On my most recent project I decided to use hard maple for the table top. To preface this, I typically work with oak, pine, construction grade stuff, red cedar. We'll call them easier woods to stain and finish. I knew maple was going to be a challenge and did some homework. I came across all kinds of recurring issues with achieving a consistent and blotch free finish. I figured, "How hard can it be."
The largest problem I ran into were the pores taking up too much stain. So I tried using Minwax Pre Conditioner coupled with a Minwax oil based stain. The improvement over just the stain was marginal to say the least. I do not recommend Minwax products for staining hard maple. To be clear, I'm not putting Minwax down, I use there products constantly and recommend them for all sorts of finishing needs, just not in this case.
I tried raising the grain with a damp cloth, gel stains, water based stains, a few other conditioners none of which were working right.
The solution in this case was dewaxed shellac cut 1:1 with denatured alcohol. Then lightly sanded with 400 grit paper and stained with a water based stain from a company called Saman, found at a local hardware store. Their stains are great for custom work because they are designed to be mixed together to get almost any color. The dewaxed shellac/alcohol inhibits the stain. I had to do three coats to get the color I was looking for.
This lead to my second problem. The water based stain drying too fast. This was easily fixed by another round of sanding and using an extender. I have pictures below of before and after using the extender.
Here is the finished product after four coats of General Finishes water based top coat in satin.