Q: As part of a major house renovation, I needed to replace and add several doors. The existing color is Early American, and most of the doors are birch with pine jambs and casing or clear pine in solid construction. I found that the pine being used in today’s commercially available door systems renders me unable to achieve a blotch-free finish when following my usual stain and finish sequence. The wood is so inconsistent that over several feet there are wide variations in color and lots of blotches. I have tried wood conditioner and shellac, but I get an artificial looking finish in a weak color and still have some blotches. This wood is simply not of stainable quality. Why can I no longer get the old yellow pine even if I am willing to pay the difference, and what other options do I have short of building my own doors from scratch?
A: Why manufacturers use the woods they use is controlled by a lot of different factors, and you are not likely to change that even with heartfelt letters to woodworking experts. I’m sorry that things have changed for the worse, but none of us can turn back the clock. Yes, you can certainly make your own parts from the wood you choose to use, and I would applaud that path, but it is not the only one open to you. The other is to learn new finishing methods to enable you to use the woods available. It’s a challenge, but that’s what this craft is all about.
The particular brand of stain you mentioned has a reputation of being one of the more problematic as far as blotching goes, so before you give up entirely, you might want to try changing the materials and finishing schedules. For instance, try one of the other brands of stain and other brands of wood conditioner. Make certain you use both stain and conditioner in the most effective way possible: flood conditioner on liberally, wipe it all off, then stain while the wood is still wet. Apply stain the same way: flood it on liberally, wipe off whatever is not absorbed. Personally, I’d suggest trying one of the newer, small-grind, 100 percent pigment stains. Also, try gel stains and Foam Stain. Each behaves differently, and they can open up wide vistas in your skill set.
Most importantly, spend some time finishing firewood. You will find that playing with these new materials on various woods that you know you can toss or plane again will free you to jumpstart your learning curve. You may be surprised at the skills you develop and how quickly they come. A small amount of time spent practicing finishing at the bench can prevent a ton of bad jobs and their attendant frustration.