I am new to woodworking and new to these forums but I hope to learn along the way with the expertise that is here. Thanks up front for any advice you have.
My project is installing a red oak handrail. I have sanded the handrail with 120, 150, and 220 grit sandpaper. Although I read it is unneeded, I also applied a wood conditioner as it seemed to help with pine where it is much more needed. When I applied the first coat of stain to the railing (it is about 9 foot by the way), it went on, in general, adequate. Just FYI, I did practice on scraps. My wife wished to have it darker and so I applied a 2nd I believe about 4 or 5 hours after the first. This is where it went downhill. I applied the stain evenly and quickly to the whole railing and then started to wipe the excess. I noticed that some of the stain was coming off easily and other places where it wasn’t. Some actually came out too much. Long story short, it looked like horseshit. I ended up applying a third coat to see if it would hide the blotches and it did a small amount but not enough for me to keep it. I stripped the stain with citristrip, cleaned with a wash, resanded with the various grits, added conditioner again and gave it another whirl with a somewhat smaller foam brush to move more quickly. Same thing happened and in fact it looked worse.
What am I doing wrong here? I’m so frustrated and disappointed in how it turned out. Everyone says staining red oak is easy so that’s even more morally destroying! I am trying to do this for my new house my family moved into and just want to do a good job. I can’t for the life of me figure out what’s going wrong. Any help? I want to continue doing woodworking but learning staining is a necessity.
Attached is a photo of round 2. Keep in mind the wood got damaged as I used a wire brush to get the citrstrip off as recommended online. I found out later that you need to use brass and I had a steel brush so it scratched up the railing a bit. Just can’t win!