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Stabilizing, what you should know.

Discussion in 'Shop Talk - BladeSmith Questions and Answers' started by Greenberg Woods, Jan 13, 2018.

  1. Greenberg Woods

    Greenberg Woods Wood Fanatic and Rosewood Addict Dealer / Materials Provider

    Dec 27, 2013
    Hey guys. As i have been joining more and more Facebook groups and selling on Instagram, I have noticed a bit of a trend

    The rise of home stabilizing and cactus juice. Normally I say live and let live, but on one group I saw several people insisting that cactus juice would create a superior product than K&G. As i think most of you know, that is absurd. If you look at the best wood suppliers. Burl source, myself, Alpha knife supply when he sold wood, across hundreds of species and years of experience, we all use K&G.

    Because it is the best product. I dont think this idea of cactus juice being better is based in malice, but rather in misinformation. So I will give you some info about stabilizing, and my personal opinion as someone who has had nearing 1000 pounds of wood professionally stabilized.

    What is Stabilizing:
    To put it simply, it is the process of forcing a plastic polymer into wood before curing the resin, thus leaving a wood that is impregnated with plastic to make it heavier, stronger, resistant to water and able to be easily polished to a high finish.

    What woods need stabilization? There is some debate about that. My list of exotic woods shows my personal suggestions for stabilization, but again. These are suggestions. The rule I follow is, if I would not use the unstabilzed form on a knife I was making that would be directly attached to my name, I will not sell the wood unstabilized on my website. All the woods you will receive from me are ready to be used.

    Stabilized woods will resist warping, shrinkage and cracking very well, and the resulting wood will finish to a high polish and will not absorb water.

    What stabilizing does NOT do.

    Stabilizing will not fill voids or gaps. Stabilizing resin will fill wood, it will not fill gaps. For large gaps or voids, use epoxy with black dye, and for small gaps use CA glue.

    Stabilizing also does not make wood plastic. Well stabilized wood still looks like and works like wood. It still has a grain structure and can we worked with chisels, saws and abrasives. It simply strengths and enhances the wood.

    Stabilizing does not fix color. Many people have the idea that once stabilized, a woods color will not change in air or light. This is simply not true. I think many people consider wood plastic after it has been stabilized, but it is not! And the color can still shift.

    So. Why professional over home stabilizing?

    1. Pressure. Everyone focuses on the vacuum in stabilizing, people will brag about getting -40 psi which is about 3 kinds of impossible. Psi can be negative, and a vacuum is only under a force equivalent to the gas outside the system, in our case the atmosphere. Another thing to remember is that vacuums are a system of diminishing return. Taking 50% of the air out a chamber will lower the pressure far more than taking 50% out of the remaining gas. The second important step is the pressure! As far as i know, no one but K&G and WSSI use a pressure cycle in their stabilizing. I have cut open a lot of home stabilized and pro stabilized blocks when I was figuring out which I should go with. Many blocks, especially large ones will be dry in the center. That is because using vacuum alone most setups get between 1/4 and 3/8 of an inch of penetration. The pros use a second cycle where the wood is exposed to great pressure to force the stabilant even deeper, allowing for a fully saturated wood at thicknesses up to 3/4 of an inch from all sides.

    2. Stabilizing compound. Its important to understand what stabilizing is doing. In a simple sense, the monomer (Monomers are the individual building blocks of polymers I.E plastics) of an acrylic like compound is forced into wood and then heat cured. The most common home compound is cactus juice. This is a relatively low grade of monomer. Many monomers undergo side reactions and decay, sometimes known as cracking that degrades them and produces unwanted compounds. Pros use a much higher grade of monomer that does not produce nearly as many side products and yields a more clear and consistant product without voids or pockets.

    3. Grades of compound. If you have spoken to the guys at K&G (Who doesnt call up their local stabilizers for a chat?) you will know they use two different compounds, a thick and a thin. The thick solution is for soft punky woods like spalted maple, buckeye burl and redwood. These blocks will come back having more than doubled in weight and crusted with the cured on resin. This thick solution gives maximum weight gain and strength to soft woods. They also use a thin solution for woods like koa, gidgee and walnut that finishes much cleaner while not adding as much weight to these already rather dense and durable woods. Cactus juice comes in a single grade somewhere in the middle, without optimal finishing or weight gain characteristics.

    4. Expertise. Put simply, K&G knows what they are doing. I am not being paid by them, I just use their product because it is the best out there. But these are guys who have done thousands and thousands of pounds of wood, they know exactly what temperature to cure woods at, they check every block with a moisture meter to make sure everything goes well, they kiln dry all wood before it goes into the vats to maximize weight gain and finishing. Put simply, they know what they are doing. It is their job, and I trust them to do the best work possible.

    Look at the highest grade knife suppliers. Burl source, Myself, Alpha knife supply and more looked at the options and decided that K&G would do all our stabilizing. Maybe we all made the wrong choice, but I think each of put in many many hours of thought into it and came to the same conclusion.

    You can have something done cheaply, or you can have it done well.
  2. Bill Thomas

    Bill Thomas Basic Member Basic Member

    Jul 7, 2013
    Thanks for the explanation, good post!
  3. Brock Cutlery

    Brock Cutlery KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jan 10, 2015
    Very informative Ben, thanks for posting.
    I've had a couple of batches done by K&G and they called me to ensure they understood my goals and that I got the right product. Great folks, and I have zero complaints.
    I can see why you wood peddlers go with K&G. Certainly the best.
    valknut likes this.
  4. PEU

    PEU Gaucho Knifemaker Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Aug 6, 2006
    Great post, thanks Ben

  5. Don Hanson III

    Don Hanson III KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Oct 3, 2002
    Good info! I use both K&G and Cactus Juice, K&G makes a better product.
    But I've had good success with the Juice.
    Ken H> likes this.
  6. 3fifty7

    3fifty7 Gold Member Gold Member Basic Member

    Dec 24, 2016
    Any tips on using spalted end grain, other than DON'T ?
    Would a liner possibly work as a backer to hold it together ?
  7. Greenberg Woods

    Greenberg Woods Wood Fanatic and Rosewood Addict Dealer / Materials Provider

    Dec 27, 2013
    Exactly. My point is not that you shouldnt usr cactus juice, simply that it will never be as effective as pro work
  8. Brock Cutlery

    Brock Cutlery KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jan 10, 2015
    Just for fun, choppin wood.

  9. Greenberg Woods

    Greenberg Woods Wood Fanatic and Rosewood Addict Dealer / Materials Provider

    Dec 27, 2013
    See my other piece i wrote about understanding wood. Essentially it has to be 100% flat and mated with a 100% flat tang
  10. Willie71

    Willie71 Warren J. Krywko. Part Time Knifemaker Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Feb 23, 2013
    I’ve posted this many times before. If you have softer woods like polar, or big leaf maple, with a proper vacuum pump and soak, you can get very serviceable handles. Denser wood requires thousands of dollars worth of equipment and knowledge to do right. If you get a specific gravity above 0.5 or maybe 0.6, and medium or higher oil content, cactus juice isn’t going to cut it. I’ve got four year old poplar handles out there that look and feel great in cactus juice.

    Is K&G better? Of course it is. Is your wood worth $20.00 per handle or more? Send it to K&G. For budget handles with soft hardwoods, cactus juice is fine.

    I use cactus juice as cross border shipping is crazy here in Alberta. That’s why I stabilize my wood from my firewood pile.
    Ken H> and Peppie like this.
  11. Willie71

    Willie71 Warren J. Krywko. Part Time Knifemaker Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Feb 23, 2013
    Deleted. Misread quoted post.m
  12. skillgannon


    Apr 27, 2009
    Ben I do plan on sending a order your way buy cash is getting tight right now since work is slow. I'm using the wood i have in hand some walnut, sapale and the last bits of the heaviest jatoba I have seen. I left most of my jatoba behind when I moved and it puts me in a bad mood to think of it. Anyway.... If you had time it would be great to see a list of woods that do not need to be stabilized. I'm not selling right now but I don't want to let anything out that I would regret down the road.

    I do appreciate the time you spend paying it all forward.
  13. Greenberg Woods

    Greenberg Woods Wood Fanatic and Rosewood Addict Dealer / Materials Provider

    Dec 27, 2013
    There is a list published on my website, under wood identification that shows my reccomendations for stabilizing woods
  14. Randy3000


    Jun 3, 2017
    Atmospheric pressure is 14.7psi at sea level, so i would assume a psi delta of anything beyond that is impossible and would instantly distrust anyone claiming different.

    I home stabilize my 1/8" scales. I have cut in half and it appears it penetrated completely. What is the thickest that you think a home stabilizer can realistically peneyrate thoroughly?
  15. kuraki

    kuraki Fimbulvetr Knifeworks Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jun 17, 2016
    Depends entirely on the density of the wood. I did some very punky but dry spalted maple over 1.5" thick. It was like styrofoam. On the other hand I've tried some very dense 1" walnut that didn't turn out well.
  16. erik markman

    erik markman KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Aug 13, 2007
    I have used some home stabilised woods (not by me) and it just is not the same as K&G. K&G is great the only other that might be better is Nicholas.

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