What Can I Use Instead of Wood Conditioner?

Wood conditioners partially seal the wood grain and allow the stain to penetrate the surface uniformly. Also, most softwoods do not absorb stains very well, and it would be best to use the formula for a more consistent stain color. However, is there an alternative for wood conditioners? Let’s engage in the topic, What Can I Use Instead of Wood Conditioner, to find out.

You can apply shellac, varnish, or lacquer as substitutes for commercial and homemade wood conditioners. But it would be prudent to use the recommended proportions and solvents to deliver a suitable result—for instance, thin varnish with turpentine or mineral spirits and use denatured alcohol for shellac. Also, consider a lacquer thinner for lacquer.

That said, read through this guide for more insight into improvising and handling wood conditioners.

How Do I Make My Own Wood Conditioner?

Making a wood conditioner depends on the available supplies and the desired outcome. So, check out the following steps for making homemade and pre-stain wood conditioners.

  • Homemade Wood Conditioner

Homemade wood conditioners leave the surface looking fresh and hydrated. Thus, they are perfect for kitchen cabinets with grease and other food residues. In addition, the project requirements are readily available items, and they include ⅔ cup coconut oil, ⅓ cup beeswax pellets, and two teaspoons of food-grade mineral oil.

Once you have the above supplies, combine them in a double boilers top section. Then, simmer water in a saucepan and position it on top. Also, allow the ingredients to melt slowly and keep stirring until they blend.

The next step is to remove the heat and wipe any condensed water from the bowl’s bottom. Here, ensure that no water drips into the fixed mixture. Otherwise, it will mess up the mixture proportions.

Lastly, pour the homemade wood conditioner into a heat-safe sealable container or a jar and allow it to cool. Then, use it on wooden surfaces, such as kitchen cabinets and furniture.

  • Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner

The supplies for this conditioner include varnish and turpentine. Also, please note that the recipe does not depend on precise measurements to give a perfect product. Thus, sometimes outside forces, like humidity, may affect its behavior.

Nonetheless, you increase the chances of a successful product by following the correct mixing and application procedures. So, add the turpentine to the varnish slowly. And then, stir till you deliver a thin consistency that is easy to apply with a paintbrush.

Additionally, allow the solution to sit overnight after applying it to the wooden surface. Then, stain it with the chosen formula. This way, the conditioner will dry well and readily receive the stain coat.

On top of that, there are multiple options if you do not have any wood conditioner in the house. Also, since the products are thinned formulas, you can easily improvise by thinning most finishes.

Below are some recommended recipes.

  • Polyurethane and Mineral Spirits. This mixture is probably the closest one to commercial wood conditioners. And all you need to do is mix two parts of mineral spirits with one part of polyurethane.
  • Shellac and Denatured Alcohol. Mix one part of denatured alcohol with one part of a shellac formula.
  • Lacquer and Lacquer Thinner. Blend one part of lacquer with three parts of lacquer thinner.

NB: Let each formula dry well before applying the stain to facilitate a professional finish. In addition, since the waiting duration varies depending on the product, remember to check the manufacturer’s instructions.

There are also a few other options if you do not have the above products. In addition, since all you need is to reduce the wood’s stain absorption ability, it is easy to improvise a formula.

First, apply the stain with a cloth instead of a foam brush and observe the difference. The exercise helps control the stain amount that reaches the lumber and facilitates consistent stain application.

Alternatively, you can use gel stain, comprising of thickened oil-based stain. This formula is thicker, and thus the wood does not absorb most of it. In addition, one of its primary applications is staining soft and porous woods. So, you can expect a desirable outcome.

Can I Use Water as a Wood Conditioner?

Water is not an ideal substitute for a wood conditioner. It raises the wood grain and delivers an uneven surface. Thus, you will have to sand the surface before applying the stain, lest you deliver a rough finish.

On top of that, water causes stain application difficulties when working with oil-based stains. It leads to adhesion issues and causes the finish to peel. In addition, it would be best to get a wood conditioner out of a solvent-based wood thinner than a water-based product.

Consider using the recommended thinners for shellac, lacquer, and varnish when improvising wood conditioners. Also, you guarantee a successful finish by getting the most suitable wood conditioner among the above options.

Can I Use Coconut Oil as a Wood Conditioner?

Image of Coconut Oil but Can I Use Coconut Oil as a Wood Conditioner?Yes. You can use coconut oil as a wood conditioner. It keeps the lumber supple, preventing warping and reducing the effects of regular use. In addition, the oil is inexpensive and available in local stores. Thus, you can easily get it for your wood projects.

Coconut oil comes in odorless varieties and boasts of being an all-green formula with no toxic ingredients. Also, it offers powerful antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal qualities that preserve the wood from pests.

On top of that, the oil moisturizes the wood and keeps it from cracking. It also brings out the unique colors of your old antique wooden items. Thus, you can use it to treat and polish your lumber.

Coconut oil is easy to use. Check out the simple instructions below:

  • Sand the wood gently with sandpaper and use a sponge dipped in soapy water to wipe it clean. Also, you can use a dust cloth or a damp towel for the cleaning session and then allow the surface to dry to the touch.
  • Use a clean cloth to rub the coconut oil into the surface and maintain circular motions. Next, let the oil soak into the wood for about fifteen to twenty minutes for a uniform and durable result.
  • Buff the wood using a dry rag and move in wide circles. This way, you will deliver a more consistent shine across the board. In addition, you can add a homemade cleaner if the lumber does not give a desirable shine.
  • Mix some lemon juice and coconut oil in a ratio of one to two. Then, rub the blend into the wood and wipe clean after two minutes. Also, buff the surface again and check if you get a suitable luster.

Lastly, please note that coconut oil may not provide a durable finish to your project. In addition, it would be best to avoid using the formula in isolation. Thus, consider working with tung oil or linseed oil to get a more durable surface.

Do I Need Wood Conditioner for Oak?

You do not need a wood conditioner for oak. The wood has large open pores and a strong grain pattern that absorbs stains readily. In addition, it is beautiful and works well with any stain color. Therefore, it will not become blotchy because you did not apply a wood conditioner.

However, oak may not stain very well when it is still green. And more so if you are using a water-based stain. So, you are better off applying a pre-stain wood conditioner to facilitate an even finish.

Additionally, treating the wood with a conditioner will help prevent blotches and streaks. Thus, it is best to check the lumber’s state to determine if it needs a conditioning product.

Can You Condition Wood After Staining?

No. It is not advisable to condition wood after staining. Rectifying an application error does not need you to reapply the wood conditioner. Moreover, this exercise is like administering medication after death, which yields no results.

Fortunately, there are steps to take if you did not apply the wood conditioner properly or forgot to apply it altogether. You can strip the stain using a chemical stain stripper or an orbital sander and start the process again.

In addition, it is prudent to use chemical strippers because of their convenience and effectiveness. They are also suitable for curved wood pieces that an orbital sander cannot handle.

Alternatively, you can utilize a sanding material when working on a flat wood piece. However, remember that sanding aims to restart the application process, and sometimes it can be a little stressful. So, it is best to consider this option when you have time.

On top of that, sanding is among the most effective correction strategy. It removes the previous finish and delivers bare wood ready to stain. Also, allow the stain to dry completely before sanding to deliver a perfect surface.

Can I Stain Wood Without Conditioner?

Please avoid staining lumber without applying a wood conditioner. However, some stain types are a stain and wood conditioner in one. Thus, you may not need to get a separate wood conditioning product.

It is best to use a wood conditioner because some woods, like pine, alder, spruce, fir, maple, and birch, are soft and porous. Also, some wood areas may absorb more formula than others, making the finished product look blotchy. 

The conditioning product fills the wood pores, keeping the surface uniform for stain absorption. In addition, wood conditioners are ideal for treating wood surfaces, and their primary function is to prevent blotches and streaks. So, they help out even out oil-based stains.

Also, although wood conditioners work to rectify uneven and porous wood, they are still ideal for seemingly perfect surfaces. So, if you use them correctly, they will make a significant difference to the final finish.

How Do You Condition Wood Naturally?

It is possible to condition your wood naturally. All you need are the correct supplies and application techniques. The supplies include soft cloths, lemon oil, a pre-stain conditioner, white vinegar, lemon juice, commercial wood cleaner, and olive oil.

Also, check out the following tips:

  • Clean and condition the lumber with homemade or commercial cleaning formulas. Remember that keeping the wood surface conditioned and clean also extends its life. And even better, the vintage piece will combat regular wear and tear.
  • Ensure that you dilute commercial wood cleaners in water and apply the solution to the surface with a clean cloth. In addition, it would be best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to get the correct mixing proportions.
  • Alternatively, you can remove the film on the wood surface with a homemade solution. Here, mix a 50-50 blend of hot water and vinegar. Also, please note that vinegar may dull the finish. Thus, only use vinegar and water if you condition the wood later with oil.
  • Wipe away all the water when using a homemade solution. Otherwise, water puddling on the surface may affect stain adhesion. So, use a soft cloth to wipe the surface and then leave it to dry.
  • Mix ¼ cup of walnut or olive oil with one tablespoon of lemon juice to create an oil conditioner. Then, apply the mixture to a soft rag and rub it on the wood in circular motions. Also, let the formula settle on the surface for about ten minutes and wipe it off.
  • Sand the surface with light-grade sandpaper to refinish lumber, especially if you notice watermarks and stains. Then, clean the sanding residue with a damp rag and apply the conditioner.
  • Finally, test the conditioning or cleaning formulas on a small wood section. This way, you can evaluate whether the resulting finish is desirable.

Frequently Asked Questions

Some of the most asked questions regarding the subject are:

  • Can I Sand Wood After Applying Wood Conditioner?

You can skip sanding the wood after applying a wood conditioner for oil-based formulas. Moreover, the formula penetrates the wood fibers to fill porous surfaces, creating a uniform finish.

However, the story is different for water-based conditioners because they raise the wood grain. This occurrence makes the surface uneven, and it may receive the stain inconsistently. Thus, you’ll have to sand it to deliver a smooth coat.

  • What Happens If I Leave Wood Conditioner on Wood for Too Long?

There may be some complications if you leave the wood conditioner on the surface for too long. For instance, the stain will not penetrate the wood pores properly, and you may end up with an uneven shade.

Fortunately, you can correct this situation by scuffing the wood with 230-grit sandpaper. But it would be best to wait for the wood conditioner to dry before sanding. This way, you’ll avoid ruining the finish.

Additionally, there are recommended time limits when working with wood conditioners. For example, some brands only need one to two hours before you can stain the surface.

Lastly, please ensure that you apply the stain shortly after the pre-stain conditioner, as indicated by the manufacturer. Otherwise, it may dry up and require you to repeat the procedure for a suitable finish.

  • Does Wood Conditioner Lighten or Darken the Stain?

Most wood conditioners lighten the stain as they dilute it during application. Also, the manufacturers recommend adding the stain coat within two hours of applying the wood conditioner. So, you’ll be applying the stain on a wet wood conditioner, making it easy to dilute the formula.

Fortunately, you can still achieve your desired surface color by adding more stain coats. Thus, please don’t skip the wood conditioner, fearing it will compromise your project quality.

  • Is Wood Conditioner a Sealer?

Wood conditioner is not an ideal sealer. Moreover, it is a very thin formula, and you will need many layers to seal the wood. So, consider using a Shellac Sealcoat when you want to seal the lumber before staining or finishing.

On top of that, remember that a wood conditioner does not serve as a topcoat. It fills the wood pores and prepares it to receiver another formula. Therefore, it may not protect the wood from moisture and other harmful elements.

  • Can I Paint Over a Wood Conditioner?

Yes. You can paint over a wood conditioner. But it is wise to adhere to the recommended application procedure. Also, ensure that the wood conditioner dries well before applying the paint.

On top of that, painting over a wood conditioner improves the wood’s appearance. Even better, the conditioner fills the wood and evens out the surface. Thus, you are sure of a smooth paint coat.

  • When Shouldn’t I Use Wood Conditioner?

You should only apply a wood conditioner before staining. Also, using the formula after staining a surface is unnecessary unless you intend to add another stain coat. And even worse, it is a waste of time as the wood conditioner will not adhere to the stain finish.

Avoid applying wood conditioner before painting a surface. Paint settles on the wood and does not penetrate the grain. Therefore, there is no purpose in applying a wood conditioner.

In addition, you can consider working with a primer, which hides the wood’s tannins and knots. The product also helps the paint coat adhere tightly to the surface, making the finish last longer.

Always avoid applying the wrong wood conditioner to the surface. Also, ensure that the formula matches the stain type. For example, consider an oil-based wood conditioner for oil-based stains and a water-based conditioner for a water-based finish.

Additionally, please use a Shellac Sealcoat between coats when you intend to mix water and oil-based products. This way, you keep the formulas separate and allow the top layer to adhere to the surface.

  • What’s the Difference Between a Wood Conditioner and Washcoat?

The terms Washcoat and wood conditioner refer to the same product. A washcoat is the DIY mixture that woodworkers make for wood conditioning, whereas a wood conditioner is the pre-mixed product version found in stores.

Additionally, the purpose of washcoats and wood conditioners is to reduce stain absorption on soft and porous lumber. So, they will deliver a uniform, non-blotchy stain, regardless of your choice.

  • Will My Wood Conditioner Go Bad?

Wood conditioners can go bad when exposed to extreme humidity, temperatures, and airflow. The formula will separate into a solid and liquid portion, and thus it is easy to know if it is in usable condition.

So, check whether the wood conditioner is still a single liquid before application, especially if you have not used it for long. A two-part mess will require you to toss the formula and open a new can.

  • How Long Will a Conditioner Last On Wood?

An external wood conditioner lasts for about three to five years. But an internal formula will last more than five years because it does not combat harsh ultraviolet rays. Therefore, the product will last longer depending on exposure to harsh climate.

Additionally, you can increase the interior wood’s life span by applying numerous wood conditioner coats to the surface. Better still, the well-finished conditioner will last more than five years and give you value for money.

On top of that, a hot climate will discolor the surface despite having a wood conditioner. Also, low temperatures, high humidity levels, and germs can wreak havoc on your conditioner.

Decks suffer significantly from harsh weather as they are always outside the house. Therefore, freshly conditioned lumber may survive a shorter or longer period than three years, depending on the weather.


A pre-stain or wood conditioner helps you stain the wood more consistently. In addition, it prevents seals the lumber’s pores and prevents the stain from soaking deeply into the wood. Therefore, you can expect a more uniform and desirable outcome. But are there alternatives to a wood conditioner? Let’s find out in the discussion below:

What Can I Use Instead of Wood Conditioner?

Fortunately, there are other formulas apart from commercial and homemade wood conditioners. They include lacquer, varnish, and shellac. But there is a caveat. Always use the correct solvents and proportions to deliver a desirable outcome.

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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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