is a liquid wash coat designed to go onto raw wood prior to staining. Conditioning the wood ensures that the stain will color evenly. This precautionary step is often unnecessary, since most stains go on most woods evenly. When you get uneven, blotchy coloring (sec photos, below right), it's usually because of two specific conditions occurring simultaneously: 1) You're staining woods that have random areas of resin or sap pockets, such as cherry and most softwoods (fir, pine, etc.); and 2) you're using a stain that contains an oil-soluble dye. Many commercial oil stains (or "solvent stains") contain oil-soluble dyes either alone or in combination with pigments.

Putting an oil stain on a non-sappy hardwood such as oak will yield a perfectly even staining job. Likewise, a water-soluble dye or a stain that contains only pigment will usually result in consistent coloration, even on notoriously problematic woods like cherry. (There are some exceptions that I'll discuss later in this article.) Both conditions—sappy wood and oil-soluble dye—must be present for splotching to occur. Here's why:

Oil-soluble dye stains contain a solvent that can also dissolve wood sap. When you apply the stain, the solvent mingles with the sap, causing it to suck up more dye than the surrounding wood. Darker splotches show up wherever there's an area with extra sap.

Wood conditioner works bccausc it contains a resin that acts like the sap in wood. Once applied, it makes the whole

By Michael Dresdner piece of wood act the same as the pockets of sap, so the stain penetrates evenly.

Using Wood Conditioner

If you aren't sure whether your wood is likely to splotch, first wash it down with some mineral spirits. If the solvent caus es subtle darker and lighter patches to appear, play it safe and use conditioner. It isn't always possible to tell if your stain contains an oil-soluble dye, but if the listed ingredients include naphtha, xylene, toluene, "Stoddard solvent" or mineral spirits, there's a chance that it

Banish those blotches. A wood conditioner is the first line of defense against patchy, irregular staining as shown in the photos at left below. If that fails, a weak solution of hide glue should do the trick.

Without Conditioner

With Conditioner

Minwaxstains

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