Stabilising Wood With Detergent

Collated from newsgroup postings.

In issue no.88 of Woodturning Magazine (the June 2000 issue that has May 2000 on the cover!) Hawaiian turner Ron Kent describes a technique using detergent soaked into the wood during turning.

He claims that by conditioning the wood with detergent, he gets less movement and warping and improved cutting. He also claims that less sanding is required and the finish is improved perhaps due to greater oil penetration.

Naturally, such a radical idea stimulated newsgroup discussion.

Has anyone followed up on Ron Kent's technique of using dishwashing detergent to stabilize and condition green wood? For those who did not read his article, it was published in the issue 88 of Woodturning.

He says that he has had very good results with it on Norfolk Island pine.

I would be interested in any results by others.

A club member aquaintance of mine uses detergent on everything (I'm pretty sure) that he brings into the shop, especially green wood.

He has a couple of those big plastic storage tubs, dumps a few gallons of the detergent into the tubs (maybe 4" deep, more or less) and starts sloshing around the pieces and letting them soak for a while, (actual time, I'm not sure). He then drip dries them on a rack over the tub, gives a quick wipe down of any heavy excess, and tosses them into a pile near the lathe to turn. He does this with both blanks and rough turnings, depending on if the green wood went right to the lathe or not. He has been doing this for many months now with great success.

If he is having trouble with some grain while turning, he will apply it then, also. Makes the grain behave and cut a lot better.

He uses the same cheap, bulk detergent that Ron Kent mentioned in the article - no-name bulk detergent available just about anywhere.

You can't go wrong, experiment with the stuff and see what happens. Be careful about detergent soaked shavings on the shop floor, they're probably pretty slippery, maybe even leaving a residue on the floor. Should just clean up with water, though!

I've tried out the deteregent on a larch bowl I had roughed out and dried.

It was turned the normal way, side grain. The whole thing didn't work for me mainly because I think that the detergent didn't soak in enough. The bowl was dry to start with. I think that using it on end grain only and on wet wood will make a difference and thats what I'm going to do next.

I certainly didn't get those lovely shavings that Ron talked about in the article!

Detergents will do everything that has been said, but be careful of their ingredients.

Many of these products contain perfumes and oils that will interfere with sanding and later finishing with either oils, lacquer, or shellac.

You may want to try it on a "throw away" first.

I didn't like the slimy feeling surface that I got on the wood when using the detergent.

After trying many different dilution ratios, I found that a spray bottle of warm water did just as well for me, so that is what I use whenever I get vibration or poor cutting when finishing a dry bowl. Adding a small amount of household ammonia will help as a wetting agent, about 1/2 cup per gallon of the plain non-sudsing type seems to work without tearing up my nose when using it. I use the water in a metal spray bottle that is placed on a coffee cup warmer to keep it warm.

Back to the Articles page