Finishing Stabilized Wood
The following is based on my experience working with wood stabilized by K&G. It is based on my hands on experience and my opinions. This is not the only right way, but a fairly easy method that will consistently give good results when working with stabilized woods. You might have your own method that you like better. The purpose of this thread is to answer re-occuring questions about how to bring out the full potential in stabilized woods
Working with stabilized wood is a lot like using natural, non-treated woods. It can be worked using the same tools and abrasives as with natural woods. The stabilizing process will even up the hardness of the wood as well as fill in a portion of the open pores in the wood. This makes the wood easier to sand and get an even finish that will often times show off the grain patterns and figure in the wood better than the results obtained using the same procedures with natural wood.
Not all stabilized woods will be the same hardness. Some types of wood will not attain the same hardness as others. While the hardness and durability are improved by the stabilizing, care should be taken when working with them. Examples would be some Spalted woods, Redwood and Walnut. These are best worked by hand after rough shaping. Power sanding will remove material faster than harder woods so attention is required when working with these.
Care should also be taken when power grinding/sanding stabilized wood to avoid overheating the material. Using sharp abrasives and not applying excessive pressure helps to avoid overheating. Once again, paying attention to what is happening with the wood can help to avoid problems. Overheating can cause warping and cracks much the same as when working with other natural or manmade handle materials. Easiest way to avoid problems is to throw away abrasive belts when they start to become dull and take your time when sanding and shaping.
The old school way of finishing stabilized wood is to sand to the desired grit and then power buff with no external finish being applied. The early woods that got stabilized were primarily light color, small pore, non-oily woods such as maple, ash and box elder. Even to this day these woods are best in how they respond to stabilizing and ease of finishing by just sanding and buffing.
Now days many different woods get stabilized that the early stabilizers were unable to stabilize successfully. This is the result of years of experimentation resulting in modifications of the equipment used and in some cases different formulations of the chemicals used for different types of wood. Now many of the denser, oily and open pore woods can be stabilized with very good results making the wood more durable and easier to finish than their natural counterparts. As an example some stabilizing companies will use a thicker formula on the softer and open pore woods and a different thinner formula on denser and oily woods.
While these woods can be finished using the sand and buff method, better results can be obtained by doing things a bit differently. The steps I mention below can be used with all stabilized woods to obtain great results with minimal extra work.
1st step – After you have sanded to the desired grit, blow off any dust using compressed air. If you don’t have an air compressor you can used canned air that you get at an office supply store. (used to blow dust from your computer) When you have a dust free surface apply an oil blend (Tung Oil, Danish Oil or Tru-Oil) finish by putting a couple drops on your fingertip and rub in thoroughly. Let that sit from 15 to 30 minutes and then wipe down thoroughly with a soft cloth. Repeat once or twice until you like how the handle looks. Applying the oil blend finish will brighten the colors in the wood and give more depth to the figure in the wood. Using an oil blend also helps to fill any small open pores in the wood enabling the light to refract clearly to show crisp, well defined grain patterns.
2nd step (optional) This step is for open pore and coarse grain woods such as Walnut and Oak. Wet sanding works well as a method to fill open pores in wood. Apply a liberal coat of oil blend and use wet/dry sandpaper to rub down the stabilized wood. This will make a slurry of the oil and sanding dust that fills the open pores in the wood. Let this slurry dry without wiping away the residue. That allows the slurry to dry and harden inside the open pores. Depending on the wood you will need to repeat this 3 or more times. When it looks like you have a good smooth surface (pores filled) allow that coat of oil to dry. Then apply one last coat of oil, wet sanding the surface followed by wiping thoroughly with a soft cloth.
3rd step – Apply a paste wax designed for wood (I use Minwax brand wood finishing paste wax) using a soft cloth in the same way as polishing a pair of leather shoes. Let the wax dry for at least 15 minutes and apply a second coat of wax. Let the second coat dry about a half hour. Then buff by hand using a soft cloth.
I am against power buffing unless you are very experienced with a power buffer and have a very light touch. First of all the power buffer can be one of the most dangerous tools in your shop. Just a fraction of a second distraction is all it takes to grab the piece you are working and throw it across the shop (if you are lucky). Power buffing can also fill any open pores with buffing compound. Also the figure in some of the flashier figured woods can be diminished by power buffing because if you do not have a light touch the surface of the wood gets burnished fixing the figure in one place, eliminating much of the movement and the chatoyance in the wood. Some woods will even get a smeared muddy look from power buffing. Hand buffing with a soft cloth will enable the figure to maintain the metallic flash and holographic look, where the figure changes shape and seems to move around beneath the surface of the wood.
There is no single correct way to finish stabilized wood. You need to experiment and discover the way that produces the results that you like best. The methods I mentioned above may be contrary to the methods used by many skilled knife makers. Some knife makers are able to get very good results by using the sand and buff method. The methods I mentioned can attain very good results and will work well on all stabilized woods. This method allows experienced knife makers as well as beginners to bring out the full potential in the stabilized woods that they use. These methods also work well with most natural hardwoods.