What Is Pre Stain Wood Conditioner & When to Use?

A pre-stain wood conditioner is a woodworking material known to condition wood pores to absorb stains evenly during staining. As useful as this pre-staining material, it could either mar or make your staining if not used correctly.

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What Is Pre Stain Wood Conditioner & How To Use?

Wood conditioner allows the wood stain to penetrate evenly, be better absorbed by the wood surface, and prevent spots and streaks. Wood conditioners must be used when staining porous wood, including Pine, Alder, Birch, Maple, Poplar, Cherry, Spruce, and Fir. Applying wood conditioner with a brush in the direction of the wood grain for best results after sanding, then wait 15 to 30 minutes to allow it to dry.

This article has put together all the necessary information you should know about wood conditioners. Some of which are the pros and cons of a wood conditioner, how to apply it, and the 6 best wood conditioners you should choose from.

Also, how to make homemade wood conditioners and how to choose wood conditioners for different wood surfaces will be explained.

Carefully read through for more.

Table of Contents

Main Function of Wood Conditioner

A wood conditioner works best for porous hardwoods and softwoods like soft pine. It helps such woods to absorb stains evenly to prevent streaks, and light and dark spots. Some of the main functions of a wood conditioner are:

  • Prevents blotchiness
  • Uniform acceptance of stain color
  • Smooth and even finish.

Prevent Blotchiness

Porous woods are susceptible to soaking wood stains non-uniformly due to the different open structures of their grains.

Hence, these uneven pores of the wood grains absorb stains inconsistently, leading to some areas of the wood being blotchy, dark stained, and light stained.

Wood conditioners prevent these by sealing the wood pores moderately.

Uniform Acceptance of Stain Color

Another major function of a wood conditioner is that because it penetrates and seals off the pores evenly, stains get to penetrate easily and uniformly.

If the conditioner was not used, some parts of the open grain wood surface would have deep stain color while others would have light stain color.

Smooth & Even Finish

When a wood conditioner prevents your hard and soft porous woods from stain blotchiness and the wood stain penetrates evenly, then streaks and other stain application issues are well managed. Hence, you achieve a smooth wood stain finish.

Pros and Cons of Wood Conditioner

There are a lot of wood stain issues when woodworking, especially when working on bare wood.

One of these issues is when wood stains get splotchy or blotchy due to the porous structure of the wood density.

Hence, a store-bought wood conditioner is very helpful to prevent this issue. It also helps to avoid a lot of staining mistakes thereby enhancing a beautiful staining and smooth finish. Below are some advantages and disadvantages of the wood conditioner.


  • Even staining
  • Prevent streaks
  • Prevent blotchiness
  • Uniform color
  • Perfect finish


  • Lightens stain color
  • Drying time could be high
  • Extra woodworking time

Is Wood Conditioner Necessary before Staining?

A wood conditioner is not necessary to be used as a staining preparation for every wood.

For hard or softwood with less porous pores, their grain structures are with a more uniform diameter. Hence, they might not necessarily need a pre-stain wood conditioner.

But, you can still use it to lightly condition such woods. However, porous woods like pine, birch, spruce, alder, etc, have irregular open grain structures that can absorb wood irregularly.

Therefore, a wood conditioner is a necessary pre-staining material to use on such woods to prevent staining issues that could arise because of their structural makeup.

Pine Loves Wood Conditioner
Pine Loves Wood Conditioner

Which Woods Need Wood Conditioner?

Wood conditioners are not only used on softwoods, and they are used on both hardwoods and softwoods with certain structures.

Any wood with an open grain structure with varying pore diameter requires a wood conditioner, and some too small pored tight grain woods.

Here are lists of some woods that need wood conditioner:

Furthermore, some hardwoods with closed grain structures like cherry also need conditioning. The stains will not readily soak into the woods if the pores are too tight and get blotchy. Hence, a sanding sealer or a wood conditioner is also used.

When You Should Not Use Wood Conditioner?

A wood conditioner is only meant to be used before staining. This is the first thing you should note and that is why it is called a pre-stain wood conditioner.

Probably you forgot to apply the wood conditioner before staining, then you decided to apply it to the stain. You should not use a wood conditioner like that.

The best thing to do in such a situation is to sand in between coats, or strip off the stain and then apply the conditioner. Also, do not use a wood conditioner on non-porous woods like oak. It is designed only to limit the rate of stain absorption in a porous wood.

Wood Conditioner vs Sanding Sealer

The work of wood conditioners and sanding sealers are different. A sanding sealer might also prevent stains from being unevenly absorbed. However, it is applied on a wood surface after wood stain application.

And its major work is to seal the stain on the wood thereby preventing stain bleeding and stain reacting with topcoat or clear coat.

On the other hand, a wood conditioner is used before staining, unlike the sanding sealer that is used after staining.

Also, the conditioner soaks into the wood to fill in the pores and make available even space for the wood stain to penetrate.

Types of Wood Conditioner

Oil-Based Wood Conditioner

There are majorly two types of wood conditioners, the oil-based wood conditioner, and the water-based wood conditioner. You can not use just any wood conditioner with your wood stains. For oil-based wood stains, an oil-based conditioner is designated to be used.

This conditioner helps ensure that your oil stain is uniformly absorbed irrespective of the wood porosity and wood density. As a result, blotchy or splotchy staining and stain streaks are prevented.

Water-Based Wood Conditioner

This type of wood conditioner is only designed for use with water-based wood stain. Just like its oil counterpart, it enhances water-based stains to be well absorbed by woods with porous structures. There are different types of water-based wood conditioners produced by different companies.

Some of the advantages of using certain types of water-based conditioners are reduction of grain raising in wood, and fast dry time among others.

How to Choose between Water-based and Oil-based Wood Conditioner?

Choosing between water-based and oil-based wood conditioners should not be difficult. For your oil-based stain, choose an oil-based conditioner and for your water-based stain, choose a water-based conditioner. However, ensure you choose the suitable conditioner for your exterior or interior woodworking project, and for large surface woodworking, choose a fast-drying conditioner.

Do You Need Conditioner for Water-Based Stain?

Yes, you do. Especially if you are working on soft and porous woods like pinewood. You need a conditioner to prevent the water-based stain from highly soaking up large pores and minimally soaking up not too large pores. Thereby, leading to blotches, streaks, and an uneven finish.

Can Minwax Water-based Pre-stain be Used with Oil-Based Stain?

Oil and solvents are two immiscible liquids. Hence, water-based pre-stain and oil-based stain are two non-compatible materials. Therefore, to avoid non-stain or little stain absorption, you should not use Minwax water-based pre-stain wood conditioner with an oil-based stain.

Rather, use a more compatible oil-based wood conditioner for effective results.

How Long Do You Let Wood Conditioner Dry before Staining?

There are different wood conditioners manufactured by different brands. Hence, they have different drying times. While a pre-stain conditioner can get dry in 30 minutes, another might take just 15 minutes to dry.

However, some manufacturers recommend that you must not let a pre-stain conditioner stay on a wood surface for more than 2 hours before staining. Nevertheless, certain atmospheric and weather factors can influence the drying time of your wood conditioner.

That is, if the level of humidity is too high, above 70 percent, an applied wood conditioner will require a longer drying time.

Do You Have to Sand after Applying pre-stain Wood Conditioner?

Sanding after applying a wood conditioner is quite unnecessary except for certain conditions. It is mostly recommended to sand the surface of your wood after using a water-based conditioner. This is because it is believed that the water-based conditioner would have raised the grain of the wood.

Hence, you need to sand down the raised wood grain lightly. However, some brands of water-based pre-stain conditioner are non-grain raising. Hence, you might not have to sand after using such water-based products.

On the other hand, an oil-based pre-stain conditioner doesn’t raise wood grain. Hence, you do not need to sand it after using it.

How To Apply Wood Conditioner before Staining?

It is another thing to have exquisite knowledge about a particular matter and it is quite another to know how to appropriately apply that knowledge. Applying wood conditioner is quite straightforward, the steps are highlighted below. First of all, here are the tools you need.

Tools You Need

  • Mineral spirits
  • Sandpapers (low-grit to fine-grit)
  • Brush
  • Rag
  • Drop cloth
  • Wood conditioner
  • Protective gear.

Steps to Use Pre-stain Wood Conditioner

Step 1: Surface Preparation

As usual, to get a well-prepared surface, sanding is required be it a bare wood or a stripped wood surface. Start sanding with low-grit sandpaper and gently move on to using fine-grit sandpaper to remove all scratches. Then remove all sanding dust with a rag.

For optimal removal of all sanding dust particles, wet a clean cloth with mineral spirits and use it to wipe the wood surface and let it dry.

Step 2: Wood Conditioner Application

Along the direction of the wood grain, apply a thin coat of the wood conditioner in an even manner and with equal pressure. Ensure the conditioner gets to every area of the wood surface to ensure even stain penetration.

Also, while brushing in the conditioner, do so while applying equal hand pressure. In addition, avoid applying thick coats of the conditioner to prevent extended drying time.

Step 3: Precautions.

After applying a water-based wood conditioner, ensure you quickly remove the excess conditioner to prevent the excesses from over-raising the wood grain. This is because water-based products soak into wood faster.

Furthermore, when applying more than one coat of the conditioner, let each coat dry for a minimum of 30 minutes before applying another.

Step 4: Finalization

Finally, before applying a stain over the wood conditioner, make sure the conditioner is fully dry. If possible let it dry overnight before putting a stain on it to prevent the blotchy staining you are trying to avoid effectively.

However, be aware that if the level of humidity in your work area is below 50% and above 70%, the drying time for the conditioner will extend. Nevertheless, wait until the wood conditioner dries before moving on to the staining step.

6 Best Pre Stain Wood Conditioner Reviews

Best for Pine, Poplar, Maple – Minwax 61500 Clear Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner for Oil-Based Stains

This is an oil-based pre-stain treatment produced by Minwax. This wood conditioner helps to prevent blotchy and streaky staining on all wood types. That is, it can be used on any form of wood be it porous hardwoods or softwoods. Also, it is designated to be used for both interior and exterior wood surfaces.

Furthermore, you can apply wood stain immediately after applying this wood conditioner and a quart provides extended coverage of 75sq ft per quart. This conditioner works perfectly for soft and porous wood like pine and maple. It does not alter the natural effect of staining on them.

Rather, this clear wood conditioner helps to sufficiently even out the penetration of the oil-based wood stain. In addition, it ensures a smooth stain application on any wood.


  • Immediate staining
  • Suitable for hard & softwoods
  • High absorbency
  • Easy to use
  • Prevents streaky and blotchy staining.


  • Only for oil-based stains.

Best for Kitchen Cabinets – RUST-OLEUM 211776 Premium Varathane Wood Conditioner, Clear

This is another oil-based wood conditioner. It has a clear color, is formulated for use with oil stains, and is suitable only for interior woodworking projects like cabinets, flooring, trims, etc. It has a deep penetrating power and it does not chemically alter the staining outcome, but enhances it to provide a nice staining appearance.

This wood conditioner helps to seal softwood like maple, pine, etc for even stain absorption. That is, it is specifically designed for soft and porous woods to enhance their beauty after staining. This conditioner is also formulated to provide a deep hue of color during stain application.

In other words, it does not lighten the stain. Also, this conditioner works with any type of oil-based wood stain to eliminate splotches and the like.


  • High penetration
  • Seals pore minimally
  • Easy to use
  • Deep stain color


  • 1 – 2 hours drying time
  • Softwoods only
  • Interior use only.

Best for Butcher Block – General Finishes Oil Based Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner

Here is another oil-based conditioner, but it is produced by General Finishes this time around. This wood conditioner is majorly formulated for porous softwoods like birch, cherry, poplar, etc. This means you should not use it on porous hardwoods.

It sufficiently penetrates the wood grain and prepares the pores to accept oil wood stains uniformly.

Furthermore, it does not alter the natural color of the woods, it rather blends with it. And also, this wood conditioner helps to enhance the uniform coverage of any oil stains thereby reducing blotchy, streaky, and splotchy staining. It is easily applied with a brush, paint pad applicator, or even a cloth.

Also, it cleans up easily with mineral spirits. However, be reminded that the chemicals in any oil-based conditioner are harmful, hence use the necessary protective gear.


  • Durability
  • Deep penetration
  • Easy to use
  • Easy to clean


  • Softwoods only
  • Combustible

Best for Water-based Stain – Minwax 618514444 Water-Based Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner

This is a clear-colored water-based wood conditioner produced by Minwax. This water-based wood conditioner can be used on all types of wood, whether soft or hard. And it can be used with any type of water-based wood stains. Also, because it is water-based, it is easily cleaned up with soap and water.

It is also free of chemicals compared to an oil-based wood conditioner. Water-based stains are susceptible to raising woods’ grain. But, this conditioner does not do that. However, ensure you wipe off excess conditioner between the first 5 minutes of application to prevent grain raising.

Also, it eliminates the possibility of irregular soaking up of water-based stains into the wood which could lead to blotchiness.


  • Easy to use
  • Easy to clean
  • Reduced toxic chemicals
  • Work on all wood types
  • Prevent grain-raising
  • Long-lasting


  • Only for water-based stains.

Best Safe – Daddy Van’s All Natural Beeswax Non-Toxic Wood Conditioner

Do you know that beeswax is a good wood conditioner when formulated rightly? This non-toxic chemical-free biobased beeswax produced by Daddy Van’s is a good formulation of beeswax conditioner. It has a two-in-one function. It can be used as a conditioner and a polish in case you want to glow your wood.

Apart from conditioning your wood with this natural beeswax, the added value your wood gets is nourishment, renewal, and deep glow. Due to its safe chemical formulations can be used on food contact wooden furniture like butcher’s blocks and kitchen cabinets. It is also safe for baby furniture like wood cribs, and wooden toys.

Furthermore, it works as a water-resistant wax sealer to give a resulting matte finish and it is easily applied with a cloth in the direction of the grain pattern.


  • Low VOC
  • No odor
  • Conditioner plus polish
  • Easy application
  • Easy to use


  • Interior use only

Best for Antiques – Howard Products FW0016 Wood Polish & Conditioner

Here is another polish plus wood conditioner produced by the Howard company. If you know about conditioning hair and nourishing it, you will understand the work of this orange-colored wood conditioner and polish. It contains conditioning oils that deeply moisturize and feed the wood as it conditions it.

This carnauba wax and beeswax conditioner is also blended with orange oil and mineral oil and can be used on all wood types, finished or unfinished. Added advantages of using this type of conditioner are wood cracking, drying, and fading prevention. Also, it is easily applied with a cloth.

Furthermore, this wood conditioner helps beautifully highlight wood’s grain deeply, enhancing wood’s beauty. However, it is designed for interior use only.


  • Durable
  • Easy to use
  • Good scent
  • Wood moisturizer
  • Contain conditioning oils
  • Conditioner plus polish


  • Interior use only

Home-made Alternative to Pre-stain Conditioner

What Can You Use if You Don’t Have Wood Conditioner?

Do you know you can make a wood conditioner yourself? You can either use tannins in black tea or coffee to fill in the porous pores of light wood. Also, you can use polyurethane and mineral spirits in a ratio of 1:2. Lacquer thinner and lacquer and denatured alcohol mixed with shellac can be used.

How to Make Homemade Wood Conditioner?

To make a DIY wood conditioner with denatured alcohol and shellac, mix an equal amount of the substances. For lacquer thinner and lacquer, use a ratio of 3:1. You can also mix three-quarters of olive or canola oil with one-quarter of white vinegar to make your DIY wood conditioner.

How to Make Food Safe Wood Finish and Conditioner?

To make a food-safe DIY wood conditioner, you will need melted beeswax, orange or lemon oil, coconut or sesame oil, walnut oil, and vitamin E. Mix 5 teaspoons of beeswax, 2 teaspoons of organic coconut oil and 6 teaspoons of walnut oil, and dry heat (medium heat).

Remove from heat, add orange oil and 2 capsules of vitamin E. Mix well and that’s all.

Can You Use Mineral Spirits as Wood Conditioner?

Some professional woodworkers make use of mineral spirits only as a wood conditioner. This is because they believe this paint thinner can also seep into too opened pores to soak them up and bring about even acceptance of stains.

However, you should mix it with a sealant for better performance.

Can You Use Olive Oil to Restore Wood?

This easy to get oil is generally recommended as a conditioning oil for wood. Therefore, you can use it to restore the wood. However, try to mix it with white vinegar to give your wood an effective restoration. 1/4 vinegar plus 3/4 olive oil is a good mixture to start with.

How Do You Condition Wood Naturally?

One natural way to condition wood is by using natural conditioners that will even-tone light-colored porous woods and allow them to take stains evenly. Seeing that the tannins in these kinds of woods are low, you can naturally condition them by using the natural wood stain: black tea, coffee, or black walnut powder.

Wood Conditioner for Different Wood Surface

1. Oak, Red Oak

Red oak is a known hardwood in the woodworking industry. It is often recommended not to use a pre-stain conditioner with Red Oak. In other words, a wood conditioner is not necessary to be used on red oak.

But, you can still apply wood conditioner to improve the rate of stain absorption of the wood. However, you should utilize a sanding sealer on your red oak to prevent the red tannins from bleeding through.

2. Pine

The best wood to apply wood conditioner on is softwood, and pine is a good example of such. Pine has a different diameter of readily absorbing pores. Hence, these different pores accept stains irregularly messing up your staining.

Hence, it is important to make use of a wood conditioner on pine to correct this structural deficiency before staining.

However, ensure you apply the wood conditioner with even hand pressure.

3. Maple

Maple is another softwood that is generally recommended to be subjected to pre-stain treatment. However, some professional woodworkers advise that maple should not be subjected to conditioning because they figured that it seals the maple grain.

Hence, stain penetration and deep stain color are greatly reduced. This could be due to pre-staining hard maple instead of soft maple. Nevertheless, applying wood conditioner of not more than one thin coat should work on maple.

4. Cherry

Cherry is another wood that gets blotchy and splotchy without using a wood conditioner. The more open wood grain readily absorbs stain to produce a dark-colored area, while the normal open wood grain in the maple wood absorbs wood stain normally causing a light-colored area.

Hence, applying wood conditioner optimally prevent this be it a homemade or store-bought wood conditioner. However, to deeply enhance the curly feature of cherry, use tung oil or linseed oil to condition it.

5. Poplar

Poplar is a hardwood that serves as a good alternative to more dense hardwoods like oak. However, this wood can get blotchy too. An instant solution that comes to mind is “use a wood conditioner”. Yes, you are right. However, you should use a wood conditioner if you want to stain your poplar lightly.

You recommend using a gel stain for a deep color stain on your poplar.

This is because a wood conditioner provides little pore space for poplar to absorb enough coats of stain to get a deep color.

6. Cedar

Cedarwood is a pinkish-red softwood like pine. It is naturally resistant to insect damage, decay, and mildew. Therefore it is mostly used for exterior wood surfaces like fences. As beautiful as all these characteristics are, one major disadvantage of cedar is that it quickly weathers and changes color as it does.

Moisture can be held responsible for this weathered effect. However, by applying wood conditioner, the cedar is prevented from getting blotchy and can also condition the cedar tannins from reacting with atmospheric moisture.

7. Plywood

Plywood is made up of thin slabs of particular woods glued together, unlike MDF made from the saw and sanding dust of different woods. Before you decide to use a wood conditioner on your plywood you need to determine if it is softwood plywood or hardwood plywood.

Hardwood plywood might not necessarily need a wood conditioner. However, for softwood plywood, a wood conditioner should be used.

8. Veneer

Plywood is made up of thin wood veneers. Hence, wood veneers are thinner than plywood. And just like there is a hardwood veneer, there is a softwood veneer. Hence, if your veneer is composed of softwood, then applying wood conditioner is necessary.

In addition, if your bare veneer is smooth, a very light sanding is okay before applying the wood conditioner, and always ensure you do not leave the conditioner on the veneer for more than 15 minutes.

9. Wood Filler

A wood filer is used to fill holes and cracks in the woods. They are chemically designed; hence, might not accommodate stains so well. As a result, when wood fillers are used on wood that readily absorbs the wood stain, the wood filler gets light stained.

On the other hand, the wood filler could get dark stained when used on woods that absorb stains poorly. To prevent this, a wood conditioner can be used.


Does Wood Conditioner Make Stain Darker?

A wood conditioner does not make stains darker. Rather, it is known to make stains lighter. This is because the conditioner would have sealed up the space taking stains in the wood, thereby reducing the rate of absorption of wood stains, resulting in light stain color.

Does Wood Conditioner Go Before Polyurethane If Not Staining?

A wood conditioner is designed to accommodate and enhance the uniform acceptance of wood stain and not a wood sealant. However, to know the effect of this staining process on your wood, test it out on scrap pieces of the wood. However, applying polyurethane over wood conditioner is not ideal.

Can You Apply Wood Conditioner Over Stain?

Different woods will react varyingly to applying wood conditioner over the stain. However, one thing is certain: such a reaction will be a bad one. This is because a wood conditioner is a pre-staining material and not an after-staining material.

Should I Use Two Coats Of Wood Conditioner?

You can even use 3 coats for very porous woods, but ensure they are thin coats. And do not apply a wood conditioner in more than 3 thin coats. Also, if you are using more than one coat, ensure each coat completely dries before applying another with the same hand pressure.

What Happens If You Leave A Wood Stain On Too Long?

Perhaps your staining already got blotchy before you remembered you did not use a wood conditioner. But you decided to continue staining and leave the blotchy stains on the wood. When you do that, the stains might become sticky or tacky in the long run or the stained surface becomes rough.

What Do Oil And Vinegar Do To Wood?

A precise combination of canola oil or olive oil and vinegar conditions wood. This solution provides 2-in-one wood restorative work. The first is that the oil soaks into the wood to condition it. While the acetic acid in the vinegar gives the wood a physical makeover

How Do You Use Behr Water-Based Wood Conditioner?

To use Behr water-based pre-stain, the first thing to do is to stir the conditioner without shaking or thinning it thoroughly. Then carefully apply it to the wood surface with a cloth (saturated and clean), or polyester-made brush. After the pre-stain has soaked into the wood, remove excess within 15 minutes.

Should I Condition Wood Before Danish Oil?

Danish oil is a penetrating wood finish that soaks into wood unlike surface finishes like polyurethanes. Therefore, if your woodworking project is on porous woods, a wood conditioner might be necessary to enhance even absorption of the oil to avoid blotchiness.

Can You Use Wood Conditioner On Hardwood?

Yes, you can. However, a wood conditioner might be unnecessary on hardwoods with uniform pores like red oak and white oak. But, for hardwoods with less uniform pore structures like alder and aspen, a pre-stain wood conditioner should be used to prevent splotchy staining.

Final Words: What does wood conditioner do?

Wood conditioner is an ultra-thin conditioning substance. Because it is ultra-thin, a wood conditioner can deposit itself inside the uneven large pores of some woods to provide uniform pores required for non-blotchy and smooth staining.

Therefore, this substance is a necessary pre-staining tool when working with some woods.

Hence, instead of counting the use of a conditioner as unnecessary, use it and save yourself the stress that comes with splotchy staining. How to use a wood conditioner and the different information needed to use it effectively have been specified in this article.

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