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  • Writer's pictureGary Walz

What is Stabilized Wood and Why Do It?

In many of my listings, I mention that wood has been "stabilized." But what does that mean and why do we bother?

Wood 101

All experienced woodworkers know that wood continues to expand and contract over time. Most hardwood is air dried to 6% moisture content (MC), or kiln dried to around 3%. This helps make the wood stabile and easier to work with. At least for a brief period. But wood that started out at say 6% MC in a humid environment can easily reach 12%. And that means movement. And that can be bad. Good furniture design accounts for this movement. Sealing and finishing wood also helps minimize movement, but it doesn't stop it completely.

What Happens in a Pen?

Hand made pens all start life as a square block of wood, through which a hole is drilled. Then a brass tube is glued into the hole to provide structure and an interface for the metal pen components. This requires turning the wood to a *very* thin wall section over the tube. And these thin wall sections can split and crack easily with temperature and humidity changes. This doesn't mean that *all* wooden pens will split or crack, or even a very high percent of them. And some woods are more susceptible to splitting than others. That is why, to stay safe, we "stabilize" much of our wood.

So What is Stabilizing?

Basically, first we bring the moisture content down to 0% by baking the wood. Then, we immediately immerse the dried wood in a resin for a period of time. After soaking for maybe 48-72 hours, we put the resin and wood under vacuum. This draws all of the air out of wood (remember, wood is porous, and after drying is even more porous.) Once we stop seeing bubbles, we know the air is completely out. This could take anywhere from a day to a week, again, depending upon the wood. We then release the vacuum, and the resin is drawn into the vacated air spaces. We once again soak the wood in the resin for anywhere from 48 hours to a week. The wood then is removed and baked again at approximately 200 degrees F. This solidifies the resin that has taken the place of the air in the wood pores. The result is a piece of wood that has retained all of the color, grain and beauty of the original wood, but is now as solid as a block of plastic. No more chance of movement.

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