How do you finish wood carvings

how to finish a wood carving

Finishing wood carving is a very important step. A step that is not as fun as whittling but so important if at long we want protection, sanitation, and decoration for our pieces. so how do you finish wood carvings?

There are a few ways you could finish your carved piece like; oil finish, shellac finish, resin finish, paints in this case mostly acrylics, and vanish.

In this blog post, we will go through all these finishes to ensure you know how to differentiate the different finishes and most importantly know what is best for your specific needs.

Finishing a wood carving

Whittling figurine credit: Ben Yarde

as you can imagine there are quite a number of finishes available. what works for a certain carving or project may not work for another project. this is due to the nature of carving it happens that carving is an art form and most of the mediums we use including finishing products are an addition to the theme or be symbolic to style.

It is therefore important to understand that we have different reasons why we choose a certain finish. I like to think of wood finishing in general as either Aesthetic or Preservative.

The aesthetic finish has much to do with the artistic look for instance if we wish to finish a piece by roughing it with a rasp file for the texture effect. Another good example is when we use acrylic paints to add interesting pigments to whittled gnomes or figurines.

The preservative finish is aimed at protecting the wood mostly. When we spray a food-safe finish to a whittled spoon or wooden bowl we are not much concerned with aesthetics. this is however not to say that we may not use this kind of finish for their visual appeal as well.

Before we jump into the list of finishes available for you should we sand our carved piece or not?

To sand or not to sand a carved piece

Preparation before finishing your wood carving is very important you need to prepare the surface before the first coat. What kind of preparation is this? let’s talk sanding!

Carving in general is very fond of sanding which gets rid of the markings of the tools. But when it comes to whittling sanding is not as important. The knife cuts are the final surface. in whittling fine detailing is neither necessary nor desirable to many. This has much to do with the history of whittling.

However, sanding is still important in whittling especially when the wood being used is characterized by raised grains. raised grain is not desirable since it causes color variation when finishing the piece.

Types of finishes for wood carvings

4 Clear finishes for wood carvings

Tool-marked areas should be carefully examined to ensure they are crisply cut. If the surface is to be tool-marked free then it should be sanded or scraped to the desired smoothness. it is good to remember that any raised fiber or rough spots will look crude and dark under the protective finish.

1. Penetrating Resin

This is perhaps the easiest finish to apply. Applying resin is done in stages for best results. the surface is wiped clean here acetone can be used but not really necessary. the ratio of the epoxy and hardener is usually 1:1 but be sure to check with the specific manufacturer.

Penetrating resin has a tendency on darkening the wood. Therefore it’s best to recoat in 24-hour intervals for best results. Any hardening surface residue can be simply removed by rubbing using a 2/0 steel wool moistened in liquid resin.

2. Shellac

Shellac is a fast-drying yet beautiful finish for your woodcarving. However, it is sensitive to solvents, moisture, and abuse. Shellac is a very popular finish given its status as a food-safe finish. being food safe means it can be used to finish utility-carved items like bowls, spoons, and chopping boards.

when purchasing shellac be sure to purchase in a one-time use quantity. This is because shellac on the shelf doesn’t age well. Bad shellac leaves a nondrying tacky surface. and that’s not something you would want on your beautiful piece.

3. Varnishes

In cases where weather, abrasion, and resistance to abuse are the primary concerns then varnishes provide the full-bodied toughness required. Well, this toughness comes at a cost, however, the same varnish that looks beautiful on furniture tends to render a plastic look to carvings.

The thick varnish tends to make the delicate texture of the wood varnish. due to the slow drying of varnish dust becoming a common problem.

when going for varnish look for a good synthetic varnish which is preferred to natural resin varnish. Avoid spar vanish unless when used on non-body contact carvings intended for exposure to weather or marine.

4. Lacquer

Lacquer is quite an interesting finish talked about for its glossy finish popular for kitchen cabinets. When using lacquer ensure you thin with the thinner provided by the manufacturer. Mixing different brands can lead to blemishes due to formula differences.

The most common lacquer is the brush-applied lacquer regularly used on floorboards. this type of lacquer can be used on carved furniture and carvings.

Spray-can lacquer is what will work well with whittled figures and small carvings. Just remember to dip the nozzle in thinner between uses. When using lacquer be advised that lacquer can bleed pigments and stain from wood. The solution to this is a sanding sealer!

Special bleed-resistant fillers and stains are available from lacquer manufacturers.

In this article, we do not go over linseed oil but you can check out finishing with linseed oil.

wrapping up: how do you finish wood carvings

To finish you will need to apply the finish of your choice. It is important to understand the varying drying times of the different finishes. hope this article was resourceful and informative on how do you finish wood carvings. Happy whittling!

Hadwin Fisher

I'm basically a "Hobby Whittler." Everything I make is for Personal use, gifts for others, or other Items for charity auctions or other "Causes" i.e. "Local Hospital" Etc. Some health issues are interfering with me doing any large-scale projects in my workshop at this Present Time. That said I can't stay idle, whittling, and writing about whittling with my Friend ken Read keeps me sane and happy!

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