Enhance Your Woodturning Projects with Resin

There are so many things one can create when turning wood! Bowls, plates, vases, lamps, birdhouses, jewelry…the list goes on.

Once a woodturner has learned the basics of wood turning (see our previous blog post for a discussion of the tools and equipment needed to begin woodturning), he or she might be interested in making some more adventurous items. One way to enhance woodturning projects is to use resin. Making your woodturning projects with resin can be difficult, but it’s worth the challenge.

What is Resin?

Resin is a viscous substance that is usually clear or translucent. It hardens as it dries and is insoluble in water. Resin can be created organically or chemically. One example of natural resin that many people are familiar with is amber, which is fossilized tree resin.

Resin from Wood for woodturning

Tree resin is slightly different from sap, which is runny and generally clear. Resin, on the other hand, is sticky, thick, and dark in color. According to the US Forest Service, there are many trees in the Pinaceae family today that still produce resin, like pines, fir trees, and cedars.

These are a few examples of naturally occurring resin, but resin can be created synthetically as well. Most people are surrounded by synthetic resin without even knowing it, as synthetic resin is the main ingredient in plastic, according to Yan Li and Shuxia Ren, editors of Building Decorative Materials.

Synthetic resin is created to mimic the properties found in natural resin; namely, that it binds things together and hardens into a virtually indestructible element. In nature, this is useful when trees need to protect themselves, like when a branch gets cut off. When a tree is wounded, resin is secreted to cover the opening like a scab and make sure no insects or other pests can infiltrate the tree.

Synthetic resin is made to provide the same qualities for those who are using it to create or bind objects, whether that be through woodturning or 3D printing. Synthetic resins are used in many craft circles to fill in gaps in pieces, add coatings or varnishes, or even add UV protection.

Different Kinds of Synthetic Resin

If you are interested in using resin for your woodturning projects, it is a good idea to become familiar with the different kinds of resin available.

While there are many kinds of synthetic resin, woodturners only need to be concerned with the main types of resin on the market.

Epoxy Resin

Epoxy resin is a kind of thermosetting resin, which means that once it is heated past a certain point, the chemical changes are made permanent. This means that epoxy resins are extremely strong but are not able to be re-heated and re-molded. Epoxy resins require mixing with a curing agent or hardener to start the chemical process that allows the epoxy to become solid. Epoxy resins are colorless and odorless and are largely resistant to harm from heat and chemicals.

There are several types of epoxy resins used in the crafting world, which woodturners may want to be aware of. Each type of resin has different properties, such as viscosity, curing time, and working time, and each is used for different kinds of projects.

Art Resin or Coating Resin

Art resin or coating resin is a type of epoxy resin that is designed specifically for art projects. According to Joanne Wright of ArtResin.com, “the best quality art resins are intended for use at home and are non-toxic, low odor and contain no solvents.” Their consistency is similar to honey, which makes it easy for crafters to manipulate. Art resin is often used for making jewelry or adding a clear, solid coat to art projects like paintings or wooden tables.

Table-top Resin

Table-top resin is similar to art resin, as it has a similar curing time and temperature. However, it will have a slightly thinner viscosity and can withstand much higher temperatures once it is set. It is also formulated to be extremely hard and therefore resistant to scratches and dings. It is the best epoxy to use when coating tabletops, counters, or even floors.

woodturning project with resin

Casting Resin

Casting resin is also known as “deep pour” resin and is created specifically to be poured into shallow molds to create suspensions or encasings. Casting resin is a bit thinner than other epoxy resins so that it can be poured more easily into a mold. In the craft world, it is often used for projects like preserving dried flowers or encasing other small objects, but it can also be used for woodworking.

Stabilizing Resin

Stabilizing resin is a kind of resin that is used to fill permeable materials, such as wood, to make them stronger and more resistant to changes in heat and humidity. There are both thin and thick stabilizing resins; thin resins are best for denser wood, and thick resins are best for less dense wood.

Polyester Resin

Polyester resin is also known as a laminating resin or fiberglass resin. It is a thermoplastic resin (unlike epoxy resin, which is a thermoset), which means that it does not undergo permanent change when it hardens. Because of this, it can be re-heated and re-used if necessary.

There are many types of polyester resin available, but they are often used in industrial situations for things such as pond-lining or roofing. They are also used in textiles (many people are familiar with clothing that contains polyester!) and packaging. Polyester resins are very strong and resistant to heat and water damage.

When used in crafting situations, there are a few things to know about polyester resin. It has a strong chemical smell and should not be used indoors. It also has a short work time, and thus is not ideal for beginners. And, according to Katherine Swift of ResinObsession.com, “The surface exposed to air during curing will remain sticky, even after the resin has cured.” While this doesn’t seem ideal, some people use polyester resin because it sets extremely hard, and crafters can use a buffing wheel on their project. Swift adds, “You don’t have to recoat with another layer of resin or a gloss spray to get a shiny surface.”

When it comes to woodworking, polyester resin was “the in-thing,” 15 or 20 years ago, “but lost favor with most casters as epoxy resins became available in relatively low costs bulk packaging,” according to Ed Davidson, a member of the American Association of Woodturners (AAW).

Polyurethane Resin

Polyurethane resin is another popular kind of resin on the market. It is slightly more flexible and forgiving than epoxy resin, and it can withstand colder temperatures. It comes in both thermoset and thermoplastic varieties, and it can be made with a wider range of durability, depending on the needs of the customer.

Polyurethane resin has a shorter curing time than epoxy resin, but when it comes to woodworking, this means that it requires a pressure pot to remove all air bubbles before the resin finishes setting.

How to Create Woodturning Projects with Resin

Now that you know what resin is and the different kinds of resin available, you might be wondering: “How can I use resin in my woodturning?”

This is a very good question! Resin can take your wood-turned projects to the next level. Read on to find out more about how to turn with resin and what kinds of woodturning projects can be created with resin.

What Kind of Resin to Use for Woodturning

As noted above, each of these kinds of resin has different uses and properties, so which one you use will depend on the kind of project you want to create. The main kind of resin that many woodturners use is epoxy casting resin. This type of resin is ideal for making scrap wood pieces or for filling voids in wood pieces.

Many wood turners also like to use polyurethane resin, as some find that epoxy resin can be hard on tools. Polyurethane resin can be used for the same purposes as epoxy resin, but it does require a pressure pot and extremely dry wood, so deciding between epoxy or polyurethane depends on the individual woodturner’s comfort and preference and on their equipment.

Stabilizing resin is also often used by woodturners who want to make sure their wood is durable, heavy, and will withstand constant use. This is especially important when crafting pieces like wooden knife handles that will be used often and exposed to water. It’s also helpful to stabilize softer pieces of wood before turning to make the turning process more predictable.

Tools Needed when Working with Resin

Preparatory Tools

Mixing Tools
When working with resin, a woodturner will first need some tools to prepare the resin for use. You will need a bowl or container in which to mix the epoxy and hardener and something with which to mix the two ingredients together. A paint stick works fine, or you can use a paddle mixer to make sure the epoxy and hardener are mixed thoroughly.

Measuring cups or scale
You will also need some way to measure your ingredients. Measuring cups work fine, but a scale will ensure that you are measuring your epoxy and hardener in an exact ratio.

Reusable Forms
Once you have the resin ready, you will need a place to pour it, depending on the kind of project you are making. Reusable forms come in many shapes and sizes and are designed to be easily removed from your project. You can also make single-use and DIY forms from plastic or even paper cups. However, you may need to be prepared to remove the DIY mold from the piece during the turning process, which means it will not be reusable.

Before you can get your wood piece set within the form or mold, you will need to prepare it. Tools like a draw knife and a wire brush to remove any bark, as well as small scrapers to remove any debris from inside knotholes will ensure that your wood is ready to meet the resin.

Torch, Heat Gun, or Blow Dryer
Although it may not seem like a necessity at first, some way to heat the resin after pouring is extremely helpful. This extra step removes bubbles and ensures that you have a clear, even pour.

HDPE (High density Polyethylene) is another valuable addition to your shop. Resin will not stick to this kind of plastic, so it is used to keep your tools from being epoxied to the wood you are turning, and to create dividers in the mold if necessary.

Pen, Paper, Calculator
These tools may also seem odd to include in the list, but it is useful to keep pen and paper handy to jot down the amounts of epoxy and hardener you are using, as well as any colorants you might add.

Another overlooked tool that is beneficial to the resin-turning process is a fan. After your resin is poured, set the fan so that it blows over top of the project, not directly on it. This helps dissipate the heat that is created when the epoxy and hardener mix. If the resin gets too hot, it may cure with bubbles or get brittle, and sometimes it even cracks because it expands as it cools. Having the fan on keeps the temperature more even.

Carbide Tools for Turning

The last kinds of equipment you will need when woodturning with resin are the woodturning tools you would normally use! Carbide tools work best for turning resin, and negative rakes or scrapers (where the tool slopes away from the cutting edge) work best to prevent the chipping that sometimes happens when turning with resin.

carbide tools for woodturning with resin

Techniques for Turning Resin

There are some tips and techniques it might be helpful to keep in mind when woodturning with resin.

  1. The first tip is to make sure that you are using the correct type of resin for the kind of project you are creating! Know what the differences are and how they will affect your product.
  2. Make sure to follow the guidelines for the kind of resin you are using.
    • Work time or open time begins as soon as you mix the epoxy and hardener, so be sure to pour before the resin begins to set and to have all your tools nearby before you begin.
    • Some resins require the wood to be extremely dry, so bubbles won’t form. Try baking your wood in a low-heat oven before casting to ensure that no moisture remains.
    • Consider the temperature in your shop; epoxy resin won’t harden if the temperature is too hot or too cold. Use a space heater in the winter or turn on the A/C in the summer to ensure an even temperature of 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit.
    • Different resins take different times to cure. If the resin requires 48 hours to cure, don’t try to turn it before it hardens completely. You can always allow an extra day or two just to make sure everything is set.
  3. When turning the wood and resin, keep in mind that resin behaves differently from wood. Start with a slower turning speed and low amount of pressure and adjust as needed.

Woodturning Projects with Resin

Any wood turning project can have resin added to make it “pop.” However, some woodturning projects are more popular to make with resin, such as scrap wood bowls, plates, or vases. This type of project is when a wood turner takes pieces of scrap wood, places them into a mold of some kind, and fills in the gaps with casting resin. Once the resin hardens, you are left with a large block from which you can create many shapes in the same way that you would normally shape a block of wood.

Some woodturners go a step further and use things like colored pencils or colored paper along with the wood and resin in these scrap pieces, which really makes a statement.

Stabilizing resin is also often used to fill in gaps in wood pieces such as knotholes or other cracks, as well as to harden punky wood and make the entire wood block stronger. Mixing the epoxy with color can result in a beautiful and unique wooden accent piece.

One last use for resin when woodturning is to add a hard, scratch-resistant coat or glaze to a project. Again, this kind of resin can be used with anything you create; there is no limit to the kinds of projects that would benefit from a glossy finish that is virtually impossible to damage.

Key Takeaways

  • Resin is a versatile material that can enhance woodturning projects, offering strength, durability, and aesthetic appeal.
  • Natural and synthetic resins are available, each with specific properties and applications. Epoxy, polyester, and polyurethane resins are commonly used in woodturning.
  • Several types of epoxy resin exist, each suitable for various woodworking projects. Art resin, table-top resin, casting resin, and stabilizing resin offer unique features for specific applications.
  • Proper preparation and tools are essential when working with resin. Mixing tools, measuring equipment, forms, and heat sources are necessary for successful woodturning projects with resin.
  • Understanding resin types, following resin guidelines, and adjusting turning speed and pressure are crucial for successful woodturning with resin.
  • Proper ventilation and protective equipment should be used when working with resin, especially polyester resin, due to its strong odor and short working time.

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