How To Stabilize Wood

Woody Jackson | Last modified on October 7th, 2021

Stabilizing wood is a type of woodworking meant to preserve a piece of wood from decay and damage by sealing a surface with an epoxy resin or thermosetting resin. These materials are then hardened into what the industry refers to as “stabilized” or “hardened” woods.

There are many reasons why you might want to use stabilized wood, such as preserving an ancient monument, creating sculptures and furniture items, or making picture frames and boxes. This guide will pass you through many methods and show how to stabilize wood with no fuss.

What Is Stabilized Wood?

Stabilized wood is a material that has been treated in a way to improve its durability, appearance, or sound/vibration characteristics. Stabilized wood is used in many fields. The most common application is musical instruments, but it also finds practical use in furniture, cabinets, and boats, among others.

Stabilized wood is used so frequently that there are far more designs and applications than just those. Stabilized wood is also a popular choice for DIY projects because it is easy to work with.

What Is Stabilized Wood

Why Do You Need To Stabilize Wood?

Wood is a natural material that is not as durable as many people are lead to believe. Wood can be prone to various environmental and biological issues. These include rot, termites, cracks/splits, and insect attack (by carpenter ants, for example).

Stabilized wood prevents or slows down those issues and makes the wood more durable. The result is a material that lasts longer than conventional wood. 

What Can Stabilized Wood Be Used For?

Stabilized wood has numerous uses. It can be used to replace conventional wood, to upgrade it, or even to make entirely new products from the material. From musical instruments to furniture, cabinets, and boats.

Stabilized wood is also a popular building material in the DIY community for do-it-yourself projects of all kinds, such as gardening tools, furniture, and even dollhouses.

How To Stabilize Wood With Epoxy Resin

Now that you know what stabilized wood is and why you want to use it, it’s time to learn how to make it yourself. The easiest way to stabilize wood is with epoxy resin. Here are the steps you need to follow:

  1. Mix the epoxy resin first.
  2. Apply the epoxy resin. This can be difficult because you must apply long enough to cover the entire piece of wood.
  3. Let it cure according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Vacuum Chambers For Stabilizing Wood

Vacuum chambers are used for stabilizing wood because they reduce shrinkage during curing, which reduces the weight and bulkiness of the wood while making it more durable. There are two types of vacuum chambers: hard-end gravity vacuum chamber and soft-end gravity vacuum chamber.

Vacuum Chambers For Stabilizing Wood

The choice between a hard-end vacuum chamber and a soft-end vacuum chamber is based on the size of the part being treated. The vacuum chamber is made of aluminum or stainless steel, and it is equipped with a curved handle.

How To Use A Vacuum Chamber For Stabilizing Wood

  1. Clean the area to be treated and make sure it’s free of all dust or debris.
  2. Cut the pieces of wood to be treated, sanding each piece smooth, but not to the point where it has no grain.
  3. Clean your vacuum chamber thoroughly with a detergent first, and then wipe it down with household alcohol to remove oils and fingerprints.
  4. Place the wood in the vacuum chamber and put extra weight on it as needed, so there is enough pressure inside the chamber.
  5. Vacuum. For a soft-end vacuum chamber, place the wood part at one end of the chamber and use a jack to lower it into the chamber. For a hard-end vacuum chamber, place the wood part at both ends of the chamber and press them together, so they are in contact with each other. Place weights on both ends as well.
  6. Allow it to cure for 24 hours. Pressure will be enough to hold the wood down and prevent shifting/bowing while it is in its curing process.

How To Stabilize Wood With Thermosetting Resin

Stabilized wood can also be made using a thermosetting resin. They are used in the same way as epoxy resin except that thermosetting resins can’t be sanded or scraped off, so they are better suited to treating large surfaces, such as the deck of a boat, for example.

Stabilize Wood With Thermosetting Resin

The downside of thermosetting resins is that they dry faster than epoxy resins, and there is no room for error when working with them, or mistakes will be hard to fix without damaging the piece being worked on.

Here’re the main steps on how to stabilize wood with a thermosetting resin: 

  1. Mixing the resin is the same as for epoxy resins. 
  2. Soak the wood with white glue and use a soft-end vacuum chamber or a piece of cardboard as extra weight to hold down the wood while it cures.
  3. Let cure for 24 hours completely, and then remove the weights and sand lightly with 120 grit sandpaper to remove any residual bumps in the surface of the wood, so they are smooth enough for finishing if desired.

Stabilizing wood with thermosetting resins is similar to stabilizing wood with epoxy resins. Still, thermosetting resins are more likely to cause damage to the wood while drying, so it’s best to always make a test piece before using it on the actual piece you want to be stabilized.

FAQ

What Is The Best Wood Stabilizer?

The most popular and recommended wood stabilizer for most projects is epoxy resin. It’s the traditional material and also very durable, providing a good seal against moisture penetration.

How Do You Stabilize Wood With A Vacuum Chamber?

In a vacuum chamber, wood pieces are soaked in water or other material, like epoxy resin, and then clamped into a frame with pressure screws. The chamber is sealed, and the air is removed with a vacuum pump. The process will take anywhere from 8 hours to 10 days, depending on the size of the wood, how much air pressure is applied to it, and other factors.

How Long Does It Take To Stabilize Wood?

It takes a long time to stabilize wood. Wood stabilizing is when the water and sap in the wood are replaced with chemicals like formaldehyde, ethanol, sodium sulfite, and others. This replaces the natural lignin and tannins that make up the cells of wood which provide its natural resistance to rot, decomposition, and insect attack. This process may take up to 1 week and depends on size, wood type, and other factors.

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