Sunday, April 6, 2014

Minwax High Performance Wood Hardener

Get Your Wood Hard with Minwax

Our fourth house was our oldest yet, older than the previous one by something like ninety years. I'm here to say that there is joy to life in a Victorian-era farmhouse more than a hundred years old, especially architectural details never seen in the stapled-together tract houses we of the 99% live in. Ours had plaster medallions, leaded-glass windows, plinth blocks on the moldings everywhere in the house, and ceiling lights whose every socket had its own switch (that no one shorter than 5'-10" could reach without a ladder) .

Turret with (repaired) window complex. 
Owning old houses also has its woes. For one, there's the shortage of plumb walls and square corners - though I once lived in a ranch house built in the 1980s that wasn't all that square, either. Second is having to find visit the local architectural salvage yard every weekend for replacing things they don't sell at Home Depot. Then there's dry rot. Pure, simple, dry rot, the natural enemy of wood that's exposed to moisture for a century or so. Dry rot is surely the bane of old houses' existence.

An eighty-MPH wind gust blew in one of the windows in our turret. More accurately, it blew in a window complex of perhaps a dozen panes, half curved. Broken glass was everywhere, but for the most part, the frame was intact, with only a few cracks I could clamp and glue plus a few rotted spots. The rotted spots troubled me, because re-glazing windows in a rickety frame is courting disaster. How was I going to replace a few spongy muntins in a frame four feet wide and four feet high without replacing the whole works?

I didn't need to: I got some Minwax High Performance Wood Hardener and let it work its magic.

Using Minwax Wood Hardener

Brush a coat of this stuff onto spongy or rotted wood, regardless of species. Once it penetrated the grain the solvents evaporate, leaving wood resins behind along with other goodies that were dissolved in the liquid. Once it's dry the wood starts looking shiny, letting you know you can repeat the process. Three or four coats with sufficient drying time was enough to stiffen up that "punky" texture wood gets when left unprotected for too long. Once hardened by the solution, wood can be shaped like normal, and you can fill gaps with ordinary wood fillers. Treated wood is water- and insect-resistant, and you can paint it like raw wood. You could apply hardener in place, so you don't need to remove the wood from where it's been fastened for decades just so you can treat one small spot.

Upside, Downside 

The stuff is costs like single-malt scotch, though it sure doesn't taste anything like a good one. Wood hardeners are generally expensive, though: the Cadillac of the field, Abatron Liquid Wood, goes for more than a dollar an ounce in small packages. The solution also eats brushes alive: if you will use it frequently, I'd buy a stick or two of disposable brushes. Cleanup needs nasty chemicals like acetone, but you're exposed to the same solvents while using the product, which is why you should work in a well-ventilated area.

At a guess, hiring a master carpenter to repair my frame would have set me back more than half a grand, so a few bucks for some hardener and a ruined brush was worth it.  Next time you find one of the dreaded soft spots, think "wood hardener!" before you start to groan. It might just save you a lot of work.


PLUS: easy to use and does what it's supposed to
MINUS: pricey, eats paint brushes, lots of VOCs
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: Don't tear out a board because of a little dry rot: treat it with High Performance Wood Hardener from Minwax. You'll saves time, and probably money!

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