The 1 Reason Your Wood Stabilizing Keeps Failing

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In this article, we jump right to the source of all your stabilization problems. How do I know? Because your problem was once my problem, and I spent a lot of time figuring out how to fix it. Come along for a trip that is guaranteed to save you hours, days, and maybe even weeks.

“I’m doing the steps” - Bob Wiley

You want the wood to be stabilized. You need the wood to be stabilized. You know you followed all the instructions on how to stabilize the wood. So why isn’t it working? I’ve asked myself this question so many times. Thankfully I've often been able to answer the question as well. Meaning, I keep finding ways to improve. Or learning new tricks.

There are so many intricacies to this process that I could write several articles. And I will, over time. But I want to start with what is the most important step. It is vital to the success of the process, yet I’m always catching myself thinking about how to cut corners.

Of course, I don’t call it “cutting corners” in my head. I dress it up as some sort of optimization or efficiency gain. Somehow I don’t protect this step in the process very well. I'm going to talk about drying the wood.

The challenge

The challenge is multifaceted by nature. Literally, nature… you know, Mother Nature… She has made all the wood species unique and one-of-a-kind. That means they all dry in different ways. It also means they all hold moisture in different ways. Different woods in different environments will have a different Equilibrium Moisture Content (EMC). "Go on professor." Let me explain.

The chunk of wood you found while on your last hiking trip, that you now want to turn into a piece of artwork has a moisture content relative to the moisture in the environment it has been sitting in. Most of the time this is around 10 to 12%. Translation… your piece of wood is nowhere near where it needs to be to start stabilizing.

The solution

The solution is as simple as it is profound. Dry the wood! The number one thing keeping you from stabilizing better is wet wood. Listen, I get it. Why do you think I am going to great lengths to convince you of this point? I’m doing my best to speak from experience, and help you avoid all the mistakes I made.

Okay, so you think you are hearing me now. That’s good! You know you need dry wood, but how? Now you are asking the right questions. With a heart full of commitment to dry the wood no matter how long it takes. Let’s begin.

You are going to need an oven of some kind. At Carved, we have graduated from the recommended starter toaster oven. But believe me, it is a great place to start and you are going to do fine. Do not be tempted to think, “it’s easy for you guys, you have an industrial oven.” It is all about dry time, not oven power.

Set your oven to 220° F put the wood inside and wait. It’s as simple as that. 24 hours in the oven is a great baseline and the amount of time I use daily here at the shop.  In the past, I’ve run dry cycles of up to 36 hours. 

24 hours is a long time, I know. Please I cannot overstate the importance of being safe in this process. Make sure you have the proper electrical cords and power supply to handle the energy needed to operate the oven safely. Take all other precautions possible to set up your wood drying in a safe way.

After 24 hours in the oven, your part is going to be very dry. Follow the measurement process I laid out in my last article to confirm you have reached 0% moisture in the wood.

One last sneaky trick I want to make you aware of. It is important to get the wood out of the oven and into a sealable container immediately. Remember that EMC we talked about earlier? The wood is going to want to start racing back to reach that equilibrium as soon as you take it out of the oven. If you take the wood out and leave it on the table for an extended period of time (like I did so many times) it will begin to absorb the moisture in the air.

I know what you're thinking… “I’ll do you one better and put the wood directly under the Cactus Juice.” Ha! Tried that myself. The only problem is that the surface of the wood is so stinkin’ hot from the 24 hours in the dry oven that it can begin to cure the resin on the surface of the wood. Thus inhibiting the true and thorough cure of the wood.

The Result

If you play your cards right, and by that I mean, if you play a ton of card games while the wood is in the dry oven. Then you are going to be set up for a big win in the stabilizing department. If you can suffer through reading all the words in this article about drying wood. You can for sure make it through the drying step of the stabilization process.

First things first...Dry the Wood!

The result of completing the first step in the stabilization process is dry wood. But it’s more than that. It’s a firm foundation. It’s a sign of things to come. It’s a stable basis (see what I did there?!) by which you can create beautiful artwork.