What Is Stabilising?
Many woods and other natural materials are extremely beautiful but either too weak to be used in any application that puts them under stress, or have a tendency to warp, shrink or expand with changes in environmental temperature and moisture levels.
Weakness can be because the material has a naturally soft or weak structure, or if it has started to decay. Dimensional instability is just a property of many natural materials, especially porous ones.
A good example of a structurally weak timber is laurel. In its natural state it looks amazing, but it is very light in weight, and not at all strong. You might want to but you would not make a knife handle from it because it would rapidly flake and damage.
Many timbers, for example oak, though they are not weak like laurel, can expand or shrink with atmospheric changes. This is most noticeable in full tang knives where after a time the tang sits very slightly proud of the scales, or vice versa. You can feel your fingernail catch when you drag it across the spine of the knife.
This is where stabilising comes in.
The process deeply impregnates the material with a liquid acrylic resin, then sets it rock-hard, making the finished article extremely strong, durable, dimensionally stable, and capable of being machined and worked confidently.
In spite of this strength, stabilised materials remain beautiful. In fact the original grains and patterns of the material come alive, and it can be polished to an extremely high finish if desired, which could not ordinarily be obtained with the product in its natural state. It is often noted that stabilised pieces are made more beautiful by stabilising.
It should be noted that although the process does improve dimensional stability of materials, it does not necessarily prevent it completely. It’s still possible for stabilised wood to move and warp, but it should definitly be far less then the non-stabilised equivalent.