Whether you’re crafting with wood, just getting into woodworking or woodturning, or simply beginning a project that involves wood, chances are you’ve come across the term wood stabilizer and weren’t sure if this was something you needed to do.
The short answer is "sometimes" your wood will need to be stabilized. Have you ever seen a piece of wood that has warped, split, or cracked over time? That’s due to irregular drying, and expanding/contracting with changes in humidity. The stabilization process can stop that from happening and keep your wood looking beautiful - and stable - for years to come.
In this guide, we’ll answer the question, what is a wood stabilizer. We’ll go over the best time to stabilize your wood, what kinds of wood can be stabilized, and some of the different methods to do it.
What is a wood stabilizer?
A wood stabilizer is a product that displaces moisture in wood and replaces it with the stabilizing product. Wood that’s been stabilized is usually a bit stronger, and easier to turn or carve.
What kind of wood can be stabilized?
Just about any type of soft and hardwood can be stabilized but, some kinds of wood will stabilize better than others. This will also be dependent on a few things:
- the moisture of the wood before you stabilize it
- what process and product you use to stabilize the wood
- If your wood already had any cracks, voids, or gaps before you stabilized it
What can you use stabilized wood for?
After you stabilize your wood, you can use it for a variety of projects. Use stabilized wood cookies from your own Christmas tree to make rustic ornaments or rustic wedding decor. Make pen blanks. Turn beautiful wooden bowls and vases. Make a knife handle. Carve a black bear out of a tree stump using a chainsaw! The possibilities are virtually endless.
When to use a green wood stabilizer
The best time to use a green wood stabilizer is when your wood is freshly cut. Freshly cut wood is called “green wood.” The reason it’s best to stabilize your wood when it’s green is that it prevents the cracking and checking that can happen when wood dries out. However, that’s not always possible. Sometimes you find a great dried-out log and need to be able to stabilize that, too!
☞ It’s important to know that there are different kinds of wood stabilizers to use depending on whether your wood is green (with a moisture content of 25% or more) or if it’s dry (with less than 25% moisture).
Different kinds of wood stabilizers
There are several different products used for wood stabilization and even some untested DIY solutions, but this article is focusing on the following methods, which are:
Pentacryl Green Wood Stabilizer
Pentacryl is the premier green wood stabilizer, which means you use it to stabilize your freshly cut, green wood. It works by replacing the water molecules in the wood. The modified polymers in Pentacryl, in turn leave a thin coating on the wood cells walls which prevents the cells from shrinking. Thus, significantly reducing the cracking, checking, and warping that normally happens when green wood dries.
How to use: Pentacryl is easy to use, you simply soak or brush the product all over the wood surface until it soaks in completely. Then dry the wood slowly and controlled. Pentacryl will not discolor, oxidize, or otherwise change the appearance of your wood. After the wood is completely dry and stabilized, it can be sanded, stained, glued, wood burned, and finished just like untreated wood.
The next two stabilizers in this guide are for treating semi-dry to dry wood:
Wood Juice Semi-Dry Wood Stabilizer
Wood Juice is formulated to treat dry and semi-dry wood with a moisture content between 15-25%. It works similar to Pentacryl and prevents future cracking.
How to use: Wood Juice is easy to use, you simply soak or brush the product on the wood. If the moisture content is below 15%, then only 1 application brushed-on is needed. If too much Wood Juice is applied to dry wood, it will just in the wood and not work properly. As with Pentacryl, controlled drying is also a key to using Wood Juice successfully.
Resin Wood Stabilizer
When stabilizing wood with resin, the drier the wood, the better. Your wood should have no more than 10% moisture, and even less than that is preferred. These stabilizers work by removing all of the air in the wood and replacing it with resin. One thing to consider is that resin is heavier than air, so your stabilized piece will be heavier after the stabilization process. Whereas Pentacryl and Wood Juice add very little weight to treated and dried wood.
How to use: The process of stabilizing with resin is much more involved than simply soaking or brushing the product on like you do with Pentacryl or Wood Juice. It requires using a vacuum pump to encourage the wood to absorb the resin and then heat to activate the resin. You can purchase a vacuum chamber kit or find plenty of DIY kits online to create your own.
If you want to keep your wood looking the way it looks right now, then you can stabilize it. If it’s freshly cut, that means use Pentacryl. If it’s drier wood, use Wood Juice or a resin. Wood stabilizers are fairly easy to use, stabilized wood is easy to work with, and will ensure the beauty of your finished projects for years to come.