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I dont like using water on oak, It tends to turn blue. For me I would sand down to as even a finish as possible first. Then depending on the stain you are using, gel, oil, water based will depend on the prep work. But me I prefer to use a sanding sealer prior to staining this way it will prevent blotches, Its not really staining but tinting. But if you go too dark it is easier too knock it back than if you stained the wood directly. Also with a sanding sealer it will help you fill the grain of the oak quicker than using up alot of the finish wether it be varnish or polish.

How are you finishing it. by hand, or by spraying.
 

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You might want to check around for any cabinet shops that would charge you a small fee to run it through their wide belt sander. It would flatten it perfectly and get rid of the stain, most likely with one pass. I've got a cabinet shop close to me that would do it for 10 to 20 bucks. Might be worth a try.

good idea. I know I do it for people. I have a nice 3' wide 1.
 
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