Grain filler / stain question


New member
I've sort of mentioned this in another thread, but I've run into another question that I thought deserved a new thread.

I'm finishing a swamp ash body, using StewMac clear water-based grain filler, Minwax Wood Finish oil-based stain, and pure tung oil.  What's the proper order for the stain and grain filler?  Am I headed in the wrong direction by trying to use a combination of water- and oil-based products, and if so, should I switch to an oil-based grain filler or a water-based stain?

From some tests on scraps of oak, I get a much richer color by staining first, but I'm worried about getting an even color, especially in the end grain of the swamp ash.  The water-based grain filler seems to do just fine on top of the stain.  On scraps where I applied grain filler first, the stain doesn't penetrate well, and doesn't do much to alter the color.  Should I try using something like the Minwax pre-stain treatment (for oil-based stains) before the stain/grain filler/tung oil?

One more catch in the process: at this point I'm not starting with a fresh, raw body.  I had already grain-filled/tung-oiled the body before deciding to start over and use stain.  I'll do my best to sand the oil/grain filler completely away, but judging by my tests with oak scraps, it's hard to tell when the clear grain filler is 100% gone.

I'm already scrapping a lot of work that I've already put into this, so I really want to get it right this time -- especially since (I think) it would be extremely difficult to start over once there is stain involved.  Any advice would be GREATLY appreciated!


Senior member
I don't think there is one right way to do it - it depends on the look you're after. But the way I was told to do it, that worked well, was: stain. grain fill. sand back. stain again (that way the grain gets stained under the fill). Then tung oil. I used the exact same products and didn't have any oil/water issue.
But, I'll bet it will take a ton of sanding to get all the grain fill out of a swamp ash body, and you're liable to mess up the edge radius or make the top uneven while doing that.
You might consider instead going directly to a brown grain fill, sand back,  followed by stain and then tung oil. But it's hard to say without pictures or a description of the look you want.

Patrick from Davis

Senior member
The Stew Mac water based filler is a Urethane based product, and once it is dry, you are probably not going to do much to it.  I have some experience with Alcohol stains, and I tried the amber stain/dye on korina after filling the grain with clear.  I did it this way so that I would not sand the stain away when sanding off the excess filler.  I found very quickly where I had not sanded back the filler to wood.  The stain would not penetrate at all and left a blotchy look.  So I sanded until the filler was gone, restained, and then decided I didn't like the color.  Brilliant, I know.  At this point I washed back the dye with plain denatured alcohol on paper towels to get the color back to what I wanted, amber.  It sort of looked like nuclear carrot before this step.  This might be an approach to try on a test piece/test piece end grain to see if it works with the products that you have.  Good luck.