Minwax Wood Hardener, 1 Pint.

Minwax Wood Hardener, 1 Pint.

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Minwax Definitely Gets Your Wood Hard

Jan 26, 2005 (Updated Aug 12, 2007)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:easy to use, does exactly what it claims to do

Cons:expensive, ruins paint brushes, nasty chemicals

The Bottom Line: Instead of tearing out boards with a little rot, try treatment with a wood hardener like the one from Minwax. Saves time - and probably money, too!

My fourth house is also my oldest, older than the one that preceded it by about ninety years. There are certain joys to living in a Victorian-era farmhouse that's more than a century old, joys such as architectural details created by long-dead craftsmen, details that you just don't see in the houses of common folk in this age of stapled-together tract houses. We have leaded-glass windows, plaster medallions, ceiling lights upon which each light socket has its own little switch (inaccessible to anyone less than 5'-10" unless she has a ladder), and plinth blocks adorning the moldings throughout the house.

Owning an old house also has its woes. First, there's a total absence of square corners and plumb walls; though I've lived in 1984-model ranch homes that were pretty short on square corners, too. There's also the need to find your way over to an architectural salvage yard every weekend to replace old fixtures that you just won't find at the nearest Home Depot. And then there's rot. Pure, simple, rot - what happens to wood when it's been exposed to moisture for more than a hundred years. Rot is the bane of an old house's existence...

A 70-MPH gust of wind blew in a window in our turret last summer (you haven't seen the house? It's here: http://www.geocities.com/naxetton/images/victorian.jpg). Or should I say, blew in half the windows in the turret, since each side is a single window complex with about a dozen panes, half of them curved. There was broken glass everywhere, but - for the most part - the wooden frame remained intact, with just a few cracks that could be clamped and glued and some rotted spots. It was those rotted spots that troubled me most, because re-glazing a window in an unsound frame is a recipe for disaster. But how could I replace a few spongy, spindly muntins in that frame - four feet wide and four feet high - without replacing the entire frame?

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

Wood Hardener, You Say?

Yep, wood hardener. Grab a can of this stuff and brush a coat onto rotted or spongy wood - no matter what species. After penetrating the grain, the solvents evaporate and leave behind wood resins and other goodies that were carried in a dissolved state. When that coat is dry the wood takes on a shiny appearance, and you can repeat the process. Three or four coats - taking from an hour to two hours each to dry, in my case - were enough to get rid of that "punky" texture that wood gets when it's been left unprotected too long. I didn't need to do any filling, but wood hardened by the Minwax solution can be shaped with any woodworking tools, and gaps can be filled with regular wood fillers (Minwax advises their brand, of course). It's also water- and insect- resistant, and can be painted just as if it were raw wood. In many cases you can apply the hardener in place, which does away with the need to remove a board or other wood from where it's been fastened for the past ninety years or so just to treat a small spot. Of course, you'll want to evaluate whether this is just a little rot or the surface expression of a buried problem.

Upside, Downside

At more than fifty cents per ounce - a pint bottle cost me almost nine dollars - this stuff is rather dear (and doesn't taste near as good as a single-malt). All wood hardeners are expensive, though: the Cadillac of the field, Abatron Liquid Wood, sells for more than a dollar an ounce in the smallest size ($35.50 for 32 oz). The solvents also eat paint brushes alive - for frequent use, you should probably buy a stick of those disposable paint brushes. Cleanup requires the use of fairly nasty chemicals like acetone, but you've already been exposed to those solvents while using the product, anyway. Which, by the way, you should always do in a well-ventilated area.

I estimated that calling in a master carpenter to repair that frame would have cost me something in the neighborhood of half a grand - ten bucks for a can of hardener and a ruined brush was definitely worth it. Besides, I still have half the can - for when the wind blows out the other window!

Parting Words

Minwax Wood Hardener is but one such product: besides Abatron, Bondo also makes a wood hardener. These products are widely used by hobbyists (including, believe it or not, Bonsai enthusiasts) and are available in most lumberyards and good paint stores. Mine came from the local Lowe's, and both Minwax and Abatron versions are available at a Menard's up the road.

Next time you find one of those dreaded soft spots, think "wood hardener!" before you bemoan your fate. It might just save you a lot of work.

The other member of the team: Minwax High Performance Wood Filler

Recommend this product? Yes

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