Using “Stabilized” Wood to Make Woodworker’s Pencils

Stabilized?  What?

The term “stabilized” when applied to wood refers to the process of injected and impregnating otherwise delicate and unstable wood with monomers, polymers, and/or acrylics to produce a product that is highly stable and able to be worked in various ways that would not have been possible, or not feasible, prior to the stabilization process.  Many types of wood undergo this treatment, but most commonly it is burl wood from various species that is used in this application since while burl wood is frequently visually attractive, it is also notoriously unstable and prone to breakage, shrinkage, and/or cracking.  The stabilization process eliminates, or at least minimizes, these concerns.  Stabilization is often also coupled with a dye or other colorant that serves to highlight the unusual and irregular figure of a burl wood.

Box Elder Species Information

The stabilized species I chose is box elder.  Box elder, scientifically known as Acer negundo, is a species of maple tree common to the middle and eastern areas of North America, although it can be found in pockets throughout the continent as far south as Guatemala.  The tree is fast growing and relatively short lived, sometimes growing in thickets due to its prodigious self-seeding capability.  The wood is not generally used commercially since it is soft, although close grained, making it unsuitable for most purposes although it can be pulped for paper or fiberboard.  Most commonly, it is the burl wood, which is highly figured, that is used due to its decorative capacity.  The burl is a response to an injury or infection in the wood and therefore cannot be guaranteed to exist on all trees, making it a special find when it exists.

Working with Stabilized Wood

The stabilized wood drills and turns easily, although the presence of the stabilizing agents does impart a distinct odor and also results in high temperatures being produced from friction in relatively short time frames.  Use caution when touching the wood or burnishing after turning with the shavings as the frictional heat is generated much faster and comes up hotter than would be the case with natural woods.

The color agents serve to highlight the figure of the burl wood and the amount of colorant that is absorbed will change depending on the depth of the turning.  The colorant is present throughout the wood, but it seems to be more intense the farther the turning is from the core.  For that reason, I would recommend using these stabilized blanks for larger diameter projects, such as these woodworkers pencils.

Hardware Information for the Pencil

The pencils operate by simply depressing the top button, which releases the large graphite rod between pincers in the writing nib.  While the pencil comes loaded standard with a softer number 2 type graphite, it is easy to change to harder, number 4 type graphite, or even colored graphites for artistic work by simply expelling the existing graphite and replacing it through the writing nib with the desired type.

The large size in the hand coupled with the large and sturdy writing graphite makes this an ideal wood shop pencil, but is also suitable for artists who work in graphite as well.  The highly colored stabilized wood makes it easy to pick out from piles of wood shavings and the clip keep is stable and unable to roll off of work pieces.  The large graphite will stand up to writing on, or cross marking, even rough lumber.

The pencil kit and the stabilized blanks are readily available from vendors of woodturning products and supplies, including Craft Supplies USA of Utah.

Get To Turning!

Overall this is a fun and useful project for anyone with basic woodturning skills.  Stabilized wood is also relatively easy to use, certainly easier than acrylic products, and it saves some of the frustration associated with working with unstabilized products.  I know that at least one of these new pencils will find a home in my shop drawer and workbench today.