Wood stabilizing #3: Unwrapped and unplugged

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Blog entry by Dave Polaschek posted 11-24-2018 05:47 PM 896 reads 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Out of the resin and into the oven Part 3 of Wood stabilizing series Part 4: Second batch »

One of the things I was trying to find out about wood stabilizing when I embarked on this adventure was whether it would be possible to work the resulting pieces of wood with hand tools. I’m not completely sure of the answer yet, but I have a few observations. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first thing you notice when unwrapping the wood from the foil is that there’s excess plastic everywhere. It sticks to the foil, it sticks the foil to the wood, and it crinkles and flakes off and will be all over your shop. It’s pretty easy to remove from the wood using a knife, but less so with a plane. I tried both a jack plane and a block plane, and both had trouble getting a “bite” through the plastic on the surface.

Maybe it’s just that my planes aren’t super sharp at the moment, but I found it a lot easier to get down to wood using a knife or sanding block. And it was a lot easier to work with wood that had been relatively smooth to begin with. Next time, I’ll plane everything before stabilizing it, rather than going straight from the saw to the resin.

Here are a series of images of each wood. In some cases, I’ve included a before picture, but not always. I tried to get down to bare wood, which goes pretty slowly with a plane, and pretty quickly with a sanding block with 60 grit paper.









Hard maple:

Soft Maple:



The first thing that struck me is that every wood carved like the finest walnut and as though my tools were razor sharp. It’s a little unnatural, but then I guess that’s the point of stabilizing wood, isn’t it? It almost entirely eliminates the difference in hardness between early wood and late wood in pine and redwood. The soft maple and spalted elm were firmed right up. And the elm, which was cut at a 45°︎ angle, such that I was working in end-grain, carved as easily as anything else.

With a plane, the elm showed little tiny tear-out when I was planing it the wrong direction, so it’s not as though the wood has completely turned to plastic. There is still some effect from the grain, but it’s been minimized. With sharp tools, it’s hard to go wrong. But getting a shaving started with the plane is nearly impossible until you’ve cleared the surface of any excess resin. That’s easier with sandpaper. If you do try to plane off the excess resin, be prepared for a bunch of white dust and plastic chips all over everything (you can see them on the block plane in the “birch” photo above). But you’ll have a dust if you sand too. For the hand-tool woodworker, stabilized wood is just going to be a little messier.

Color-wise,it was kind of a mixed bag. Hard maple and holly both darkened up quite a bit. Birch went from fairly pale to looking like decades-old birch overnight. Butternut, cherry and hackberry hardly seemed to change color at all. Hickory also darkened up significantly, and was a pain to work, which isn’t much change really. Softwoods went from uneven and requiring razor-sharp tools to easy and pleasant to work.

So what do I think? I’ll almost certainly stabilize more wood. Especially for punky or spalted stuff, stabilizing makes it work like “normal” wood. And I suspected it would make softwoods easier to work, and that’s definitely the case. I’ll probably have more after I’ve had a chance to experiment more.

Thanks for looking! If I’ve missed something, feel free to ask.

-- Dave - Santa Fe

8 comments so far

View Andybb's profile


2376 posts in 1211 days

#1 posted 11-24-2018 07:12 PM

Thanks for the blog. One thing I have done is to put the foil in a drip pan under the grate and eliminate the aluminum foil wrap. Just creates less mess and they are ready to turn without scraping the foil. I’ve read other blogs that say you should let the blanks soak for 24 hrs after releasing the vacuum. I’ve found that unless it’s really punky, hardwoods don’t undergo much change as the juice can’t soak into the grain as easily but it is a way to dye the wood throughout instead of just on the surface.

I found it very interesting that coloring could be added to the cactus juice.
- stefang

Strange but you can’t really rely on the cactus juice dye to be the same color after it has been in the vacuum chamber. I bought brilliant blue dye and the wood turned green. Still looked nice, just not blue.

-- Andy - Seattle USA

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Dave Polaschek

4457 posts in 1190 days

#2 posted 11-25-2018 12:55 AM

Andy, I’ll probably continue to wrap things. I didn’t have to scrape the foil. It peeled back, leaving a thin layer of plastic behind in most places. I did have to use a knife to pop loose the last few bits of foil, but that was mostly where there was a thick layer of plastic, and it popped right off.

My blanks did soak for about 16 hours, and it did change the hardwoods. Not as dramatically as the softwoods, but it made them all easier to carve, even the hickory. And it filled the pores in the hickory, so I’ll experiment with some oak and see what I think of that.

I’ll be playing with color in the future. But it’ll probably be Christmas before I have time to do another batch without color, and then colors will be some time next year.

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View LittleBlackDuck's profile (online now)


3451 posts in 1428 days

#3 posted 11-25-2018 01:13 AM

Thx for the detail PD... I used to buy stabilised blanks for my pens… cost me a small fortune…

Though I’m into colour… here is a picture of my favourite that I’ve had for about 10 years and refuse to sell,

the blank back then cost >$20(US).

For dyeing, have you considered food colouring? I have found (where water based is acceptable) that those el cheapo food dyes leave the woodie versions for dead. They have provided the most vibrant colours in wood filleres.

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

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

4457 posts in 1190 days

#4 posted 11-25-2018 01:44 AM

LBD, I haven’t considered food coloring yet. As expensive as the cactus juice is (I used about 20 USD worth, which was not quite a litre, in this experiment), I’ll probably start with the dyes that Curtis recommends and see how those go.

If you’re looking for pen blanks, Dave Kelley from here on LJs makes pen blanks using desert woods and dyes. They look pretty good to me, and are $10 plus shipping, so that might not be a bad price for you.

-- Dave - Santa Fe

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3508 posts in 2776 days

#5 posted 11-25-2018 09:27 AM

Thanks for this contribution. Most appreciated.


View stefang's profile


17039 posts in 3942 days

#6 posted 11-25-2018 11:47 AM

Interesting. Thanks for sharing this.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View LittleBlackDuck's profile (online now)


3451 posts in 1428 days

#7 posted 11-25-2018 12:57 PM

..... If you’re looking for pen blanks,.....
- Dave Polaschek

Thank’s for the suggetion Dave, unfortunately when I get a bee in my bonnet I go totally overboard. I think I have enough blanks to last me a few lifetimes…,

Regrettably the above pictures are just a sample of my blank collection that was easy(er) to photograph!

The family says I’m crazy and I would be if I didn’t agree with them.

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

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Dave Polaschek

4457 posts in 1190 days

#8 posted 11-25-2018 02:31 PM

Haha! May you live long enough to use your supply of pen blanks!

-- Dave - Santa Fe

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