Wood Stabilization Techniques
for Woodturners

Casting resins can be used to for wood stabilization,
but typically require a pressure/vacuum pot
to eliminate/reduce visible air bubbles

Overview

Like most people, I like to save money whenever I can. I also enjoy doing things myself if possible; this includes stabilizing small pieces of wood. Chances are that sooner or later, you will want to stabilize some wood as well. There are many reasons to try these techniques on your own wood, not the least of which is convenience. Of course, you could just send your wood out to get it professionally treated, but that's too expensive for a small amount of material. Perhaps you only have a few pieces to treat, like a couple of pen blanks.

You could also choose to purchase different types of professionally stabilized wood blanks from a turning supplier. However, what if you have a small amount of your own wood from a tree that had sentimental value to you? Perhaps you're turning on a project and a small patch of punky wood appears and you need to do something now, to get the piece finished by the end of the week?

These and many other situations present a good opportunity to try your own hand at wood stabilization. The results you get at home using these protocols will not produce a true stabilized wood like you would get from a professional company, but many times it may be sufficient to meet your needs. The simple techniques described below can be used on rough wood blanks and roughouts. The wood needs to be dry for the lacquer and Minwax Wood Hardener to work well. Cyanoacrylate Ester, or CA is typically used while finish turning your project, or on finish turned surfaces, prior to sanding.


Lacquer Immersion (Light Stabilization): This technique requires a prolonged soaking (overnight, up to two days or more) in diluted lacquer. Although this is not a "true" stabilization (compared to professionally stabilized wood) it can be quite effective in certain situations when you need a little more support for the wood fibers. I use two different stabilization ratios, depending on the timber and how much stabilization is needed

  • For light stabilization, I use Deft lacquer out of the can and mix it according to the following ratio: 50% Deft, 50% lacquer thinner by volume.
  • If I need a denser surface, I use Deft lacquer and mix it 75% Deft lacquer with 25% lacquer thinner. This ratio may require up to three days or more to fully penetrate thick timbers.
  • After soaking the piece is allowed to thoroughly dry, up to a week or longer before the piece is finish turned.

Deft clear lacquer can be used for light wood stabilization

One advantage of using lacquer is that it sands easily and it's crystal clear. I've been using this protocol for several years and it has been very successful for light duty stabilization needs.


Minwax wood hardener

Minwax Wood Hardener (Hard Stabilization): This can be utilized to help stabilize small projects, like a pen barrel or a bottle stopper where you want a hard surface. It's not cheap (about $8.00 per can), but if you just need to stabilize a few small items, it can produce good results. You can purchase Minwax Wood Hardener at most home centers and hardware stores.

I use it straight out of the can without any thinning. The wood needs to be very dry for this product to penetrate well. Warming the blank with a small hair dryer prior to application of the hardener also aids in producing a deep, full thickness penetration. After treatment, the piece is allowed to dry for two days before finish turning.


Thin CA Saturation (Very Hard Stabilization): If the area is small, like a rotten spot on a pen blank, bottle stopper, or similar sized pieces, thin cyanoacrylate will produce a very hard surface when cured. It's not cheap to use on large areas and it is very irritating to the eyes and respiratory system. I use a facemask that protects my eyes and filters out the fumes, but I still limit this to areas that are very small in size.

Turning Tip: One problem with thin CA is that it likes to wick into surrounding fibers around your treated area. This results in a darkening of these fibers, which may be unacceptable. To prevent this unwanted wicking, simply spray the adjoining areas with spray shellac.

Make sure you spray around the entire area you plan to treat, as well as an inch more, in case you drip or overfill the area. In tight situations, I use a small artists brush and apply ½ lb, cut super blonde shellac to the area. Allow the shellac to fully dry before applying the CA.

Thin CA can be used to
stabilize small areas


Professional Stabilizing Products: There are several professionally available products that can produce results close to those achieved by professional wood stabilization companies. However, these products are very expensive and some require special equipment like pressure pots, vacuum vessels and heat/curing chambers to name a few. The application protocols are also more difficult and time consuming.

For most hobbyists in need of better stabilization than the simple techniques described in this article, I recommend you use a professional wood stabilization service for the best results. In the long run it will be cheaper than obtaining the equipment, products and supplies necessary to produce a near professional result. If you would like more information on professionally stabilized wood, check out Wood Stabilization Specialists, Intl.


Safety Note: Always follow all manufacturers safety instructions before working with your lathe, or any of the tools or products you may use. If you are unsure about any operation, obtain competent professional instruction before proceeding. Use and wear all necessary safety devices during turning and observe safe woodturning practices to prevent accident or injury.


Steven D. Russell is a professional studio woodturner, teacher and writer. He has written numerous articles for international woodturning magazines, which have been published in more than 78 countries around the world. Steve has demonstrated in numerous cities across the United States. His studio, Eurowood Werks, specializes in bowls, platters and hollow forms with unique visual and tactile treatments.

Steve is also the current and founding President of the Lone Star Woodturners Association, Inc., an AAW member chapter. The LSWA is a 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization dedicated to teaching and demonstrating the art and craft of woodturning.

Steve is also a featured writer for the Guild of Master Craftsman's "Woodturning" magazine, published in London England. Woodturning magazine is the world's leading magazine for woodturners. Look for his articles covering technical topics, or project based articles in an upcoming issue.