Wood conditioner is appropriate to use before you stain the wood surfaces, particularly the knotty softwoods such as pine and extremely porous hardwoods like maple and birch. It helps avoid blotchiness and gives the wood a uniform color.
However, since finishes like Danish oil, tung oil, and polyurethane are all oils and can get absorbed well, it’s not necessary to apply a pre-conditioner before applying them.
But that’s the short answer, and there is more to it that you need to understand before you start with your Danish oil wood finishing project.
Let’s explore the topic a little further and see when you should or shouldn’t use wood conditioners.
What is a Wood Conditioner – How Does it Work?
A wood conditioner is a product that’s applied to bare, unfinished wood before staining, which is why it’s also known as a pre-stain conditioner.
Applying a conditioner to the wood helps to:
- Even out the absorption of stain and finish
- Prevent blotching and unevenness in the final appearance
How does a wood conditioner work?
Wood is made up of different types of cells, including both soft and hard ones. The hard cells are called fibers, while the soft cells are called parenchyma.
The parenchyma cells absorb more stain and finish than the fibers. So when you apply stain or finish to bare wood, the parenchyma cells absorb more, resulting in uneven color.
A conditioner penetrates the wood and fills up the pores of the parenchyma cells. This limits their ability to absorb stain and finish, so the final color is more even.
Should You Always Use a Wood Conditioner Before Stain?
It depends. If you’re staining softwoods like pine, fir, or cedar, you should definitely use a conditioner. That’s because these softwoods are often very knotty and will tend to blotch when stained.
However, if you’re working with hardwoods like oak or cherry, you may not need a conditioner. Hardwoods don’t usually blotch as much as softwoods.
The exception to this is Birch and Maple. You should generally use a pre-stain conditioner on them because they are porous hardwoods.
There are also certain finishes that work as conditioners, like Danish oil and tung oil. These oils penetrate the wood and help to even out the absorption of subsequent coats of an oil-based finish.
Do You Need to Apply Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner Before Danish Oil?
Danish oil is a type of finish that contains both oil and varnish. The finish does not require a pre-stain conditioner before application because it will penetrate evenly into the tiny wood pores on its own, leaving a hard, durable surface.
However, you may want to use a pre-stain conditioner if the wood is very porous or if you’re worried about blotching due to the presence of knots on the wood.
In general, it’s a good idea to test the Danish oil on a small, inconspicuous area before applying it to the entire piece. This will help you to see how the oil gets absorbed into the wood and whether or not you need to use a conditioner.
Best Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner to Use Before Danish Oil Treatment
If you decide to use a conditioner before treating the wood with Danish oil, a few different options are available.
These include the commercially available pre-stain conditioners and DIY products that can be made with items you might have around the house.
Minwax 13407 Clear Pre Stain Wood Conditioner is a widely used product that’s easy to apply and helps ensure even absorption of stain or finish.
If you want to use Minwax conditioner on your woodwork item, here are some easy instructions for getting the most out of it…
Step 1- Clean the wood surface with a cleaner like TSP, which will remove the dirt, grease, or wax that may be present.
Also, check if there are any dents or scratches. If there are, you may want to sand them down before applying the conditioner. Use some wood filler to fill the deep scratches or holes if required.
Step 2- Apply the Minwax pre-stain wood conditioner evenly to the surface of the wood using a clean cloth or a brush. Be sure to also work it into any nooks and crannies of the project.
Step 3- Allow the conditioner to penetrate the wood for about 15 minutes. Then wipe off any excess with a clean cloth.
Step 4- Now, you’re ready to apply the Danish oil. Simply follow the instructions on the can for the application process.
Keep in mind that you need to apply the Danish oil before the wood conditioner dries out completely. If you wait for too long before applying Danish oil, the wood conditioner may get absorbed entirely into the wood and becomes ineffective at preventing a blotchy finish.
Step 5- The pre-stain will result in your Danish oil finish appearing lighter than it should. So, add a few additional coats of Danish oil to get your wood project to the desired color.
Alternatively, you can use a few household products that act as wood conditioners, like vinegar or mayonnaise.
Although I don’t recommend these options as they don’t work as well as commercial wood conditioners, some people swear by them.
- To use vinegar as a wood conditioner, simply dilute it with water in a 1:1 ratio and apply it to the wood surface with a cloth. Wipe off any excess and let it dry for 10-15 minutes.
- To use mayonnaise, apply it to the wood with a cloth, let it sit for 15-20 minutes, then wipe off the excess and let it dry for some time.
If you have some old shellac or varnish in your storage, you can also use them to seal the wood after thinning.
For thinning varnish, use some turpentine, and for diluting/dissolving shellac flakes, use denatured alcohol.
Either of these household products will work just as well as a commercial conditioner, and they’re much cheaper.
The bottom line
To protect your woodwork and give it a beautiful finish, consider using Danish oil. While not always required, using a pre-stain conditioner can help ensure the oil penetrates evenly into porous and knotty wood and avoid botching.
If you’re unsure about your wood type, it’s better to use a conditioner and follow the tips mentioned above to achieve the desired results.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.