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Hello,

This is a long one. I have been trying to experiment to find the answer to this problem I keep having for months.

There is a problem with my sanding that results in a cloudy, hazy, dusty looking film almost immediately after applying wood stain. (I usually use Minwax oil-based stain, it's more visible with the darker colors.)

Please bear with me- After several experiments, I am sure it isn't blushing/humidity issue but rather a sanding issue, and all sawdust has been removed from the wood after sanding.

I have had this problem time and again with both knotty cedar and Douglas fir. (I use this wood for rustic tables, so the knots are kind of vital to the rustic look.)

After sanding normally with 120-150-220 then staining, the entire board appeared dusty and hazy. This was present on both the wet stain and was still there when it was dry.

I've tried each of the following experiments on different boards and followed with stain in order to get to the root of the problem, but no matter what I do I always get the same result:

-sanding very lightly 120-150-220
-sanding with a heavier hand 120-150-220
-I suspected it could be anything from the oils on the tack cloth, or the denatured alcohol i was using to remove residual sawdust after vacuuming. I've stopped using both (I just vacuum now) and the results are the same.
-sanding with 180 only
-sanding with 220 only (by this point I've started to suspect that sanding with lower grits is roughing up the cedar too much, creating this powdery, cloudy appearance to appear in the stain.)
-Finally I tried not sanding the wood at all, and just applying stain. This got the best results, the haze was nonexistent, except on rough patches around knots (photo above.)
** This leads me to believe it is not a blushing or humidity issue, but rather an issue with the wood being too roughed up by sanding resulting in this dusty, cloudy appearance.

Obviously not sanding isn't the answer, since I'm left rough, splintery areas. So, after the stain dried, I tried very carefully and very lightly sanding the rough patches. I used 180 grit lightly on some spots, and 600 on others to compare the results.

After vacuuming the sawdust off, I restained the wood, but every little area I sanded then developed the hazy, cloudy look.

I'm at a complete loss. The only thing that helps is Paste Finishing Wax as a finish, but wax isn't very durable for a tabletop and it the haze is still visible, just diminished.

Is there some trick to sanding cedar or knotty woods I don't know about? Every time I sand, I get this haze and I have orders to complete with this rustic looking wood, so I've got to work with it.

Thank you for any advice or insight.
 

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From the look of the board, the surface doesn't look prepped at all. There is no need to sand through the grits lightly, then sand through the grits with heavier pressure. Start at a coarse enough grit to remove flaws, usually 120 grit. Then sand at 150, and if you desire at 220. Use a quality sanding disc like Klingspor or Norton 3X.
Staining softwood is usually problematic, and often blotchy. Try sealing the wood with a 50/50 mix of shellac Seal Coat and denatured alcohol. Let that dry, and scuff sand it with a 320 grit soft sanding sponge. Then apply stain (not Minwax, please use any other brand). Minwax has a high dye content and will make softwoods and cherry blotch badly. My favorites are Rodda, Varathane, and Cabot which are high in pigment solids in a formulation that reduces blotching.
The shellac pre-stain treatment is the key.

Good luck with it!
PS never use tack cloth, use cheese cloth and a vacuum instead
 

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Thank you for your reply and advice.

The cedar in the photo had not been sanded. Stain was applied directly to bare cedar as a comparison to see whether I still get the hazing that's present when I sand normally from 120-150-220 (which happens with or without raising the grain and a quick pass with 220.)

To clarify, the sanding methods listed were isolated experiments performed on separate boards since sanding normally like you would any other wood seems to cause hazing on cedar (i.e. to see if I get the hazing by only sanding with a low grit on one board vs only sanding with a higher grit.)

All experiments ended the same- hazy cloudy wood all over the entire board except for in the photo above where the wood was never sanded and the haze is present around the knots only. This leads me to believe it is not blushing issue but rather a cedar-specific sanding issue since the haze was visibly absent when I didn't sand my comparison boards (except around knots as pictured.)

Anyone know the trick to sanding cedar to avoid this cloudy, dusty looking stain?

I never had this problem with any other wood sanding as usual from 120-150-220 and it's so frustrating!

Curious- Why is Minwax wood stains inferior? I've heard that from others as well but never really knew why. I'm not partial to the brand, it's just readily accessible. Any other brand you can recommend?
 

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Other than the paste wax, have you been using any other type of finish? I know these stains say they're a stain and finish, but they really aren't. As soon as you put a finish on it, the haze should go away. Almost any clear finish should make the haze go away.
 

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I agree with Dale about the finish. I'm pretty sure your wood isn't to "roughed up" by sanding, when you start at 120g. I do things differently than most. 120g is where I stop normally, starting with 80g. I was taught to work the finish, not the wood, to get your "finished" look.
 

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Sanding shouldn't be the cause of your problems, is your wood dry? Is it construction grade lumber from the big box stores?

Being its a softwood and the picture above shows cloudiness near a knot is there any pitch or sap left on the surface? If you pick up sap with the sanding disc and spread it around it can cause problems.

Does the stain fully dry where the cloud appears? If its not drying you have old stain, or surface contamination.

Is your stain mixed well and not old before application?

If you prep your wood (not stain) normally and use mineral spirits or napatha for a quick wipe down is there any "spots" that show up?

After the stain is fully dried - wipe it quick with denatured alcohol. Do the spots go away?

Depending on the topcoat - you shouldn't have sand past 150 or so. 220 will lighten the stain. Using denatured alcohol for wiping down won't affect the stain process as long as you let it dry before you apply stain.
 

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I'm with Dale and am curious if the "haze" won't disappear under any clearcoat. I have used MinWax stains on old pine, fir, and western red cedar and never seen this problem. See what happens if you wipe a coat of shellac or poly over the hazy boards.
 

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First, let me say I agree with Dale and the others who say that cloudy look should largely go away with a clear top coat.

As to the cause, I don't see where anyone has mentioned the obvious. Anywhere there is an anomaly to the grain pattern on a piece of wood (usually a knot or maybe just a random wave) it means the pores in the wood are going to be aligned differently than on the surrounding area. This results in the stain soaking in differently.

Think about the end of a board. No matter how much you sand it, it is going to appear darker and less shiny than the face of the board when you apply stain, because that end grain is really absorbing it. Based on your photo, I think that's the effect you're seeing.
 

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Try staining a piece that's been planed or scraped. If it doesn't haze, the problem is that the sanding is leaving a fine fuzz.
 

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Silly question but how well do you stir up your stain before you apply? A lot of stains if not thoroughly stirred will not apply properly.
I start sanding at either 80 or 100 and sand up to 150 or 220 depending on the project. I don't use a ton of minwax stain, but I almost exclusively use other Minwax products and never had this issue. Try a fresh can of stain, give it a good stir (2-3 minutes) and see if this problem replicates.
 

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I can see the planer marks in your picture, and every planer mark near the hazy area has a tiny haze mark in the planer "valley". It's also suspicious that your hazy area is right where the grain changes direction and you've had a lot of tear out. In my opinion, you haven't sanded out of your planer defects in this area, and need to spend more time with 60 or 80 grit, fresh paper that is sharp enough to cut the end grain, because to me it looks like fuzzy end grain thatis exposed. I would also sand that area up to 400.
 

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I've tried clear satin polyeurathane, Danish oil and paste finishing wax and got the best results with the wax as far as covering it up. It's diminished greatly, but is still visible anywhere near natural daylight even indoors. It's the best solution for now but I feel like it is just so inferior to others' workmanship.

The sap from a knot bring spread around is very interesting (and yes we're talking KD common cedar from Lowes.) My only thought against this is that the hazing is so uniform over the whole board after sanding (sorry, should have posted a pic of that as well) and because I haven't really had this happen with other knotty woods. I don't know what pitch is. Could it present throughout the wood or does it just seep from knots?

As an experiment I just tried hand-sanding a small, splintery area on a new board (fresh piece of sandpaper, away from any knots, and 180 on one spot and 600 on another just for comparison sake) and then staining. Both spots that were sanded with either grit got the haze sadly. : (

My thought is that the mill glaze that's on the unsanded cedar makes it nice and smooth so that there aren't any microscopic fibers which I believe cause this powdery, hazy effect on cedar that has been sanded. After sanding up the grits, it always feels perfectly smooth at all stages, just looks powdery when stain is applied (raising the grain first doesn't help.)

I've also been thried a couple new cans of stain in both Dark Walnut and Jacobean to no avail. I'll be trying out a different brand in a similar dark stain over the weekend to see if that changes anything just in case.

I've never noticed any spots after wiping down with mineral spirits. I had tried wiping with denatured alcohol after staining a few months back but it didn't do anything. At this point maybe I need to switch to a new wood with a similar rustic look. Maybe hickory from Dykes Lumber if they have it.

Jeff- I like the idea of working the finish and not the wood. Would love to know more about that.

Ed- Usually a stain sponge, sometimes a lint free rag. Stain is well-mixed. Excess is wiped off before it dries. Strangely the haze shows up immediately as the stain is applied (from the top it looks okay, but from the side you see the whole board hazy, almost powder-y looking but you can't wipe it away or sand it off.)

Dan- thanks for your input. I'll try your method as I'm on a roll with experiments here.
 

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Maybe I should try using a prestain conditioner first. I've only used it on pine. With the cedar I'm not concerned with blotch as it's minimal compared to pine, and in my opinion the minor blotching enhances the rustic aged look I'm going for, but maybe sealing the wood a little first might help (there's shellac in prestain conditioner essentially, right?) Probably a long shot but I'm desperate at this point.

If it is sap being spread around (I'm inclined to think that isn't what's happening but who knows) perhaps the conditioner would create a barrier. I expect my final color will be lighter but I can live with that if it fixes the problem.
 

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I'm surprised to hear that the poly didn't clear it up, but I've never stained cedar, so there may be something to what you said about the sap causing a problem around the knot. I've used minwax stains on plenty of pine, cherry and oak with no problems, but always finished with lacquer or poly. If it is the sap, dewaxed shellac will seal it in, but as you said, it will stain much lighter if you seal it first. Good luck, and I would like to see a follow-up to see what works for you.
 

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I have stained recycled WRC boards from an old privacy fence with MinWax Cherry Stain and had none of the issues you describe. I just sanded to 180 grit and rubbed the stain on/off with a cloth. No sealer.
 

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I am having the same issue! It's so frustrating! I'm relatively new to this, despite my thorough cleaning and sanding I'm wondering if it isn't stripper residue that hasn't soaked into the softer wood. I use minwax also, first coat and obvious hazing appears. I stained some never finished wood with the same stain, no haze. Any thoughts on my theory?
 

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More than any aspect of woodworking, finishing is mystery. No matter what you do, the next wood could pose a new problem.

Anyway, the paint stripper residue could be a factor. I usually clean with denatured alcohol after removing it.
The second question is - are you using water based poly? If so maybe oil basted topcoat will behave differently, especially if the stain is also oil based. Otherwise, a coat of dewaxed shellac (before the oil based poly) will separate between stain and poly.
 
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