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Wood stabilizing #1: Equipment and first batch

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Blog entry by Dave Polaschek posted 11-23-2018 04:55 PM 1201 reads 2 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Wood stabilizing series Part 2: Out of the resin and into the oven »

I’ve got some spalted elm left over from building my low bench plus some soft maple and other woods that are a little soft and punky. But they’re very pretty, so I decided I’d give wood stabilizing a try.

I ordered a vacuum chamber and pump on eBay, plus a gallon of Cactus Juice from Turntex. Once everything arrived, I assembled the hose and rested the vacuum chamber. The pump pulled a vacuum quickly, and the chamber held it reasonably well, so I was good to goon that front.

I cut up a bunch of knife-scale-sized pieces of wood. Made two each of:
  • apple
  • birch
  • butternut
  • cherry
  • elm
  • hackberry
  • hickory
  • holly
  • soft maple
  • hard maple
  • pine
  • redwood

Then I got out my V-tool and practiced carving a little. I carved an A into the apple, a BI into the birch, etc. Except for the redwood, which was too soft to carve cleanly, so my attempted R turned into a diamond where the wood blew out.

I set all the wood in my shop toaster oven and was going to set it for 12 hours at 220F, but the timer on that only goes to 2 hours. So I ended up using the toaster oven in the kitchen, which has a 10 hour timer. Didn’t leave a bad smell or anything, and my toast tasted fine this morning, but I’ll probably be upgrading the toaster oven in the shop soon.

After getting the wood dry, I put it into a two gallon ziploc bag to cool. According to Curtis’ instructions drying the wood first is important, and then cooling it before putting it in the Cactus Juice is critical so you don’t prematurely cure the juice.

Once it had cooled, I put the wood into the vacuum chamber and put a chunk of 1/4” steel plate on top of it. That wasn’t quite heavy enough to keep the wood from floating, so I threw some lead into a spare plastic tub and put that on top of the plate to weight it down. Then I poured in about a half-gallon of juice, which gave me about a half-inch over the top of the wood (probably should’ve used a little more), put the lid on the chamber and started to pull vacuum. It got to -27 inches pretty quickly (15-20 minutes), but then there was a continual small stream of bubbles from the wood, so I left it chugging. After 2.5 hours, the bubbles had finally stopped, so I released the vacuum and left the wood to soak while I wrote this. It’s supposed to soak for 2-3 times as long as it took to get the bubbles to stop, so I’ll just leave it overnight.

I’ll post a new entry tomorrow once I’ve wrapped the wood (to keep the pieces from getting stuck together), cured it in the shop toaster oven, and taken a look at the results. Thanks for looking!

-- Dave - Minneapolis



11 comments so far

View stefang's profile

stefang

16705 posts in 3754 days


#1 posted 11-23-2018 07:25 PM

Would’ve been nice to see the wood. Never heard about stabilizing wood with cactus juice. Is this something new? What does a toaster oven look like, I’ve never seen one before. Sorry, I don’t know much. Guess I will have to google it.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

3880 posts in 1002 days


#2 posted 11-24-2018 01:13 AM

Cactus Juice is the trade name of an acrylic resin. It’s been around for a few years. A toaster oven is just a small electric oven (which can also be used to toast bread). I have a spare one in my shop for various things (I’ve used it in the past to brown metal, a form of oxidation that protects the metal from rusting).

I forgot to take the “before” picture of the before and after. Sorry about that.

-- Dave - Minneapolis

View stefang's profile

stefang

16705 posts in 3754 days


#3 posted 11-24-2018 12:38 PM

Thanks Dave.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View LittleBlackDuck's profile

LittleBlackDuck

2854 posts in 1240 days


#4 posted 11-25-2018 12:19 AM



Cactus Juice is the trade name of an acrylic resin....
- Dave Polaschek

No wonder my gut is bound up… I thought cactus juice was just cheap alcohol.

Being into pen making (well a few years ago) I came across this “stabilising” methodology but not being available in Australia I just had to set my wood in concrete and spend $1,000 s of dollars seperating timber from stone.

We are now 8 years down the track… (hell time flies and gets faster the older you get)... will follow your posts enthusiastically as it may be more viable and cost affective now.

Thanks for making the effort to highlight the process. Even if people know about it… unless they share, the rest of us remain ignorant.

-- If your first cut is too short... Take the second cut from the longer end... LBD

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

3880 posts in 1002 days


#5 posted 11-25-2018 12:46 AM

I believe Curtis can ship to Oz, Duckie. The equipment shouldn’t be a problem, as it’s all coming from China, anyhow, but the juice comes from here in the USA. Probably after being manufactured in China.

If you’ve any questions, ask away. I’m not planning on doing any turning myself, but one of my coworkers is making knives and wants to stabilize the scales that go on the blades made by another coworker. Me, I’m thinking that I’m going to try and make bits for boxes and perhaps saw handles, but we’ll see how it goes. And there’s no penalty here for being informative. ;-)

-- Dave - Minneapolis

View Lazyman's profile

Lazyman

3544 posts in 1807 days


#6 posted 11-25-2018 02:44 PM

Interesting Dave.

I did a quick search on Amazon for vacuum chambers and most that come up specifically say that they are NOT for wood stabilization. Anyone know why? Just wondering what to look for should I ever decide to give this a try.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

3880 posts in 1002 days


#7 posted 11-25-2018 03:18 PM

I think it’s because the resin will attack many of the cheaper plastics, Nathan. I went with stainless, and Turntex sells some special plastic that won’t be harmed. If I hadn’t wanted to buy the pump and chamber together, I probably would’ve bought a chamber from Curtis. Might still, if I decide to get a tall skinny one for doing longer pieces.

-- Dave - Minneapolis

View Lazyman's profile

Lazyman

3544 posts in 1807 days


#8 posted 11-27-2018 02:57 PM

Thanks Dave. I actually posted the question on one of the chambers (LAB1ST) on Amazon and the seller responded that it is because cactus juice and other stabilizing resins are highly corrosive to the lid. The LAB1ST chambers on Amazon look similar to the one you linked to above so hopefully, yours doesn’t have the same problem.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

3880 posts in 1002 days


#9 posted 11-28-2018 01:13 AM

Yeah, Nathan. I’m not getting resin on the lid very often, I think. In the first batch, I had a brief moment where the air coming out of the wood made the resin foam up and it got within an inch of the lid before I released the pressure and let it settle down. But I’ll keep an eye on it. I think Nathan says that plain PVC is ok, so if I do have problems with the lid, I can always make a new one.

-- Dave - Minneapolis

View Lazyman's profile

Lazyman

3544 posts in 1807 days


#10 posted 11-28-2018 02:01 PM

Since the wood has to be dry and Curtis warns not to use heat to dry the wood, I wonder if you could dry the wood by putting it in the vacuum chamber, without the resin of course, for a few days? Perhaps you could even freeze dry by popping the wood blanks into the freezer first? Might be an interesting experiment if you have a piece that isn’t quite dry enough yet. Weigh it before and after to see how much moisture is lost during the process.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

3880 posts in 1002 days


#11 posted 11-28-2018 02:36 PM

Using heat to dry the wood is fine. You just have to bag it so it doesn’t pick up moisture as it’s cooling, and you need to let it cool completely before putting it in the resin.

I think his recommendation is 24 hours @ 220 to dry the wood. The timer on my good toaster oven only goes to 9:59, but that got the wood dry enough that it worked.

-- Dave - Minneapolis

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