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Removing Wax from wood and burls

Sometimes, particularly with imported and exotic burls, we find that our latest treasures have been coated in wax. When this is milled turning stock with flat sides and no live edge, the wax can be planed or cut away easily. But when dealing with a piece with live edge, the wax cannot simply be cut away and preserve the live edge. To remove this wax, we must either scrape it away or melt it off.

Scraping away wax can be a tedious endeavor and may not give suitable results. Using a flat tip screwdriver, plastic scraping tool, stiff bristle brush or wire brush may remove most of the wax but could potentially damage surface of the live edge. Wax may also become trapped in small cracks or crevices within the wood. Much of this can be removed with the use of a pick, however it may not be possible to remove all the wax.

If the wax is melted on the surface of the wood in an oven or by any other means of dry heat, the liquid wax will become absorbed in the wood itself potentially ruining the piece. To avoid melted wax being absorbed into the wood, the best method of removal is to boil the wax off. As the heat from the water melts the wax, the wax will float to the surface of the water. This pulls the wax away from the wood before it can be absorbed. Only water can do this on the entire surface area of the wood. Wrapping the wood and paper towel might soak up liquid wax, however it will not be in direct contact of the entire surface and therefore some wax will be absorbed into the wood.

Boiling Wax Off a Burl

Although there may be some cases where you might wish to boil wax off a piece other than a burl, preserving the live edge on a burl is the most common reason to use the boiling method. This section will focus primarily on burl but the process is the same for any piece.

Step 1: What you need

First, you will need an old pot of suitable size to hold the piece or pieces you want to de-wax. This should be an old pot, a special “shop” pot from a secondhand store, or anything other than your wife or mother’s cooking pots. Nothing will ruin the experience and enjoyment of a new project faster than having to explain why the dinner pot is covered in wax.

The second thing you will need is a way to hold the burl (or other) submerged underwater. An old plate, an old potato masher, or any other way to prevent the wood from floating can be used, as long as it can take the heat.

Step 2: Setup

Second, place your burl or other wood in the pot. Position the burl with as much of the live edge facing up as possible. This will help prevent the melted wax from becoming trapped in pockets and pits on the live edge. The bubbles that form at the bottom of the pot when the water boils should be enough to agitate the water and move wax on that bottom flat cut face of a burl cap so that it may float to the surface. **Pro Tip** While a small plate might be a suitable way to weigh down a burl, I have found that it will often trap pockets of wax. Use of a metal clothes hanger or other ways to hold the wood down without trapping pockets of wax underneath may be best. Once you are satisfied with the position of the pieces, fill the pot with water no less than one inch above the highest surface of the wood. Be sure there is enough room left in the pot so the water will not boil over.

Step 3: Boiling the wax off

Paraffin wax will melt at a very low temperature, therefore we do not need much more than a low boil. Once the water has begun to boil, continue to boil for at least 10 to 15 minutes. If you notice the water level dropping too close to the wood or see wood become exposed, add a little bit of water and continue to boil. Once you’re satisfied that the wax has been melt off the wood you may remove from heat so that it can cool but do NOT remove the wood.

Step 4: Removing the wood

Although I have seen suggestions to skim the wax off the surface of the water before it has cooled, I do not recommend this. It is very unlikely that you can skim all of the wax off the surface of the water and would therefore be putting wax back on your wood if you attempted this method. I recommend leaving the wood completely submerged until the entire pot has cooled and the wax has solidified on the surface of the water. The solid wax may then be pulled out and the wood removed. If you try to remove the wood before the wax completely solidifies, then you will simply re-coat the surface of the wood with wax, kind of like dipping a candle.

When I am removing wax from large pieces or in large volume I often use an old turkey fryer. Although a pot of that size does not cool very fast and the wood will remain in the water often for many hours at a time, it makes doing multiple pieces easier. In order to speed up the process I might add ice to the pot or place the pot in a large tub of cold water full of ice packs and ice. This is only so that I might go about my business and get on to other projects quicker. While the wood will soak up water, this is not contained water. The free water absorbed in the wood does not become trapped within the cells and will very quickly evaporate once the wood has been removed. This will not affect the drying time of the wood or cause any harm to the wood.

Once the wood has been removed and allowed to dry, you may notice some very small amounts of wax on the wood. This happens when the melted wax remains stuck to the wood from surface tension or has become trapped in a way that does not allow it to float to the surface. In every case I have seen so far, this has been very easy to remove with a soft brush. Something like a brush for washing dishes or an old toothbrush is often all I need to remove any wax that remains. 

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SOS Resin Curing

Why does the bottle say 190F for 10 min? I’ve never cured a blank in 10 minutes, it always takes hours…

What this actually means…

This is how much heat energy is required to reach the gel phase of polymerization for the resin alone. This assumes an even heat transfer and an uncontaminated sample of the resin. This is done using a water bath or heat sync and test tubes when we are verifying the preset activation levels of the resin.

Why it does not mean you can cure a block of wood in 10 min at 190…

I remember watching my grandmother cooking with some very old pans when I was little. These pans had wooden grips on them so they could be grasped, even after sitting on a hot stove for a long time, and not burn your hands. Even today you will find wooden grips on cookware, grills, BBQ tools and more. Wood is a very good natural insulator and does not pass heat as quickly as many other materials. A metal spoon left in a pot to stir noodles will become very hot to the touch in a short amount of time, but a wooden spoon could be left in the pot the entire time and never get hot enough to burn your hand. For the resin in the very center of the block, enough time will be required to pass enough heat energy for the resin in the center of the block to cure. If your oven is set to an exact 190F, this will take even longer to achieve. It is also dependent on the size/thickness of the block, the species of wood and the condition the wood was in before stabilizing. Use of higher temperatures does increase risks. Damage to the wood or shop fires can occur if the temperature is set too high or the wood is placed too close to a heating element. Although considered a non-flammable substance, this does not mean the resin is not combustible. Wood is also a combustible material. This provides two fuel sources, wood and plastic for a potential fire. I commonly use an oven temperature of around 220F. In some cases I might use a little more heat, but do not recommend or use more than about 250F when curing in a convection oven (such as a toaster oven, kitchen oven (if you’ve got one dedicated for your shop), or electric smoker.

What other ways can I cure the resin? Are there any safer ways?

There are many ways! I’ve used quite a few of them actually. Some work better than others and there are some Pros/Cons to these other methods. I’ll list a few here and elaborate more on each in additional posts. Once I complete those, I’ll come back and link them below.

  • Infrared (IR) cure
  • Microwave
  • Boiling
  • Pressure Cooker

What can affect the cure?

Lots of things actually… many stabilizers use dyes to get bold colors and artistic blanks. Alumilite dye can affect the activation level of the resin. Using too much can cause the resin to gel up or turn to jelly… possibly even set up in your chamber. A ratio of approximately 1oz of dye per gallon of resin will give you a good color and is a safe amount. Using a massive amount of dye won’t always give better results. After a certain point, it is just wasting money.

Aniline dye can cause the activation to decrease. This type of dye can not really be over mixed. It will dissolve as much as it can and the rest will remain at the bottom of your mixing jug (along with some binder and other components which do not dissolve in the resin). While this can make the resin activation retard, bumping up the heat and extending the cure times is usually enough. If you do a lot of work with aniline dyes and activation level becomes an issue, get in touch with us and we can help you with this.

The wood itself can also affect the cure. Oily woods, lots of sap within the wood (even when completely dry to 0%MC, sap remains), tannin and free radicals that occur naturally in wood can all affect the resin. These are all things to consider when stabilizing. Any piece of wood CAN be stabilized, but that doesn’t always mean it should be or needs to be. For the woods that are very dense or contain higher levels of these contaminates require the process be adapted to work with the difficulties.

Remember, stabilizing resin is just another tool in your shop.

Just like any tool, adhesive or finishing product, proper use and preparation will give the best results. If you do not take the time to learn to use the tools and products in your shop properly, you will never get perfect results and may find it difficult to enjoy. There is not a single thing in your shop that will work perfectly with every piece or project. For instance, if you’ve ever used a thickness planer when working with wood, you’re aware of issues with interlocked grain, tear out and snipe. To get the best results with a thickness planer, you have to learn how the grain direction and type of grain is affected, the direction to feed the wood in, the aggressiveness of each cut etc. There are many pieces that can not be planed without some issues and will require a lot of sanding or other work to correct the issues. Stabilizing is not much different. The challenges presented by each species will be different and must be understood and worked with or around in order to achieve success.

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What Does Stabilization Really Mean?

There are a few different doctrines to which one might follow. There are some “tribal” definitions or interpreted uses of the terminology to pertain specifically to the application and intended use. For instance, defines it as such: “wood that has been impregnated with a chemical stabilizing solution. This stabilized wood can then be worked with normal wood working tools.” Note the broad use of “chemical stabilizing solution” in the definition. They do not limit this to acrylates.


Why would we want to stabilize wood? Simple, if you’ve ever seen a beautiful piece of wood rendered unusable due to cracking and checking, you know why. We want to prevent the movement within the wood from damaging our often expensive pieces. Wood will swell and shrink along 3 axis at different rates. The longitudinal direction has almost no appreciable change in most species. The radial and tangential directions however can move 30-100 times more than the longitudinal direction and they do not do so equally. The difference in shrinkage between tangential and radial directions can split a piece of wood apart or warp it drastically as the water escapes the cells within the wood and the wood begins to dry. To prevent this, we must look at several methods by which we can make our wood more “stable” or “stabilize” our wood.

Continue reading What Does Stabilization Really Mean?