Working with Stabilized Wood
Stabilized wood will provide you with a dimensionally stable wood product, but there are few things you should be aware of.
Cutting freshly stabilized wood blocks into scales or thin slices, may occasionally produce some slight warping of the pieces. If you plan on cutting the blocks into thin scales, it’s best to wait for a few weeks or longer after stabilization before cutting to allow the acrylic resins to completely harden. If you require scales, and can’t wait the recommended time, we always have a good selection of precut scales available.
Another thing to note is while stabilized wood is stronger than natural wood, it will crack if hammered on, or if the pin holes are drilled too small. It’s best to drill the holes a hair larger than required, so you don’t have to hammer the pins in and risk ruining an expensive piece of wood. If you’re worried about the pin holes looking sloppy, the epoxy will fill any gaps.
There is one caveat when drilling… one needs to take care to only penetrate about ¼” (about ½ cm) at a time and back the bit out to clean it off before going in again. If this isn’t done conscientiously, the drill bit packs up with acrylic to the point where it will make a very sloppy hole, or worse, split the workpiece due to the pressure of the acrylic build-up on the bit.
Finishing stabilized wood is easy. Sand it up to your desired grit (we recommend at least 400) and buff it to an incredible shine. Some knife makers will use a buffing compound to bring out an even more lustrous finish. Fabuluster and RCH306 white buffing compound are a few that have been used. Stabilized wood may dull after extended use, so many knife makers will use a top coat of tung oil or gunstock oil that will not only enhance the wood, but will also provide a hard protective coat. Another type of finish that works well and leaves a high shine, is friction polish. The brand of friction polish we’ve personally used is Crystal Coat.
Stabilized wood is impervious to water, but one thing to note is that the natural pores (cells) of the wood will remain open after stabilization and the wood will take on water if left submerged for any length of time. The fibers of the stabilized wood will remain dry, but the open cells will take on the water. If you leave the block out of the water, it will drain out of the pores and the block will again be completely dry. One way to avoid your stabilized wood handle from taking on any water is to seal it with a top coat.
Since the pores of the treated wood remain open, another thing consider is the sandpaper. Always use clean sandpaper. If you have access to an air compressor, it’s a good idea to blow both the sandpaper and the wood off every once in a while, as this will prevent the paper and the stabilized from becoming clogged with acrylic dust, especially in the higher grits. If the particular wood you’re using is very porous, some knife makers will seal the wood with CA glue or acrylic prior to finishing it.
Sanding stabilized wood will produce a fine dust. Be sure to have proper ventilation, always wear an approved respirator, and if you have a dust collection system I would recommend using that too.
When you’re sending your wood in to be stabilized, you may find that each species of wood takes the stabilization in a different way. Some woods, like spalted maple, will take on 50% or more of it’s weight, while others will take on as little as 20%. Even blocks that are from the same species will have noticeable differences in the way they stabilize. It all depends on the grain and density of the wood.
One last thing to keep in mind…. Wood is a natural material and may have unique characteristics, such as bark, voids, etc. While stabilizing the wood will provide added strength, it will not fill or repair the natural flaws in the wood. Consider sealing any natural hairline cracks with thin CA glue. For bark inclusions, use some thick CA glue and for voids in the wood, use some sawdust from the same wood and pack it into the void with some thick CA. These natural characteristics are what makes each piece of wood a treasure and by using stabilized wood, you can make that treasure last for generations.