**Update 2-6-20: After initially writing, I want to clarify upfront, before the blog post, that this did not work as I had hoped. I thought I would try to figure out a cheap way of doing the same thing with this experiment. In the end, it did not work as I thought it would. It still made very nice blanks but I think the outcome would have likely been the same even if I hadn't done this process. The whole point of putting this in a blog post was to show what I did and hopefully stop someone else from trying the same method and material (that's the important part) before they start IF the intended goal is to have stabilized blanks at the end as you would if you used real Cactus Juice stabilizer.) That being said, here's the rest of the post...**
How to stabilize wood cheaply before turning pen blanks seems to be a common question. While not all wood needs to be stabilized, certainly some would benefit from it.
I recently purchased a bunch of pieces of buckeye burl that came "dry, not stabilized" and thought this might be a good opportunity to test out a stabilizing method I've been thinking about.
Normally to stabilize wood, one uses a vacuum chamber and specialized resin. The chamber pulls the liquid resin into the air pockets of the wood as it sucks the air out. After a period of time under vacuum, you remove the wood, wrap it in foil, and heat it in an oven or toaster oven until the resin-soaked wood cures. This hardens and strengthens the wood, making it more suitable for turning. Such wood that benefits from this process includes rotting, spalted, or "punky" wood, while other harder woods like walnut don't seem to "take" the resin due to how tight the grain structure is.
These sorts of vacuum chambers are a little expensive to purchase. You can find chambers for $100-$300 depending on size and vacuum pumps in a variety of forms for $100-$500. You also need to purchase the specialized resin to use in this process, with the most notable brand being called "cactus juice".
While not quite ready to make a several hundred dollar investment just to stabilize a few very light pieces of buckeye burl, I set about to try a redneck method which I'll detail below.
First I dusted off an old food saving vacuum that I had bought a glass jar attachment for. Next, I found a wide mouth glass jar and a fresh lid for it.
Next, I purchased some "wood hardener" from Minwax. This liquid is meant to harden rotting wood and since it is very liquid (more like water than like some honey consistent resins I've used) I thought it would be perfect to get sucked up into the wood.
Next, I weighted my test pieces, 2 buckeye burl pieces, and one curly cottonwood piece.
Then I placed the wood in the glass jar, covered them as much as I could with the Minwax wood hardener, and hooked things up to my vacuum sealer.
After running the vacuum and eventually seeing the bubbles stop coming out of the wood, I then removed the pieces and weighed them again. The thought here is that if the "dry" wood weighed X and the "wet" wood weighted Y, I would then know that the wood took in Y-X grams of hardener.
After letting the blocks cure on the table, no heat needed, I cast the two buckeye burl pieces, as well as a few others I did later, in Alumilite resin.
Once the resin cured in the pressure pot, I turned the buckeye burl and the results you'll see here are an absolutely amazing Navigator rollerball pen I created.
Overall, I think the process worked in theory, in the sense that the wood was not ruined by this process and was still turnable. Though I must say that other pieces of resin stabilized wood feel more stable. This method worked well enough for small pieces but the light, porous buckeye burl didn't really feel any heavier or turn like a normally stabilized wood does...it was still powdery.
If you are wanting to get serious about pen turning, resin casting, and wood stabilizing you should probably look at investing in a real vacuum pump, chamber, and resin specific for wood stabilization. I do not think this method really "stabilizes" the wood. The hardening you get from a real resin stabilization process is far superior to this method. If I had to do this over again, I likely would NOT use this process and save up for the real wood stabilizing vacuum chamber and cactus juice. I hope this helps!