Don’t know how to stabilize wood? Worry no more as by the end of this article you will be a master. How many times have you found a nice piece of wood in your shop, just begging to be used, but you have had to scrap it as it’s too soft? With wood stabilizing you can turn even the most punky and soft wood into a craftable piece which is almost waterproof and can be stained with a wide range of products and dyes, all from home!
Why is stabilizing wood required?
The main purpose of stabilized wood is to make the piece more durable and harder. It also prevents future issue with warping or cracking. As well as making it have a nice glossy finish, which can be dyed during the stabilization process.
Stabilizing wood is a technique of treating a soft or punky piece of wood, in order to turn it into a usable blank ready for use in your next project. There is no need to throw away your scrap pieces, after this article you will be stabilizing your own blanks and making the very most of your materials.
The method involves placing resin and your blanks into a vacuum, which displaces the air pockets within the wood. The final product is a high strength blank which can be polished to a gloss finish and is nearly waterproof.
Knife makers often use stabilized blanks for handle making, it works as a kind of insurance policy to prevent future problems with the handles. Water damage for example will be of no worry with a stabilized handle.
Things you will need
- Safety gear for hands and eyes – Safety first!
- Vacuum stabilization chamber
- Stabilizing resin
- Color dye (optional)
- Air compressor
- Oven that can reach 200 degrees fahrenheit
Step One – Dry Your Blanks!
To begin with, get your blanks ready and make sure they are as dry as possible. Using a moisture meter to check the level of moisture in the blank, you are looking for less than 10% moisture in a blank before you stabilize it. Leave any damp blanks to dry out thoroughly before attempting to stabilize. If your blank is exceptionally damp, cut it oversized and leave it in a drying rack for a few days to dry evenly. Drying wood with heat too quickly can cause the blank to crack so be carefull!
Optional dye step
Stabilizing wood gives you the option to dye your blanks at the same time! Simply buy your fast stick coloring dye and add one quarter of resin for every quart of resin. More resin can be used for a highly vivid color, experiment and see what you like.
Step Two – Prepare to stabilize
When your blanks are dry and ready to go, it’s time to start the stabilization process. You will need to prepare your vacuum stabilization kit ensuring it is set up according the the manufacturer’s instructions.
- When ready, place your blanks inside the innermost chamber of your stabilizing kit. Place an anti float plate to keep your blanks submerged during the stabilizing process.
- Pour your resin over your blanks until they are completely submerged, stop pouring when the blanks have 1 inch of resin on top. Don’t worry about how much resin you think you might be wasting, as it can be used over and over.
- Seal your chamber completely as per your instructions and attach any vacuum lines to the chamber.
- Starting on the lowest power level, slowly turn on your vacuum generator. Gradually increase the power to full. Doing this slowly prevents the resin from foaming up and causing mess.
- Keep the vacuum on for 30 minutes to an hour. Once the resin has stopped bubbling and only a few air pockets are being released from the blanks you are ready to stop the vacuum.
- Once bubbling has ceased, turn off your vacuum generator and gently remove the lid.
- It may seem that not much resin has absorbed into the blanks, this is normal as the wood won’t absorb much in a vacuum.
- Leave your blanks to soak for a further hour or so.
- After soaking period, remove the anti float plate and see if your blanks float.
- If your blanks float then the vacuum process was unsuccessful and you will have to start over.
- If your blanks don’t float, the vacuum was a success and your blanks can be removed from the chamber.
- Wipe off your blanks to get rid of any excess resin.
- Pour the resin in the chamber into a jar or bottle for future use.
- It is highly recommended to clean your vacuum kit as soon as you are finished with it. Gummy resin is not fun to clean up, so it’s worth it to do it while you can.
Step Three – Curing your blanks
Wrap your blanks in aluminium foil and place into an oven at 200 degrees fahrenheit. Ensure your oven is at the correct temperature before inserting your blanks, too much or too little heat will ruin the curing process and you would have wasted a few hours time!
Bake your pieces for 30 minutes if they are pen sized, larger pieces will require being baked for more time. Adjust your cooking time accordingly. After 30 minutes check your resin to see if it has cured properly. Cured resin feels hard and looks crystallized. If your resin is still wet, place it back in the foil and bake for a longer period.
When your resin is dry, leave your blanks in open air to rest for 24 – 48 hours. After which your blanks are complete and ready to go.
Here’s a video on how to stabilize wood that you can watch:
Working with your new blanks
Now you have your stabilised blanks there a few things worth mentioning when it comes to working with the materials.
- Stabilized wood can be worked on using traditional tools used for natural woods.
- Stabilized wood will be harder than usual, with less air pockets.
- It will be easier to sand and finish.
- Different hardness should be expected when using different kinds of wood.
- Take extra care when power sanding, the stabilized wood will sand much, much faster than untreated wood and will overheat quickly.
Which wood can be stabilized?
You can stabilize most types of wood, but you will have a different result with the final product. Maple, Ash and Boxelder will be much heavier after stabilizing. Redwood and Walnut wood will be lighter after the process and might not be as hard as other types. All types of wood will be harder after stabilizing and much more durable as well.