What is wood stabilizer and why you might want to use it. This product is perfect for keeping wood slices from cracking or the bark from falling off.
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Many thanks to Scottie from Saved By Scottie for guest posting on the blog today! Read more about her and her blog at the end of this post. I’m currently working on some fun wood slice projects that will follow up on this post so keep an eye out and make sure to subscribe to my newsletter! -Danielle
Wood is a natural material. Differences in humidity can make wood expand (water absorbing) or contract (water escaping). This movement can cause warping, checking (cracks), and bark loss. Using a wood stabilizer product will help minimize these kinds of issues.
What is a wood stabilizer?
Wood stabilizer is a product used to make wood more durable and less prone to warping or checking (cracking) than natural, untreated wood. Wood stabilization reinforces the weak points of your project piece.
The stabilization process stops the movement from expansion and contraction, it “stable”.
It does also add a bit of strength so softer woods will become a bit more durable than they would have been otherwise.
It won’t turn balsa wood into oak- but you can certainly do more with that balsa than you would have been able to normally.
Fresh or Wet Wood (moisture content over 25%)
Using fresh wood cross-cut slices (called “cookies) is fun. You can make really neat things and the bark adds texture and beauty to your project.
However, this cut (especially untreated or wet) has the highest tension in it.
Splitting and Cracks in Fresh Wood
The middle section of the cookie (called the pith) dries at a different rate than the outside area. This can cause the piece to warp and crack through the drying process and the bark tends to release and fall off.
Using a wood stabilizer product like Pentacryl will minimize these issues.
Bark Falling Off
Bark falls off because of shrinkage. Wood shrinks as it dries which causes it to pull away from the bark. A stabilizer product can help.
What helps the most is cutting the tree down during in the winter. The sap stops running when it’s cold and the tree goes dormant. This gives you the best chance of keeping the bark attached to your slab.
If it should fall off, you can use a CA glue to reattach it.
Pentacryl for Green Wood
Pentacryl is a compound of modified polymers. It is specifically designed for new (or green) wood. It operates a bit differently than other stabilizers.
Pentacryl displaces the water molecules as it dries to keep the piece from cracking, checking or warping. The methods for use are soaking or brushing and the drying process can take several days.
Dry wood (below 25% moisture content)
Stabilizers made for dry wood are generally resin based and require wood to be as close to 0% moisture as possible to work well. They work by displacing the air pockets throughout the grain structure to create a dense product resistant to moisture changes, is more easily machined, can be polished to a high gloss, and still look and feel like real wood.
Resin stabilizers require a vacuum to encourage the absorption process. Obviously you can purchase these from a manufacturer, however, you can usually find fairly easy plans to make your own with a quick online search.
Once the vacuum process is complete, the pieces are wrapped in foil and dried in an oven to bring about full cure (hardness).
The same company that makes Pentacryl also makes a product called Wood Juice. It was designed to penetrate dry to semi-dry wood and prevent future cracking. It does not require a vacuum and works using the same soaking or brush on methods as Pentacryl.
Things to Know
Stabalizers will not fix voids or gaps. They fill the wood, not the holes. If you want to fill a hole in wood, an epoxy resin or CA (Cyanoacrylate) glue (with a bit of dye if you like) works quite well.
If you want to stain your wood piece, you will need to do it ahead of time. Part of what makes a stabilizer work is that the wood soaks it through. The process makes traditional wood stains not work very well with stabilized wood and the process will occasionally alter or deepen the wood’s natural color.
However, mixing a stain or dye with the product will change the color as the stabilizer is doing its job, or after the fact, an alcohol or oil based dye tends to work pretty well.
Note: alcohol and oil based dyes can be pretty messy and permanently mark everything they come in contact with- so be careful.
Wood Stabilizers are a great way to keep a really beautiful project exactly that way. Overall, they are fairly easy to use and can really enhance the value of your project.
Scottie from Saved by Scottie is a DIY blogger who loves updating old furniture, redoing RVs, and working with her hands. She also owns The Painted Pig, an artisan store in Lovetsville, Virginia. I met her at a blogging conference and we love getting together to make things like this fun screen door!
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