Since this was my first foray into a proper finish ( the most I’ve done before is a spray lacquer finish ), I decided to make a test board.
I put a bunch of test dowel plugs into it and broke it out into a bunch of different sections. I used Varathane Dark Walnut Gel Stain and Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner. Top row is 80 grit, middle row is 150 grit, bottom row is 220 grit. Left to right columns are 2 minute rest time, 4 minute rest time, 6 minute rest time, 8 minute rest time, and 10 minute rest time, respectively. I was disappointed and confused as to how similar all the samples were. The thin rectangular test piece to the left is a 4 minute wait without the pre-stain wood conditioner. THIS is what I was aiming for. “What gives?” I thought.
I took to the Reddit.com subreddit for woodworking (http://www.reddit/com/r/woodworking) and asked some of the fellas there to enlighten me on the ways of the stain. I found out that there is no need for wood conditioner when using gel stain. Because of the way gel stain works, it naturally controls blotching/splotching.
-- Tim Bridge, Northern NJ,"Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don't." Pete Seeger