What Does Wood Conditioner Do? — Pre-Staining Wood

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In the realm of woodworking, the pursuit of a perfect finish is paramount for any undertaking. More often than not, skilled artisans and enthusiastic DIYers turn to wood conditioners to facilitate this crucial task.

So, what exactly does wood conditioner contribute to make the process of wood finishing smoother and more impeccable? In this comprehensive guide, I will unravel the intricacies of wood conditioner and demonstrate how to wield it with proficiency for optimal results. 

Does Using a Wood Conditioner Have Any Effect?

Using a wood conditioner can have a significant effect on the final result of a woodworking project. Wood conditioner is a pre-stain treatment that helps to prepare the wood surface for stain or finish. 

It is especially useful for softwoods like pine and maple, which tend to absorb stains unevenly, resulting in blotchy and uneven finishes. The wood conditioner works by penetrating the wood fibers and sealing them, creating a uniform surface that absorbs the stain evenly. 

apply wood conditioner

As a result, the final finish looks more even and consistent. In summary, using a wood conditioner is a beneficial step in the woodworking process, especially when working with softwoods, as it helps to ensure a smooth and even finish.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Using Wood Conditioner


applying wood conditioner


Type of Woods That’s Suitable With Wood Conditioner

Using a wood conditioner can be particularly beneficial for certain types of wood that are more prone to blotchiness and uneven staining. 

Ponderosa Pine wood

Softwoods like pine, spruce, and fir are known to have uneven grain patterns that can result in uneven staining if not properly prepared. 

Additionally, some hardwoods like cherry and birch can also benefit from a wood conditioner to help even out their absorbency. Here are some types of woods that work best with wood conditioners:

On the other hand, some types of wood have a more even grain pattern and may not require a wood conditioner for staining. These types of woods include:

White Oak grain pattern

While using a wood conditioner may not be necessary for all types of woods, it can still be beneficial for achieving a more even and professional-looking finish. 

Just a reminder, always keep in mind that it is always best to test staining on a small area first to determine if a wood conditioner is necessary for achieving the desired results.

Types of Wood Conditioners

Oil Based Conditioner

Are made from a blend of oils, usually linseed or tung oil, and solvents. It is typically used when the wood is dry, dull, or lacking in natural oils. Here are some situations when an oil-based conditioner might be appropriate:

wood conditioner

It’s important to note that oil-based conditioners can take longer to dry than water-based products and may emit more pungent fumes. Always make sure to use them in a well-ventilated area and follow all safety precautions listed on the product label.

These types of conditioners penetrate deeply into the wood to help improve its ability to absorb stains evenly. Here are some of the best commercial oil-based wood conditioners on the market:

Applying wood conditioner

Water-Based Wood Conditioner

Are made from a blend of water, solvents, and resins [1]. These types of conditioners are less toxic and more environmentally friendly than oil-based conditioners, and they are also easier to clean up with soap and water. 

Water-based conditioners are typically used on hardwoods, which have a tighter and more even grain pattern than softwoods. Here are some situations when an oil-based conditioner might be appropriate:

oil and water based conditioner

Here are some of the best commercial water-based wood conditioners on the market:

Steps In Using Wood Conditioner

To obtain a polished and proficient appearance on your woodworking task and projects, it is important to incorporate the usage of a wood conditioner into your process. 

tools for painting

Here are the steps  to follow and the requirements that need to be  considered  when using wood conditioner, according to  the  specialists and experienced individuals:



  1. Start by preparing your wood surface. Using fine-grit sandpaper, gently sand the surface to ensure that it is smooth enough to allow the wood conditioner to penetrate effectively.
  2. Remove any dust residue from the surface by wiping it with a clean cloth.
  3. Ensure your workspace is well-ventilated and free from any potential fire hazards.
sanding wood using 220 grit


  1. Put on gloves to protect your hands from the wood conditioner.
  2. Stir the wood conditioner thoroughly before use.
  3. Using a paintbrush or foam applicator, apply the wood conditioner to the wood surface in a thin, even coat, working with the grain of the wood.
  4. Allow the wood conditioner to penetrate the wood for the recommended time specified by the manufacturer. Typically, this is between 5-15 minutes.
  5. Wipe away any excess conditioner with a clean cloth. 
  6. Allow the wood surface to dry completely for at least 24 hours.
  7. Sand the wood surface again with fine sandpaper to refine the surface and remove any raised grain caused by the conditioner.
  8. Wipe the surface of the wood with a clean cloth to remove any sanding residue before applying the final coat of stain or finish.
drying wood conditioner

According to professionals, by following these steps, you can ensure that your wood surface is properly prepared for staining or finishing, resulting in a smooth and professional-looking finish.

Waiting Time Before Staining The Wood

The waiting time before staining the wood can vary depending on a few factors, such as the type of wood, the type of stain, and the weather conditions. In general, it is recommended to wait at least 24-48 hours after the wood has been cleaned and sanded before applying a stain.

However, if the wood has been recently pressure-treated with chemicals, such as ACQ or CA, it is best to wait at least a few weeks to a few months before staining. This allows the chemicals to fully penetrate the wood and for the wood to dry out and stabilize.

The most prudent approach is to refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines concerning the particular stain and wood variety you are working with. These instructions will likely include specific recommendations regarding the necessary waiting period before applying the stain.

staining Cypress

Additionally, it’s important to ensure that the wood is clean and dry before applying any stain to ensure proper absorption and adhesion.

Is It Necessary To Sand The Wood After Using Wood Conditioner?

Yes, it is necessary to sand the wood after using a wood conditioner. While a wood conditioner can help to even out the absorption of stain or finish, it can also raise the grain of the wood, leaving it feeling rough to the touch. 

Sanding the wood after using a conditioner helps to smooth out the surface and prepare it for the final coat of stain or finish.

Not sanding the wood after using a conditioner can result in a rough, uneven surface that will not take the stain or finish evenly. It can also result in a final product that feels rough and unfinished. 

flipping furniture

So you should follow the steps when using a wood conditioner and sanding the wood after using the conditioner to ensure the best possible results.


When Should I Use a Wood Conditioner?

You should use a wood conditioner on softwoods and porous hardwoods, as well as any wood with an uneven surface or varying smoothness. Use it before staining or finishing bare wood, except when using a pre-stain treatment. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for specific recommendations.


Opting for a wood conditioner in your woodworking projects is indeed a wise decision when you’re aiming for that impeccable finish. What it does is prime the wood for staining, significantly reducing the chances of blotchy and uneven coloration, while ensuring a uniform absorption of the stain.

Now that you have a clearer understanding of the vital role wood conditioner plays, you’re well-equipped to decide whether it’s a crucial addition to your woodworking arsenal and know precisely how to apply it to perfect your surfaces.

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You've probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.
Robert Johnson

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