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Wood in the Kitchen - a test

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I like wood handles. I want to use wood that I have on hand and do the treating myself. And I want to find a low-to-no maintenance treatment for handles destined for kitchen use.


CA glue works - but it feels like plastic. Looks like plastic too if you don't sand aggressively between CA layers.


So I'm setting up a test with chunks of Oak (I love Oak) and Cherry (I've got a stack of cured Cherry that my dad laid up) and will be drying them in a warming box and treating them in a variety of ways.


A few of the blocks I'll cut in half to see how far the treatment penetrates into the wood... most of them will get glued to some sanded 5160 bar stock and run through cycles of soak/soap/scrub/dry to see how they hold up.


I'll probably try the following treatments (suggestions welcome):


Salad Bowl Oil


linseed/spar urethane/turpentine combo

... and I plan to treat a bunch of the pieces with Rot Doctor's penetrating epoxy, some of which will have a finish coat on 'em:


Renaissance wax

Wipe-On Poly

CA glue


I'll post here and Knife Dogs (and my Facebook page). I'll use E-120HP to glue them to the 5160 (5160 isn't exactly a kitchen steel - but it's cheap and I've got bar stock in a useful size - and as I get into forge welding I hope to do some san-mai & Damascus work involving other steels that rust so it seems like a fair choice to me).


So far I've got some blocks cut (I plan to do each treatment on both Oak & Cherry - partly to give each treatment 2 chances - partly to see the difference in penetration into and performance of those two woods)...


I'll keep this thread updated as I go along.



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This should be interesting, but is oak the best choice if you're testing for knife handle finish? Oak's porosity causes it to collect dirt, oil, etc. and ends up looking dirty after a lot of handling (in my experience).


I suppose a thick coat of any sealant on the outside would prevent this, but in my opinion a thick suface finish isn't the best choice for a knife handle. This may simply be because I don't know how to finish oak correctly.


I would be interested to see a test on something like walnut or cherry. Both are nice woods for handles, but both aren't dense/oily enough to finish purely via buffing (like I do with Ironwood, Cocobolo, Ebony, etc.).


At any rate, thanks for posting this. Is should be informative.



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You can fill the pores of an open-pored wood like oak to prevent the pores from filling with dirt and grime. There are commercial pore fillers available or you can do it the old-school way.

The old school way is traditionally done by rubbing with pumice and linseed or tung oil then wiping the slurry off (if too much is applied light sanding may be necessary). In lieu of pumice, talc can be used for a different look. Or plaster of paris. Or very fine sawdust (what you'd get from sanding with 600 grit or finer). Or shellac can be used. For shellac, you put a coat on the wood then lightly sand it back to wood leaving a bit of shellac in the pores. Repeat until the pores are filled. Using shellac takes more practice than other methods.



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I absolutely love oak for knife handles, so I'd be really interested to see if one of those finishes works really well on it. Thanks a bunch for posting this!




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I think it is great that you are willing to share this experiment. Looking forward to the results. :)


I have always tended to the tropical woods that are naturally oily, or use stag or bone or something else for kitchen knives. I love the look of the local oak and elm and walnut, but they all have to be finished with something to hold up at all.

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I use boiled linseed oil in a mason jar in a double boiler,bring up too temp then seal so it creates a vacuum.I let it sit for a week then air dry on a rack.

Takes a few weeks too dry out but goes all the way through pieces 2"x2"x6".

Works great for stuff like buckeye and walnut,not good for really dense and or oily woods like afzelia or ironwood.

I really like it for buckeye as it keeps tearout too a minimum and finishes real easy.

My understanding is you can get the same results using minwax wood hardener for a more plasticy finish.

Also works with tung oil but way more expensive.

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What fun! Thanks for the interest and feedback (keep it coming) -


@Dave - Oh Fiery Bearded One! Yah - the pores in Oak are a real issue - and I *will* be doing identical treatments to Cherry as well... some treatments will fill in the pores - others, not so much - so I might come out of this with one favorite for Oak, another favorite for solid woods like Cherry.


@Ron - no school like the old school - I've done that sort of thing with Oak (multiple coats, sanding, letting the dust fill the pores for the next layer of treatment to seal in) and that seems to work.


@Alex - I like that. I'm adding that to the list.


Also - after reviewing Eric Ochs' excellent stress test of a wide variety of handle materials (synthetics as well as wood) - I'm adding a Permalyn/Acra-Coat to the list of treatments. To see Eric's torture test of treated wood, stabilized wood, Micarta, G10, Ironwood - go to the linked site and click "Handle Material Test".

Eric Ochs

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For kitchen knife i love Olive wood, is beautiful and the natural oil further preserved and remain lucid enough.

If you want make stabilizing test I recommend you a vacum machine!

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  • 2 weeks later...

... last week about all I got done was to use a soldering iron to burn IDs into the blocks and get them into the drying box over the weekend. Today they seemed dry enough (and I had the time) so I've got the 1st stage of treatments in progress ... this will take at least 10 days - probably more like 20 with interruptions - before I glue them onto steel and start the torture test!


Just wanted to let folks know it /is/ progressing. Here's a shot of the blocks before their 1st stage of treatment:




And here's a closeup of the Oak I'm using ... to show the level of voids in this particular batch. At least some of the Oak blocks will get sand/oil/repeat... treatment to fill in the surface voids so they don't fill with any old dirt that comes along:



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Are you going to glue an oiled finish to the steel or are you going to remove the finish on the one side before you stick it to the steel.. Or perhaps you are


trying both? Good experiment... you are putting a lot of time into it ... thanks for sharingsmile.gif


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I'm going to see how well E-120HP does holding oiled wood to steel! On the wood blocks that will have 2 stage treatment(like Permalyn Sealer followed by Permalyn Finish) I'll glue the wood block to the steel after the 1st stage. This test could go in so many directions that I could use 100 blocks to try various scenarios... but I'm limiting down to treatments that I might want to do and a sequence I might use in putting a handle on a tang.


Thanks for the encouragement! I'll report back in a couple of weeks...


Michael Kemp

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I believe its OK to link to other sites and if not, my apologies, but I thought this thread might be helpful. Its a lengthy discussion involving a wood sealing experiment myself and a few other wooden fishing lure builders did a while back. We sealed a number of lure blanks with a variety of sealers, weighed them, then soaked them in water, taking them out periodically to measure their weight to see how much water they absorbed over time. As with knife handles, dimensional stability is also very important to us as our lures are painted and epoxied and any expansion will crack these layers. I don't know if its something you all have looked into as a wood stabilizer, but I've been using a propionate/acetone solution to seal my lures for several years - it inexpensive (although not always easy to find), doesn't change the wood's color, and doesn't build up on the surface, while making the saturated outer layer stronger and of a more even hardness, making it easier to sand and shape. Essentially, it replaces the open cells in the wood with hard clear plastic.


The actual data begins a few pages in...



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@EBHarvey - thanks for the tip ... is that Propionate or Propenoate? I ask because you mention it filling in like plastic - and I gather that Propenoate is an acrylic type substance. Is there a trade name or supplier?


And I believe what I'm calling "Rot Dr. Penetrating Epoxy" would be what the lure thread lists as CPES.

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I've got the 1st stage of prep. done - I let the oil treatments soak in for a week - - - I'd treated an extra set of blocks so that I could cut them in half at this point to see the difference in penetration.




Either each and every treatment penetrated 100% or I just can't tell the difference. It /is/ interesting that while the solid Cherry all looks pretty much the same, the porous Oak came out darker with vegetable oil, linseed oil, and the linseed/spar/turpentine mix. Maybe everything DID penetrate 100% (the blocks are only 3/4 x 1-1/4 x 2-1/4) but I find that hard to believe with the way Tru-Oil and Permalyn get applied. Here's a photo of the cut faces of these blocks (sanded down to 600).




Hopefully I'll find time in the next few days to sand the backsides of the remaining blocks and get them glued to steel - - - then I'll do some finish coatings which will probably take another week - then the torture tests.

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@EBHarvey - thanks for the tip ... is that Propionate or Propenoate? I ask because you mention it filling in like plastic - and I gather that Propenoate is an acrylic type substance. Is there a trade name or supplier?


I had to google propenoate, and from what I gather, that's a different substance altogether. This stuff, propionate, looks like clear hard plastic and comes in little beads that look like they were cut off an extruded filament, maybe 2-3mm in diameter. They need to be dissolved into acetone or virgin lacquer thinner until it reaches a consistency ranging from milk to warm honey depending on the desired degree of penetration versus thickness of each coat. The wood is dipped into this solution, held for a few seconds, removed, and hung to dry, allowing the acetone to evaporate off leaving the plastic behind, which takes a few minutes. After a half-dozen or more dips the propionate will fill the empty spaces in the wood and will begin to build up a coating on the surface. Such a coating is what provides the clear, bombproof topcoat on many commercial fishing lures, including Rapalas. I and other lure builders, however, have never quite been able to figure out how to get it to build up a thick coat without turning milky white, so we generally rely on envirotex for that application, although propionate, in my experience, is unrivaled as a sealer, a conclusion well-supported by the tests I mentioned above.


The only commercial source for it that I've ever seen is a single seller on eBay who buys it in bulk from a source overseas as I recall, I think from Denmark or Finland. He sells it it half-pound bags with basic instructions for its use as a lure sealer - it runs something like $10-$15 for the 8oz., which goes a long, long way, and would probably last any hobby knifemaker a lifetime, especially as it keeps indefinitely as long as the glass container its kept in remains sealed. The acetone will eat through any plastic container and eat the seals off glass or metal jars with gasket tops, something to be aware of.

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@EBHarvey - Thanks for the details! And the lure test thread... that's a great set of tests.


I'll pass on propionate at this time: I'm trying to find a treatment that /doesn't/ feel like plastic in the hand.


A number of knifemakers seal bone and wood with CA glue (cyanoacrylate) aka super glue. You get the super thin version at hobby or home improvement stores and apply multiple coats with sanding in between coats... it creates an acrylic seal that is VERY tough - but it does feel plasticy to me. I didn't see that in the lure test thread - just wondering if anybody has tried that for sealing lures? I wear latex gloves when applying it and have a can of acetone w/in reach in case I get glued to something by mistake!

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I can't say I've ever heard of anyone using superglue for sealing plugs, but there's probably a good reason for it - we're not just sealing the periphery like you do a knife handle. Instead, a wooden lure has an entire internal structure - holes in the belly through which pass hook hangers or swivels, holes for various weights and grommets, a lip slot, and a through hole that passes from the nose to the tail for the through wire that holds the whole thing together. Because of this we need to be able to dip the whole thing into sealer to seal all these internal spaces that get exposed to water, so a sealer that can only be brushed on, or be prohibitively expensive to get enough to dip a 6-8"+ lure body into, is of limited practical use to us.

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I use tung oil, not because I've tried a whole lot of things but because out of what I have tried it works very well and doesn't get slick like some other finishes do. It is pricey but a can lasts a long time.....and I have about a half dozen cans of other stuff here that I haven't even opened. One thing about oil finishes, though, is that hot and dry weather helps them cure.


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I'll second the Tung Oil. I used to use a lot of boiled linseed oil and some other drying seed oils. So far, for a seed oil based finish, I find polymerized tung oil to be the best. I can get a hard gloss finish or different satin finishes. It does well preserving the character of the wood and protecting it from water and mold. BLO doesn't dry as tough.

CA is tricky but works well if you can get the technique for using down.

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  • 3 weeks later...

... just so you know the test is still in process: there was a delay waiting for the E-120HP glue applicator gun to get here (when I went to use the glue I realized that - oh by the way - you have to buy a $38 applicator gun, how special!).


The testing blocks are all glued to 5160 - I've hand sanded them all down to 400 and will apply final finishes to some - - - others will get sanded finer and buffed up. Some of the coatings (like Tru-Oil) will take multiple coats with drying time - so it's more of the waiting game...

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All the blocks are finished, buffed, and ready to test. Below are my impressions of the treatments, and the "before" image. Note that blocks treated with various oils and the salad bowl finish were soaked for a week, then sanded and buffed. The ones treated with penetrating epoxy were immersed for 3 days, let dry, then dipped and dried twice before being treated with a finish, sanded and buffed. Tru-Oil was applied 9 times with wet/dry sandpaper or steel wool rubs between - then buffed. Permalyn Sealer and Permalyn Finish were applied to the "Permalyn" blocks per instructions on the containers, then sanded and buffed. Briwax and Renaissance Wax were applied per instructions on the containers, then buffed. Wipe-on Poly and CA glue were applied three times with light sandings and then buffed.


The pores in the Oak blocks are problematic if you want them truly filled. The CA glue treatment completely filled the pores. I believe that you could fix this in the other treatments by making a slurry of Oak sanding dust & the treatment liquid and working that into the surface. Briwax, Renaissance Wax, Tru-Oil, Permalyn, and the Linseed/Spar Urethane/Turpentine combo all did an /almost/ complete job filling in the Oak pores.


My subjective impressions:


Linseed (aka BLO aka Boiled Linseed Oil) - gives a nice deep luster to the wood. Mat finish.


Vegetable Oil (Safflower) - Identical to Linseed except slightly lower luster.


Linseed/Spar Urethane/Turprentine combo - same as Linseed.


Salad Bowl Finish - same as Linseed.


While the above treatments all gave a warm dark tone to the Cherry and Oak blocks, the remaining treatments left both woods light in color - the difference is hard to see in the photo below, but enough to notice in person.


Epoxy (The Rot Doctor's Penetrating Epoxy aka CPES) - Using this alone and just sanding/buffing gives a low luster similar to vegetable oil.


Tru-Oil - It is a pain to apply (I probably should have applied more coats) - and because I used steel wool between some of the layers the Oak pores filled in with dark steel particles that do not look good (if I use this again on a wood with pores I'll used wet/dry paper instead of steel wool) - but the wood came out of the treatment with the same "clack" when you tap it that it had out of the drying box. Luster is similar to vegetable oil.


Permalyn - (Permalyn Sealer followed by Permalyn Finish) - Mikey likes it. High luster. Nice dry "clack" when you tap it. Does not darken the wood as much as the oil treatments, but does richen/darken it a little.


Briwax on Epoxy base - low luster but nice.


Renaissance Wax on Epoxy base - same as Briwax.


Wipe-on Poly on Epoxy base - high luster, almost glossy.


CA Glue on Epoxy base (Cyanoacrylate Glue aka super glue) - shiny. Looks and feels like plastic.


... and here's what they look like BEFORE the washing/drying torture tests:



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I've done 3 cycles of dish-brush scrubbing with dish soap, rinsing in hot water, and air-drying in the dish rack. This has had major effects on all blocks. The good news so far is that none of the blocks appear dried-out - all seem like they are still protected from total drying. None show any sign of cracking or checking.


Linseed Oil - only a ghost of the surface luster remains. The Oak block still has a small lustrous spot in the center of the top of the block - other than that the blocks have lost their glow.


Veg Oil - about the same as Linseed, but without the lustrous spot on the Oak.


Linseed/Spar/Turp - the Cherry looks as bare as the Linseed and Veg Oil blocks, but the Oak still has a hint of luster.


Salad Bowl Finish - the Oak block has retained a little more luster than the Linseed/Spar/Turp Oak block - a very light even glow. The Cherry block has a curious pattern of low-luster and no-luster - sort of splotchy.


Tru-Oil - Maybe my 9 coat process was not enough or not evenly rubbed down between coats: there is very little remaining luster on either block - and what /does/ remain is in dramatic splotches - as if those areas were applied more thickly or bonded better to the underlying wood.


Permalyn - both the Cherry and Oak blocks have kept a slight lustrous glow.


Epoxy (Penetrating Epoxy, CPES) only: looks just like the Veg Oil blocks except lighter in color.


Briwax on Epoxy base: only a trace of the wax on one end-grain side - otherwise identical to Epoxy alone.


Renaissance Wax on Epoxy base: no trace of the wax - identical to Epoxy alone.


Wipe-On Poly on Epoxy base: very similar to the Salad Bowl Finish (a slight glow remains) except that it is a little blotchy in where the luster shows on both the Oak and Cherry blocks.


CA Glue on Epoxy base: The Oak block looks almost untouched - there is some loss of coating on the end-grain sides. The Cherry block is more affected - the coating remains in blotches on all sides. Maybe I did not get the application or between-coat sanding quite even. Maybe it just adhered better in some places than others. I'm betting that a nice thick CA coating would have stood up completely. I just can't get on board with making the wood look and feel like plastic.


Next up: I'm going to buff all the pieces to see which bring back some shine. I'll report on that and then do a 15 minute soak in hot soapy water followed by air drying in the dish rack.




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Wow - for a flip-book before/after effect, go to my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/elementalforge and click on the "I've done 3 cycles..." photo. When the photo display page comes up click the left arrow for the "before" image - if you click back and forth between the Before & 3 Scrubs images you can easily see the changes!

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