Wood conditioner is appropriate to use before you stain the wood surface. However, since finishes like danish oil, tung oil, and polyurethane are all oils, it’s not necessary to apply a pre-conditioner.
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. 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 will absorb more, resulting in uneven color.
A conditioner penetrates into 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, then 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 into the wood and help to even out the absorption of subsequent coats of an oil-based finish.
Danish oil is typically a type of finish that contains both oil and varnish. It penetrates into the wood and leaves a hard, durable surface.
Danish oil does not require a pre-stain conditioner because it will penetrate evenly into the wood on its own.
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 will absorb into the wood and whether or not you need to use a conditioner.
If you decide that you need to use a conditioner before treating the wood with danish oil, there are a few different options available.
You can use a product that’s specifically designed as a wood conditioner like Minwax 13407 Clear Pre Stain Wood Conditioner.
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. This will remove any dirt, grease, or wax that may be present on the wood.
Also, check if there are any dents or scratches. If there are, you may want to sand them down before applying the conditioner.
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 work it into any nooks and crannies.
Step 3- Allow the conditioner to penetrate into the wood for about 15 minutes before wiping 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 when applying.
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 completely absorbed 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 the commercial wood conditioners, some people swear by them.
To use vinegar, simply dilute it with water in a 1:1 ratio and apply it to the wood with a cloth. Wipe off any excess and let it dry.
To use mayonnaise, apply it to the wood with a cloth and let it sit for 15-20 minutes. Wipe off any excess and let it dry.
If you have some old shellac or varnish in your storage you can also use them after thinning to seal the wood.
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
Danish oil is a great way to protect your woodwork while also giving it a beautiful finish.
While it’s not essential, by using a pre-stain conditioner, you can ensure that the oil will penetrate evenly into the porous and knotty wood and prevent any blotching.
So, if you’re unsure, it’s always better to use a conditioner by following the tips and mentioned above.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for more than a decade to serve the customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques that are being implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.
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