Wood stabilizing #5: Dyeing experiments

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Blog entry by Dave Polaschek posted 01-06-2019 05:15 PM 1562 reads 0 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 4: Second batch Part 5 of Wood stabilizing series Part 6: Spalted elm and dyes »

Having somewhat successfully stabilized a couple batches of wood, I figured it was time to add dyeing to the list.

I started with two tubs of cactus juice, dyed blue and red, and set pieces of wood in them for fifteen minutes or so. No vacuum, just open air.

The woods were some spalted maple, some rock maple, some hickory, and some white oak.

The fifteen minutes was a guess. It turned out to be about right for the spalted maple, but nowhere near long enough for the oak or rock maple, and a little too short for the hickory. So I learned that!

Then after baking the wood to cure the first bit of resin and letting it cool, I put it in a batch of black-dyed cactus juice and ran the vacuum for three hours. I started getting the smoke again and shut it down at that point. Curtis says that’s just oil mist, caused by a vacuum leak somewhere in my system, but whether it’s mist or smoke, I don’t want it all over my garage. I really wish Curtis sold complete systems. I would have happily paid twice as much for a vacuum pump in order to not have to waste time trouble-shooting a vacuum leak.

Anyway, after three hours under vacuum, I shut it down and let the wood soak for another 16 hours or so. Again, not long enough. I only got good penetration of the black in the spalted wood.

But the spalted wood did come out very pretty. And now I know more than I used to.

Next up will be finding and fixing that vacuum leak so I can pull vacuum for longer without filling my garage with oil mist. But I’ve ordered some elm burl and spalted box elder that should also make pretty blanks.

-- Dave - Santa Fe

13 comments so far

View RichBolduc's profile


1443 posts in 1033 days

#1 posted 01-06-2019 05:23 PM

Amazing work Dave….I love that red one in the last pic. As I said, you’re making it so I’m going to have to step up my game a bunch.


-- 10% off all products with code LJ10

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Dave Polaschek

6230 posts in 1499 days

#2 posted 01-06-2019 06:32 PM

Yeah, that red and black one was far and away the best, Rich. That’s almost 6” of penetration from just sticking the blank in about 1.5” of juice. Thirsty wood!

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View oldrivers's profile


2354 posts in 2483 days

#3 posted 01-06-2019 07:08 PM

Over my head but looks like a fun projector with varying good result.

-- Soli Deo gloria!

View doubleDD's profile


9801 posts in 2960 days

#4 posted 01-06-2019 08:18 PM

Hats off to you for taking a go at this Dave. I had at one time thought about it but didn’t want the mess. Great job on those blanks.

-- Dave, Downers Grove, Il. -------- When you run out of ideas, start building your dreams.

View GR8HUNTER's profile


8061 posts in 1629 days

#5 posted 01-06-2019 08:23 PM

Psychedelic looking wood Dave :<)))

-- Tony---- Reinholds,Pa.------ REMEMBER TO ALWAYS HAVE FUN :<))

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Dave Polaschek

6230 posts in 1499 days

#6 posted 01-06-2019 08:34 PM

Thanks, guys. I’m not sure if I’ll end up sticking with it or not, but I’m having fun with the actual stabilizing. It’s the looking for the vacuum leak that’s not so much fun.

I’m taking a medium flat-rate box of blanks in to work to show to my two co-workers who make knives tomorrow. It’ll be interesting to see how they react.

The funny thing about this is that I got into the stabilizing mostly for making tools. But the crazy colors are interesting, and perhaps I can make some knife scales to hel pay for my other experiments.

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View robscastle's profile


7523 posts in 3121 days

#7 posted 01-06-2019 08:56 PM

OK Dave,
The old addage Where there is smoke there is usually fire comes to mind.

So in order to assist in identifying what the actual cause of the smoke is and where it is coming from and to provide a solution I have decided to conduct some long distance investigations for you. All gratis of course.

So if your keen lets go!

I went back and looked for your setup configuration but could not find a complete picture of the actual system so,

A couple of questions.

1. Can you take a couple of pictures of the setup showing connecting hoses connector fittings and all associated equipment when you next get a moment.
WTHF you may say? ...well I dont know much about Cactus Juice work but I have done quite a bit of vacuum veneering work earlier when I was a really keen woodworker, and I have a son who works with Vacuum processes on a daily basis, and I am thinking between the three of us we can get your system working the way you want.

2. The “smoke” can you give me a more elaborated description of the smoke, a. where its visible on the system. b. does it smell, if so what does it smell like. c. is it smoke or mist? .. as if its oil mist we dont want it getting all over your motorbike! d. hold a piece of paper or even your bare hand near the souce and collect a sample for analysis.

That will do for now…

-- Regards Rob

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

6230 posts in 1499 days

#8 posted 01-07-2019 12:30 AM

Rob, Curtis who sells the Cactus Juice says that the “smoke” is almost certainly oil mist caused by oil in the vacuum pump getting turned to mist because of air getting into the system somewhere, so I’ll be hunting for a leak first. It comes out of the place on the pump where the gas is vented, so that explanation makes sense.

I’m back to work this week after three weeks off, so I expect it’ll be next weekend at the earliest before I start digging deeper. Curtis suggested putting shaving cream on each of the connections and turning on the system. I figure that’s easy enough that I stand a chance of figuring it out.

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View EarlS's profile


4093 posts in 3265 days

#9 posted 01-07-2019 02:25 AM

Dave – what if you steam your blanks while they soak up the dye, then start the vacuum process? Steaming should soften up the wood fibers and maybe let the dye get a little deeper into the wood.

I’m staying out of the vacuum pump trouble shooting. Sounds like there are plenty of folks with more hands on experience with this kind of pump. I do have to question how drawing a vacuum on something will cause the cactus juice to go into the wood since the lowest pressure will be on the outside of the blank. Again – my theoretical engineering background may not help.

-- Earl "I'm a pessamist - generally that increases the chance that things will turn out better than expected"

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Dave Polaschek

6230 posts in 1499 days

#10 posted 01-07-2019 02:03 PM

what if you steam your blanks while they soak up the dye

Cactus Juice wants the wood to be completely dry. Curtis recommends baking it for 24 hours at 220F.

As for how it works with vacuum, the vacuum pulls the air out of the wood. When you release the vacuum, the Cactus Juice flows back in (some people put it under pressure at that point) to fill the voids where the air used to be.

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View Oldtool's profile


3084 posts in 3107 days

#11 posted 01-07-2019 06:48 PM

Great experimentation creating some really good looking wood. What do you plan to do with it now?

-- "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The point is to bring them the real facts." - Abraham Lincoln

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Dave Polaschek

6230 posts in 1499 days

#12 posted 01-07-2019 07:19 PM

What do you plan to do with it now?

Well, the dark red and black one is getting traded for a bunch more spalted maple and birch.

My original goal is to make stabilized wood for myself to make tools from. But I’ll probably end up selling some knife-scale size pieces along the way to finance my experiments and get me more wood to play with.

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

6230 posts in 1499 days

#13 posted 02-25-2019 12:26 AM

The dark red and black one got used.

I think it turned out pretty well. Time to do another batch, soon.

-- Dave - Santa Fe

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