I am a frustrated cabinet builder looking for a wood pre-stain formula the we can mix in house, instead of buying an ever changing product like Bix. It seems the product differs from can to can. Thanks for your thoughts.
From what I read, it sounds like this product is nothing more than thinned down varnish. What you are calling a "pre-stain" is what others might call a wood conditioner. Also, this is a type of washcoat. Make your own washcoat out of your topcoat, your sealer or shellac. Reduce your coating so that you end up with 3% to 5% solids by volume. Spray it on evenly. It dries to the touch within minutes and it is ready for scuffing (320 grit or 220 grit if you do not mind more bite of the wiping stain into the wood). Now you are ready to stain.
Bix has a 12 hour wait time. This is not a production-friendly product at all. I have read but have not tried using a clear stain base as a conditioner. Apply it and let it set in. Let it sit out its dry time, whatever that is. Stain on top of that. If the clear stain base has dried enough time, then the wiping stain should not resolvate it and smear it around. StarFinishing.com has or had a technical sheet on this technique.
The link below explains how to calculate the solids content of the washcoat. Try 5% and see how it works. If you get blotching, try a higher solids. You will likely find that solid wood needs a washcoat with higher solids content than ply. Do a sample or three, the larger the better, to test the washcoat. Small samples can look deceivingly good!