I get asked a lot about stabilized wood so I thought I would make a post with some general information.
Wood that is correctly stabilized for knife handle material is impregnated with a chemical stabilizing agent that completely infuses the fiber of the wood and then turns into a solid when it is cured. The purpose of the stabilizing is to make the wood more durable than it would be naturally, and to lessen the chance of the wood shrinking or expanding. This helps to prevent handle material warping of cracking.
Stabilizing does not make the wood bulletproof, or in the case of kitchen knives dishwasher proof. Stabilizing does gives the wood the ability to hold up much better over time. You can still mess up a stabilized wood handle, you just have to try harder.
The process for stabilizing wood for use as knife handle material is as follows;
Blocks of dry wood are placed into a tank.
The tank is sealed and placed under a vacuum.
The stabilizing agent is released into the tank which is kept under a vacuum.
After a designated amount of time the vacuum is released and the tank is pressurized.
When done properly the stabilizing agent completely infuses the wood fiber.
Next the infused blocks undergo a heat curing process.
This curing process changes the stabilizing agent from a liquid into a solid.
This is how it is done with professional wood stabilizing for knife handle materials.
I have not come across any do-it-yourself means of wood stabilizing that can compare with the results of professionally stabilized wood. All of the stabilized wood that I sell was stabilized by K&G (Knife & Gun Finishing Supply).
The two most widely accepted wood stabilizers in the knife industry are K&G and WSSI.
There have been a number of start up wood stabilizing companies over the past several years who have had mixed results. Most have faded away over time.
You may come across wood that is called stabilized by wood and materials suppliers.
Many of these involve a chemical treatment of wood for woodturners that is intended to help prevent green wood from cracking as it dries. Some companies will call wood that has been pressure cooked or heat treated "stabilized wood". For pool cues they will soak the pieces in a chemical and call that stabilized wood. These methods do not give the same results as the method mentioned above.