First lets understand how the prestain works.
Any prestain is going to seal the wood, to some degree, it has too, the objective of the prestain, is to be absorbed by the softer grain and thus equalize it with the harder grain, so when applying it you want to wipe it or brush on a wet coat, then lightly wipe back,this allows the soft grain to drink it up, spraying will apply an equal amount, which is not what we want, we want the soft grain, to be able to absorb more than the hard grain, so wiping or brushing is best, then allow to dry about an hour or until it feels dry, then a light scuff sand , just to remove the whiskers, then apply a second in the same manner, then allow to dry at least 6 hours, over night is best, several days will not hurt.
The prestain is designed to soften some when a water base stain or dye is applied, in order to allow for the prestain to take the color.
The softening action can be aggravated by over wiping and over brushing, additionally water base colorants dry fast and maintaining a wet edge can be difficult, meaning, brushing a dye or stain on a large area, isn’t a good idea, odds are you will have a streaked surface, simply because the dye or stain is drying faster than you can work it, over raw wood or plywood it’s not as big a deal, because the wood is absorbing the colorant, over the prestain, the more you wipe the more it will soften, and you can get a sticky mess, if so stop, and let it dry, then using a damp stain pad or similar you can often level out the color, remember, both the prestain and the colorants are water base and can be dissolved by water.
Foam brushes and regular brushes simply put, do not hold enough product to allow you to wipe a good wet coat on a large surface, we much prefer, spraying the dye or stain, by applying a wet coat, then immediately wiping it back, but you want to work it in sections, meaning, do a side panel ,immediately wipe back , then do another, do not try to work a huge area, the colorants dry too fast to be able to control them well. Adding 1 to 2 oz of Floetrol per qt of colorant , especailly in hot weather can help alot .Floetrol is designed to slow the dry of latex paint , you will find it in the paint dept. of most box and hardware stores. HOWEVER if you use the floetrol I strongly suggest you use a coat of shellac over it prior to topcoating to ensure adhesion .
If the color is too light , let it dry well before applying a second coat, if too dark, again let it dry well then using a damp pad pull some of the color off, but again, you really need to test your products and be sure before diving into the actual project, it,s a must
Oil base stains, look better , because the oil in them give a sheen , and depth of color, but it’s simply the wet look from the oil, the water base products will as stated, come right back to life.
The issue with oil stains is they are slower to dry so workability is better, they dry much slower, and additionally they do not soften the prestain, this then presents another issue, color retention, meaning, since the stain is not penetrating the prestain, the color may be lighter, it’s the same with any prestain,weak box store stains are the worst, with our pre-stain often with an oil base product , especially a gel stain, often one coat is all that is needed , but you must do a test sample to be sure. It’s a case of you can’t have your cake and eat it too, while many have used and I have as well, thinned shellac as a pre-stain it is too unpredictable, a 1/2 lb cut on a piece may do well, then again on another section it’s too much or another too little, our product was designed to give as uniform a surface as possible, but it also seals, and on plywoods , where now days we have such a super thin veneer, 2 coats may be too much, you have to test, the reason is under the tissue paper veneer, is glue line, and it will also hinder absorption of the color. so testing on scraps to be sure is a must, I have had cases where I did 1 coat on the plywood and 2 on the solid, I have also had the reverse.
The basic rule to control dyes is simple, ” saturation”, meaning, wet it quick ,wipe it off and your done, trying to gently wipe light coats of dye never works, you just can’t control it well enough , over any thing, raw wood or anything, its absorbtion and drying rate is just too fast, again, on wet, wipe off , your done.
The world of finishing, can be complex, and different woods, drying conditions all affect, as well as application, that’s what makes it difficult, unfortunately there are no perfect recipes, everyone wants a fool-proof finishing schedule, and there isn’t one, sorry to say, unless it’s a topcoat on raw wood, that’s about the easiest, but when you get into blotch prone woods and dyes and stains, it gets a bit more touchy, hope the above helps some.
Acetone , alcohol and lacquer base stains and dyes, will dissolve the prestain super fast, so spraying is the only recourse.
One of my favorite things to do is to apply a water base top coat,over the dye/stain , let it dry , then give it a very light scuff and apply another coat of the same dye or stain ,( it acts as a glaze) and it deepens and enriches the color, works well **** you do not want to glaze between coats of General Finishes Endurovar , its a super finish, but doesn’t like water anything being sandwhiched in between coats, ****