Help! Our stain is blotchy even w/preconditioner

fatladyJuly 26, 2007

We will be staining some alder cabinets and cealing beams.The test stain my painter did on the cabinets came out fine, but the test on the beam (we had a spare one) was really blotchy.

The painter said the reason only the beams are blotchy is because the cabinets are an alder veneer and the beam is solid alder wood. To make it worse, the large beams are in pieces, so you can see the line and the slight changes in wood color between the pieces. I am afraid this is only going to be exacerbated when we stain it.

My architect says to let the pre-stain conditioner completely dry before staining. The painter says if you let it dry for too long, the stain color comes out too washed-out.

Help! I have no idea what to do, and I am terrified to have the beams stained.

Any advice on how to stain the beams so the color comes out more even?

The wood is clear alder and the stain is MiniWax Red Chestnut.


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The whole point of a preconditioner is to limit the stain's ability to penetrate wood. Reason? Wood often has differences in grain texture which cause stain to adhere more in softer areas and less in firmer areas.

If stain is applied before the conditioner is dry, the conditioner cannot do that job. So, the architect is correct. However, so is the painter---where he says the stain will be lighter.

You may have to use two applications of stain or darken the stain some if you want an exact color.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2007 at 5:52PM
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You could also try aniline dye instead of pigment stain.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2007 at 8:18PM
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I'm glad "fatlady", and I hesitate to use that name, but she did, asked that question. So the short answer is let the conditioner dry and get better results as far as blotchiness is concerned?


    Bookmark   July 26, 2007 at 8:24PM
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Below is a good article on the subject -- one that causes much confusion.

Here is a link that might be useful: Conditioners

    Bookmark   July 26, 2007 at 10:05PM
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Thanks everyone. I will try to get that article.

Has anyone tried using a gel or a polyshade to control the blotchies? That is what the tech guy at minwax suggested.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2007 at 1:18PM
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In my expereince, polyshades guarantees blotching. I have not use gel stains, but if the wood blotches with oil based stains because of grain differences---it will blotch with any stain.

Again, the conditioner is designed to reduce the blotching---not a different stain.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2007 at 9:17PM
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I used conditioner before staining on Alder. It reduced the blotchiness some, but reduced it about 30 - 40%. Without the conditioner, the blotchiness on a $400 panel door was horrible and should not have been installed - certain standards have to be maintained. I noticed that the most blotchiness occured around grain circles and knots (but that's what makes Alder attractive isn't it ?) 4 Doors down - 2 to go. I think I'd go bold and try a water based stain after conditioner but the stain has to be applied w/in 2 hours and compatibility will not allow this strategy. What to do ??

    Bookmark   August 27, 2011 at 2:41PM
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Use 1 pound cut shellac as the 'conditioner.'

It still works more reliably than the overpriced stuff from ANY manufacturer.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2011 at 4:19PM
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I think brickeye is correct. A waterbased analine dye is the way to go. You should spray it. Go light a first because contrary to oil based stain, analine dye will get darker with each application. Also, some so called splotching is appropriate. It is indicative to the wood.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2011 at 7:55AM
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I have made over a dozen Adirondack chairs from Alder. If I stain, I spray Mohawk penetrating stains diluted 1/3 to 1/2 w/ methanol or denatured alcohol(ethanol) . I never get blotching and since its diluted you can build it to whatever depth (darkness) you want. BTW it is a dye stain.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 3:00PM
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Oh, the reason I use alcohol instead of water is that it dries way faster so you can re-coat and it doesn't open grain or swell as much. If you stain using water you will likely have to re-sand a bit. Not really a problem, but alcohol or acetone just makes life a little easier, and faster.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 4:00PM
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