How to Prepare Wood for a Perfect Finish with Littlefair's: A Step-by-Step Guide

At Littlefair's, we understand that proper wood preparation is the foundation of an exceptional finish. Whether you are a professional woodworker or a DIY enthusiast, understanding how to prepare wood for dyeing and finishing is crucial for achieving a smooth, even, and durable finish.

Let's explore the steps and best practices to ensure your woodwork looks its best.

Understanding the Importance of Wood Preparation

Think of wood preparation as a pre-match warm-up. It sets the stage for the finishing process, much like stretching before a run. If you neglect this crucial step, you risk a lacklustre finish that may highlight imperfections rather than enhance the wood's natural beauty. Proper preparation can prevent a range of issues such as blotching, grain raising, and an uneven sheen that can detract from your hard work.

Types of Wood and Their Preparation Needs

Hardwoods vs. Softwoods

Recognising the type of wood you are working with is like knowing whether you're baking a delicate soufflé or frying an egg – each requires a different approach. 

Hardwoods, such as oak and maple, are the soufflés of the wood world. They are prized for their durability and the depth of finish they can achieve, but they can be more challenging to prepare due to their density and grain patterns.

Softwoods, like pine and cedar, are often more forgiving and easier to sand, but they can absorb dye or stain unevenly. This is where our Wood Dye Pre-Conditioner plays a role, evening out the absorption rate and helping to avoid a blotchy finish.

Age and Condition of Wood

The age and condition of wood will dictate your preparation method. Older wood may have developed a patina (caused by oxidisation and sun exposure) that you wish to preserve, which will require a gentle touch. In contrast, new wood may have mill marks or require more sanding to smooth out the grain.

Essential Tools for Wood Preparation

The right tools can make all the difference in wood preparation. Here's what you'll need:

  • A variety of sandpapers, ranging from coarse to fine grit – why not try our Mirka™ Ecowet 230mm x 280mm Sandpaper Sheets, available in 120, 80 and 60 grit.
  • A reliable vacuum with a soft brush attachment
  • Lint free cloths to remove the finer dust particles
  • Littlefair’s Wood Dye Pre-Conditioner, especially for soft or porous woods
  • A good-quality brush or cloth for applying the conditioner, dye and finishing product – why not try our high-quality Eco-Union™ brushes available sizes 2” and 4”

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Step-by-Step Guide to Preparing Wood

  1. Evaluating the Wood Surface

Take the time to examine the wood's surface thoroughly. Feel for rough patches, look for visual defects, and decide on the end goal for your wood's appearance. This initial evaluation will guide your entire preparation process.

  1. Sanding: The First Step to a Smooth Finish

Sanding is arguably the most important step in preparing wood for finishing. It removes imperfections, evens out the surface, and opens up the grain for dyes and finishes. Begin with a coarser grit sandpaper to level out major imperfections and gradually move to finer grits for a smooth finish. The key is to progress slowly and methodically through the grits, ensuring each pass removes the scratches from the previous one.

  1. Cleaning: The Key to a Flawless Finish

After sanding, cleaning is critical. Vacuuming removes the bulk of the sawdust, and a follow-up with a lint free cloth to pick up any residual dust. This step is vital because any remaining particles can mar the finish.

Littlefair's Top Tip: To help create a fine finish you could raise the grain before the final sanding. Start by dampening the wood with a thin film of water. Once dry, a final sanding will restore the flatness ready for applying a pre-conditioner and/or dye.

  1. Wood Dye Pre-Conditioner

Littlefair’s Wood Dye Pre-Conditioner is particularly beneficial for soft or porous woods, which tend to absorb dye unevenly. By applying a pre-conditioner, you are effectively sealing the grain to allow for even dye or stain absorption and a uniform appearance.

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  1. Maintain Your Prepared Wood Surface

Once your wood is prepared, keep it in a clean, dust-free environment. Cover the wood with a cloth to protect it from dust and you are ready to apply the dye/finish.

Troubleshooting Common Wood Preparation Issues

Uneven Surfaces and How to Fix Them

If you encounter uneven surfaces after your initial sanding, do not despair. Revisit the area with the appropriate grit sandpaper and sand until the surface feels consistent to the touch.

Dealing with Wood Grain Raising

With our Water Based Dyes or finishes, they can cause the wood grain to raise, resulting in a rough texture. To counteract this, lightly sand the surface with a fine-grit sandpaper after the first coat of dye or finish has dried – then apply further coats as required.

Final Checks Before Finishing

Before applying the finish, inspect the wood in good light. Look for any remaining scratches, dents, or uneven areas. Use a bright, low-angled light to cast shadows that reveal imperfections you might otherwise miss.

Please note: Always sand in the direction of the grain to avoid creating cross-grain scratches. Don't skip grits in the sanding process, as this can leave behind scratches that are difficult to remove later.



Preparing wood for finishing is a careful balance of art and technique. It requires patience, attention to detail, and a good understanding of the material you are working with. By following these steps and dedicating the necessary time to preparation, you will ensure that your wood finishing projects have a professional quality finish that stands the test of time.



Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best grit sandpaper for preparing wood?

The best grit for preparing wood will depend on the type of wood and the condition it's in. Typically, starting with a lower 60 grit for rough surfaces and working up to 80 grit and up to 120 grit for the final sanding before finishing is a good rule of thumb.

How often should wood be sanded between coats?

Wood should be sanded between coats of finish to ensure a smooth, high-quality surface. This usually means a light sanding with fine grit sandpaper once the previous coat has dried.

Can Wood Dye Pre-Conditioners be skipped?

While Pre-Conditioners are not mandatory, they are highly recommended for softwoods and porous hardwoods to ensure even dye absorption and to prevent a blotchy finish.

What is the best way to clean wood before finishing?

The best way to clean wood before finishing is to start with a thorough vacuuming followed by wiping down the surface with a lint free cloth to remove any remaining dust.

How can I tell if the wood is ready for finishing?

The wood is ready for finishing when it has a smooth, uniform surface free of dust, scratches, and imperfections. Running your hand over the surface should feel smooth, and visual inspection should not reveal any flaws.

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