Oil-based stains are popular for most hardwoods because they help highlight the figure, but softwoods often absorb stain unevenly. Pine can “reverse out,” making light grain look dark and dark grain look light. Maple may appear blotchy. If you prefer to work with
stain, you can apply a pre-stain wood conditioner to prevent blotchiness.
Most conditioners are a thinned varnish that seals the wood grain and gives you a more consistent surface on which to apply the stain. As you can see in the photo above, conditioned wood is a lot lighter in color than other finished surfaces. That’s because the process of sealing the wood also keeps the stain from penetrating.