Bleeding Space-Ball Blues

Space balls have been known to exude a mysterious fluid that can show up in the finish of a raised panel door, leading to possible heart palpitations. (Not really, but it is disturbing.) February 20, 2008

I have 20 soft maple raised panel doors with dime-sized spots on the front and back of the rails/stiles about 3/4" back from the inside. That's 16 spots total per door; 2 on each board, front and back, and uniformly spaced. Oh, the front and back ones line up with each other, too. It looks like yellow glue, but it's not glue. I'm making the assumption that the Space Balls are under those spots.

Have any of you seen anything like this? Can Space Balls do that? Whatever this is, it sands off easily, but my fear is they'll return after the doors are finished (and the job installed). By the way, there are six raised panel ends that go with this job... Yes, they have spots too.

I called the door manufacturer and they picked up a door to take back to the factory. They said they'd never seen this before. They're going to remake the doors for me, but this sucks. For once I was going to get a job done early and make the install date. Got all excited about it. Now we'll be waiting on doors/panels.

I don't want to be a cabinetmaker anymore :-). The chest pains are less than five minutes apart now.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor D:
I build thousands of doors a year and yes, Space Balls do bleed. They will do that if they are compressed a little more than they should be. Good news is I have never had them affect the finish. Your door maker needs to allow a little more gap for the panel. This will not eliminate the bleed, though it will reduce it. The first time I saw that I got real nervous also. It is normal.

From contributor J:
They do bleed.

From the original questioner:
Thanks so much. Glad to hear that this might work out after all. I need to get this job out the door. You have no idea how sick I felt when I first saw those spots. I never curse or swear but today, if you'd have written it down, I'd have signed it ;-)!

From contributor R:
I quit using them for fear of the worst. I use a product called Barrel Brand Cabinet Spacers from RC Rubber Co. So far, no problems.

From contributor V:
I tripped out, too. The finish seems to soak up whatever is being squeezed out of the balls. I was surprised to see this happen in white maple! Cherry, red oak... It happened almost every time to a greater or lesser degree. It never showed up after finish was done, though.

From contributor N:
I did a large job with outsourced doors, pricey mitered doors in cherry, every place a Space Ball was there was an oil-like spot. Hand sanded every last one of them on a huge job before the finisher got to them. I believe my door company has stopped using them. I over ordered the doors so two of them are on a cabinet right next to my nailing bench and I notice the spots every day - they're kind of creepy! I'm thinking about buying a portable defibulator - stuff like this really gets to me.

From contributor S:
I too had this experience on my last kitchen project with soft maple doors. There were spots on all 32 of the doors/panels aligned with the Space Balls. I suspected it was because I compressed them too much by sizing the panel a little too big. The spots disappeared after finishing on the fronts but still showed slightly on the backs (no doubt because the wood is thicker on the front side of the doors due to the location of the stick cut). I have been back to that location and am watching for finish failure - ugh). I have since switched to the barrel style spacers that HDL carries.

From contributor O:
The stuff you see is just tung oil that is used in the manufacture of the Space Balls. If you over compress them they bleed. They should be smashed to 1/2 their diameter. I have never had a problem with finish except for with spray stain. If you are worried, just sand them lightly before you spray. Also, I think acetone will take the mark off.

From the original questioner:
An update. My door manufacturer is all over this one. He called this morning after having torn one of those doors apart on Friday. Sure enough... the Space Balls are the culprit. Thanks for all the responses. I passed the information along to them. Hopefully this will be a help to all of us.

From contributor U:
I started using neoprene foam rubber from Atlanta Gasket. 1" x 1/4" x 1/4". Space Balls were bleeding on me, too. No complaints, but I didn't want to take any chances long term.

From contributor G:
Allow 5/16 inch spacing for the Space Balls and you should have no problems.

From contributor V:
Can you elaborate on your advice to allow 5/16 spacing? I generally size my door panels to compress a 1/4" Space Ball 1/16". In other words, if the entire space for the width of a door panel was 15", I would subtract 1/2" for left and right Space Balls but then add 1/8" back to the panel width so the balls apply tension. Panel would be 14 5/8" wide net. So, panel width opening minus 3/8" equals panel net width with 1/4" diameter Space Balls.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor H:
Has anyone ever tried using 1/4" Backer Rod? It is a product made for concrete work. It comes in many diameters and is made to aid in limiting and controlling the depth of sealants. It is also used as an expansion joint control. It is a round, flexible, closed cell polyethylene foam with an exterior "skin". It is very cheap and is sold by the foot, or by 100 foot rolls. The price for a 100' roll is not too expensive so this seems like a good economical solution to the space ball problem. You can do a lot of doors with 100 feet. You do not need to fill the whole groove (although you could). Just cut small 1" or 2" pieces and put a few in each of the four sides.