First of all – anyone who has ever dealt with Alder will tell you that it blotches like crazy. It does. I can confirm that. If you wipe on any stain on the bare wood it will blotch significantly, and unpredictably. Unlike other types of wood like maple, where often there are tell-tale signs of where the wood will blotch (grain variations, etc.) Alder offers no hints. You just put on the stain and the next thing you know, you have cow patches all over your board.
So that sucked. I tried several of the tips to get around the blotching, and I found that the best route for me was:
Washcoat (thinned finish), followed by Gel stain (oil based)
That did the trick for me. I actually bought a pre-stain conditioner from the store – it was a Minwax oil based pre-conditioner. It was unnecessary. It’s just thinned varnish. You can just about use anything. I actually used Watco Danish Oil on one of my test boards and I think it worked better than the stain conditioner. The conditioner actually smells a lot like Danish Oil, so maybe it’s the same product.
I sanded everything down to 180 grit using my random orbit sander, followed by 220 grit by hand. I think that is a pretty common practice. For staining purposes, sanding to a higher grit just reduces the intensity of the stain.
Here’s that wood conditioner. Like I said, looks and smells like Watco Danish Oil. Or I guess the Minwax equivalent, which is either their “Tung Oil Finish” or “Antique Oil.” You could probably use whatever you want, just make sure it’s applied thinly.
You can see the amber effect of the oil as you put it on. I just used some shop towels, flooded the surface then wiped off the excess. The bottom board has the conditioner on it- the top one is still bare:
As I mentioned in my first post, the wood takes the oil and kind of looks good at first:
But after the oil dries, the Alder goes back to looking pretty plain. In this photo it doesn’t look so bad, but it honestly looks very pink in reality, especially with normal house lights on.
-- Making mistakes is essential in learning woodworking.