Hickory is one of the hardest of all hardwoods. It has closed pores and a tight grain. Stain will not penetrate easily into hickory and absorbs at different rates, resulting in blotchy stain. Hickory has a tendency to polish when it is sanded causing even more problems with stain penetration. To properly stain hickory and get consistent color, the pores must be opened by rouging up the surface with heavy grit sandpaper.
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Sand the surface of the hickory with 100-grit sandpaper on a hand block. Sand with short strokes, always with the grain.
Lean your head down so that the light reflects off the surface of the hickory. You should see a dull whitish texture. If you see any shiny spots sand them out until the surface has a textured look to it.
Dip a sponge into the stain. Get it full so that it is dripping. Apply it to the hickory, spreading the stain as far as it will go. Thoroughly saturate the hickory with stain. Don't let the stain dry as you work your way over the surface spreading the stain. If you run out of stain dip the sponge in and get it full again.
Wipe the stain off as fast as you can with a soft cloth. Don't leave any pooled up anywhere. Let the stain dry for 15 minutes. If you see any blotches, stain the wood again everywhere. Examine after 15 minutes. If you still see blotches stain one more time. Let the stain dry overnight.
For best results, don't use oil stains unless you are an expert in wood finishing. Oil stains take days to dry and penetrate deeper. You are more likely to get blotches with oil stain.
Always wear breathing and eye protection when working with finishing products.