Wood – How to stain pine without streaks or blotches


I did some test staining on pine scraps, and I ended up with a cross grain arc that's darker than everything else. Where did I go wrong? (Or is it just the pine?)

(Related to this question, as a follow-up. I realized I had already accepted an answer to the original, so this should be a separate question.)

I recently built a pine bench, and I'm trying to figure out the best way to stain it. My wife and I decided on Minwax Hickory Gel Stain because we wanted a darker finish. The Home Depot paint/stain department employee also recommended it along with Minwax Wood Conditioner for staining pine.

I applied the Minwax Wood Conditioner (oil-based) to a scrap 1×12, and then 15 minutes later I applied the Minwax Hickory Gel Stain (also oil-based) with a foam brush and wiped it off with a rag 5 minutes later. I noticed there was an arc of darker color going against the grain on the test scrap. Any ideas how this happened?

I made very sure that I sanded with the grain (by hand), starting with 100 grit, moving to 150, and finally 220. The only thing that I can think of is I wiped the sawdust away with a very slightly damp rag, without paying attention to grain direction. Then about 15 minutes later I applied the wood conditioner. Could the be the cause of the streaking? I'd like to figure out the cause before I move onto staining my actual project.

Also, I applied a second coat of stain 8 hours after the first. I let it sit for about twice as long before I wiped it off this time. I didn't notice much of a difference in color from the first coat. Is there something about gel stains that it doesn't matter number of coats/how long it's left on?

EDIT: Here's a photo (the streak starts in the bottom left and goes toward the top right):
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The random little spots running in a line vertically are test distressing marks I applied, to see how they would turn out when stained.

Best Answer

Staining will highlight any imperfections in the wood. From the photo it looks like something has been wiped across the grain. That could be when you wiped the sawdust away or possibly if you wiped the stain across the grain.

Having a good surface to stain is pretty much essential as the stain will highlight even the smallest imperfections.

Applying thin coats as John suggests is the best way.

Also, don't forget that the wood will age - especially for something left outside - so any imperfections you see now will blend over time.