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I have an unfinished desk and want to keep the natural color of the wood but I want to protect it with a clear polyurethane finish.

I am wondering if I need to (or is it preferable to) add a clear or natural stain beforehand? Is there any benefit to doing that or will applying the polyurethane by itself have the same result if I don't stain first?

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No. The purpose of stain is to alter the color of the wood. If you don't want to change the color of the wood you should not use stain.

Polyurethane by itself is a perfectly acceptable finish.

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  • But can't you get a clear natural stain that doesn't add color? Like the natural stain 209 from Miniwax, for example. What's the point in having a natural stain if you can just apply polyurethane direct to the unfinished wood? – xxCDxx Aug 4 '17 at 16:42
  • none? I'm going to venture out and say that a completely transparent stain is just there because some people will buy it. .. that assumes "natural"/"clear" = transparent, and that it's a true stain, not a varnish-stain blend. – aaron Aug 4 '17 at 17:18
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    "Natural" is the name of the color of the stain. In this case it seems to be a light golden color. If you put it on a wood that is a different color it will make it closer to that color. This is NOT saying that applying that stain will make the finished result the natural color of the wood. That is not what stain does... – SaSSafraS1232 Aug 4 '17 at 18:34
  • great. thanks for answers and clearing that up for me. – xxCDxx Aug 4 '17 at 18:39
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I just did a project using Minwax Natural stain #209. It was suggested by one website that using the Natural stain as a first coat would help saturate the wood, so that when I put a darker stain on as a second coat, it would not penetrate so much and have so many blotches. As per that suggestion, I don't know if it really worked that well, and if I were to do it again, I'd just buy the pre-stain conditioner instead.
But as for the effect of the natural stain... I applied it to white pine. After staining with the Minwax Natural, the appearance of the wood was very similar to what it would look like if the pine was just wet with water. Grain and knots look a bit darker and clear areas have just very VERY slight hint of a yellowish cast. I skipped the stain and just put polyurethane on the shelf boards for this project - they look exactly like the piece that I applied the natural stain on.

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