Is Wood Conditioner Necessary?

Image of a conditioned wood. But, is Wood Conditioner Necessary

It’s very likely that you have seen wooden furniture with a lovely finish and could not stop admiring it. Yes, that luxurious, extravagant, and perfectly looking furniture. It takes more than just stains and paints to get that flawlessness. Other formulas like wood conditioners are used but is wood conditioner necessary?

Wood conditioner is only necessary for soft, and porous hardwoods such as pine. Such woods do not work well with the regular wood finish. The density of wood determines how easy or hard a finish adheres tho the surface.

The density and porosity of wood might vary in different parts of the wood. So you will find that some parts absorb finishes while others do not. If that happens, you will notice some inconsistency and unevenness on the appearance of your wooden structures. Some of the wood types with such characteristics include maple, fir, pine, birch, and alder.

What is a Wood Conditioner?

After correctly answering the question, is wood conditioner necessary, it’s time we understand what the conditioner is. Wood Conditioner refers to the pre-staining step for interior wood projects before the application of an oil-based stain finish. Varathane Wood Conditioner, for example, is one such product that prevents uneven staining on the surfaces of the soft and porous woods such as maple, birch, fir, pine, and alder.

A Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner

Image of Rust oleum wood conditioner, but is wood conditioner necessary?A pre-stain wood conditioner plays an essential role in making even the surface of the wood. More importantly, it works best for bare or new wood. A wood conditioner can penetrate deep into the wood and forms a temporary cover on the wood. This cover enhances the rate of absorption to create a beautiful, even layer regardless of the angle of view. Some good wood conditioners that you can use include Minwax Water-Based Pre- Stain Wood Conditioner and Rust-Oleum Varathane Wood Conditioner.

Due to the difference in preferences, some people choose to use pre-conditioning stains on their wooden structure along with gel stains, unlike liquid stains. Gel stains have an advantage over liquid stains because they do not blot and do not necessarily need pre-stain conditioning. For most experts and experienced woodworkers, the standard liquid stains are so right on wood such as alder, pine, fir, birch, maple, etc.

How To Prepare Wood for Conditioning

Here are some of the steps necessary in the preparation of wood for conditioning.

Step One

The very first step of preparing your wood for conditioning is cleaning. You can pick any of the commercial wood cleaning agents such as Murphy’s Oil Soap. Follow the manufacturer’s direction and dilute the cleaner. Use a clean, soft cotton cloth to apply the solution to the wood. Wipe all the excess water using a clean and dry piece of cloth.

Step Two

Using a homemade solution, remove a film from the surface of the wood. Use a ration of a 1:1 blend of white vinegar and hot water and use it to clean the surface.

Note: Vinegar could have a dulling effect on the finish, therefore, use vinegar for cleaning only if you are ready to condition your wood using oil, or if you have the plans of doing refinishing of the furniture. 

In the clean using that solution of water and vinegar, you need to wet cloth in the solution, wring it and use it to wipe the surface of the wood. Wipe it such that no solution remains stagnant on the surface of the wood.

Step Three

Follow the first two steps with the application of the oil to a soft cloth. Using the cloth, wipe the oil on the surface of the wood in a circular motion. Allow the oil to stay on the surface of the wood for about 10 minutes; afterward, use a clean, soft cotton cloth to clean the surface. 

The rate of absorption of the oil depends so much on the condition of the wood. Monitor the rate of absorption for a couple of hours before applying another coat.

What Can I Use Instead of Wood Conditioner?

There are several products that you can turn into wood conditioner as long as you can use the right solvent in the process. Using the appropriate solvent, you can turn shellac, varnish, and lacquer into wood conditioners.

For varnish, use mineral spirits in its reduction. You can as well use turpentine as a pre-stain conditioner. For shellac, denatured alcohol is the best for thinning it out. A lacquer thing does the job if you choose to use lacquer as your wood conditioner.

Do You Sand after Applying Wood Conditioner?

If you choose to use an oil-based conditioner, let it penetrate deep into the wood for about 5-15 minutes. Unlike their oil-based counterparts, water Based Pre-Stain Wood Conditioners make the fibres of the wood to bulge, you should, therefore, sand the surface slightly using fine-grade sandpaper after about 30 minutes following application.

Is Wood Conditioner Necessary for Oak?

The answer is NO! You don’t need a wood conditioner for your oak wood. It’s also important to understand that wet or green wood does not adhere well with waterbased stain. Therefore, allow the wood to dry for a day. Follow it with sanding down of the grain before the application of stain.

Here’s a video on wood types that needs a conditioner


A wood conditioner prepares a surface for final finishes such as stains and sealers. There are wood types that do not adhere easily to finishes, mostly soft and porous woods, such as pine, you need to have a conditioner for your projects to be successful. So,

Is Wood Conditioner Necessary?

Finally, we have answered the question of whether or not you must have a wood conditioner. It must be clear to you by now that wood conditioning is only required when dealing with soft and porous hardwood types. Wood such as pine, fir, and maple are inconsistent with a stain which can be less appealing. Using wood conditioner for such types of wood will make the stain to adhere and even out well.

Did you find this post helpful? Kindly share with me your thought regarding the information I have provided here in the comment section below.

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Tyron Otieno

Tyron is an avid woodworker and writer. He founded this website to help other woodworkers, whether hobbyists or professionals by sharing his knowledge and experiencie after a decade of woodworking.

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