how to finish a chainsaw carving

How Do You Seal a Chainsaw Carving

How to Finish a Chainsaw Carving: Simple and Effective Techniques

Chainsaw carving, as it sounds, is the technique of creating wood sculptures using a chainsaw. It is a popular form of art that has been around for decades. Chainsaw carving requires plenty of skill, patience and practice to master. In this article, I will discuss the nature of chainsaw carving a log, the type of wood often used, and the process of creating and finishing a chainsaw carving.

Understanding Chainsaw Carving

The first step in creating a chainsaw carving is to select the right log or tree stump. As much as possible, the log should be free from knots, cracks, or any other defects that could affect the carving process. The size of the log should also be considered, as larger logs will require more time and effort to both maneuver and carve.

When selecting the type of wood to use, it is important to consider the characteristics of the wood. Softwoods such as pine and cedar are easier to carve, but they will not be as durable as hardwoods such as oak and maple. Hardwoods are more difficult to carve, but they will last longer.

Once you have selected the log and the type of wood, it is time to start carving. The first step is to create a rough outline of the sculpture using a chainsaw, draw on the log with a marker to get a shaped started for your carving. Begin by removing the excess wood from the log, leaving only the basic shape of the sculpture.

As the carving progresses, finer details are added using smaller chainsaws and carving tools. The final step is to sand and finish the carving to give it the look you’re going for – could be rough and rustic, or polished and smooth.

Factors Affecting How to Finish a Chainsaw Carving

With the question, “How to finish a chainsaw carving?”, here are the factors that will affect what method you will use to seal your chainsaw carving:

  1. Is the tree still rooted to the ground?
  2. How dry is the stump?
  3. Will your carving be painted or just sealed?
  4. Are you using a full log, or cut in half?
  5. The climate of your region – high swings in temperature and/or humidity?

Selecting the Right Wood for Chainsaw Carving

When it comes to chainsaw carving, selecting the right wood is crucial. The type of wood you choose can greatly impact the final outcome of your carving. Here are some factors to consider when selecting the right wood for your chainsaw carving:

Wood Type

The type of wood you choose will depend on the type of carving you plan to create. Some popular wood types for chainsaw carving include basswood, butternut, and white pine. These woods are soft and easy to carve, making them ideal for beginners. If you’re looking for a more challenging carving, you may want to try a harder wood like oak, maple or ash wood. All of wood types are relatively easy to find in most parts of the United States

Piece of Wood

When selecting a piece of wood, make sure it is free from cracks, knots, and other defects. These imperfections can make carving difficult and may affect the final outcome of your carving. You should also consider the size and shape of the piece of wood. A larger piece of wood will give you more room to work with, while a smaller piece may be easier to handle.

Make sure to think through how you will secure the piece of wood while carving it. You’ll need two hands on your chainsaw, so make sure you have means to provide a solid grasp on the work piece as well.

how to finish a chainsaw carving

Living Tree

I don’t recommend carving live trees, there’s a good chance the tree will die from the carving. But, if you’re planning on carving a living tree, make sure you have permission from the property owner and check with local regulations. Carving a living tree can be a unique experience, but it’s important to take proper precautions to avoid damaging the tree if at all possible.

Slice of a Log

Another option for chainsaw carving is to use a slice of a log. This can be a great option if you’re looking for a rustic or natural look. When selecting a slice of a log, make sure it is dry and free from rot or decay.

Preparation Process for Finishing a Chainsaw Carving

Before starting to finish a chainsaw carving, it is essential to prepare the wood surface. This preparation process involves inspecting the wood surface, cleaning it, and ensuring that it is in good condition. Here are the steps I follow to prepare the wood surface for finishing:

First, I inspect the wood surface to check for any visible defects, such as cracks, knots, or uneven surfaces. If I find any defects, I use a chainsaw or other tools to remove them and create a smooth surface.

I ensure that the wood surface is in good condition by checking for any rough spots or uneven areas. If I find any rough spots, I use sandpaper or a sanding block to smooth them out. This step is not necessary if you’re going for a rustic, rough look.

Next, I clean the wood surface using a clean cloth or bristle brush. I wipe off any sawdust, dirt, or debris that might be on the surface. This step is crucial to ensure that the surface is clean and ready for finishing.

Finally, after cleaning the surface, I use a tack cloth to remove any remaining dust or debris. A tack cloth is a sticky cloth that picks up any dust or debris that might be left on the surface. This step is essential to ensure that the surface is free of any contaminants that might affect the finish. If you’re working with a large project, a tack cloth may not be practical – instead, you should use a portable leaf blower or vacuum to get rid of as much dust as possible.

Different Finishing Methods for Chainsaw Carvings

When it comes to finishing a chainsaw carving, there are many different ways to achieve the desired result. Depending on the type of wood, size of the project, the intricacy of the carving, and the desired finish, different methods may be more effective than others. Here are some of the most popular finishing methods:


Burning is a method that involves using a propane torch or other heat source to darken the wood and create a unique, rustic finish. This method is particularly effective for carvings with a lot of texture or detail, as the darkened areas can help to highlight these features. Typically, the raised areas will scorch and the deeper areas carved into the wood will remain closer to the natural wood color.

It should go without saying, but BE CAREFUL when using an open flame with wood! We don’t want unnecessary fires starting!


Staining is a good way to add color to a chainsaw carving and enhance the natural grain of the wood. There are many different colors and types of wood stain available, from transparent to opaque, and they can be applied with a brush or a rag.


Painting is another option for adding color to a chainsaw carving. Acrylic paints are a good choice, as they are easy to work with and dry quickly. Paint can be applied with a brush or a spray can, depending on the desired effect. When using paints, it is very important that the carving is fully dried to prevent the paint from pealing off prematurely.

Oil Finishes

Oil finishes are without question my favorite way to finish a chainsaw carving. They are a good way to protect the wood and enhance its natural beauty. There are many different types of oil finishes available, from linseed oil to tung oil, and they can be applied with a brush or sprayer. Oil finishes can also help to darken the wood and create a warm, rich look.

Using Oil Finishes on a Chainsaw Carving

When it comes to finishing a chainsaw carving, oil finishes are a popular choice. They provide a natural look and feel to the wood while also protecting it from the elements. Here are some common oil finishes to consider:

  • Deck sealer: This is possibly my favorite chainsaw carving sealant, while also being very cost effective. Deck sealants are designed to withstand outdoor elements, so they’re a perfect choice for exterior chainsaw carvings. They come in clear or tinted versions. Here’s a great one on Amazon: Exterior Deck Sealer
  • Linseed oil: This oil is made from flax seeds and is a popular choice for woodworkers. It dries slowly, which allows it to penetrate deeply into the wood, but it can also take a long time to fully cure.
  • Danish oil: This oil is a blend of linseed oil, varnish, and mineral spirits. It dries faster than pure linseed oil and provides a more durable finish.
  • Tung oil: This oil is extracted from the nuts of the tung tree and is known for its water resistance and durability. It dries slowly, but it provides a hard, protective finish.
  • Walnut oil: This oil is made from walnut shells and is a good choice for those who want a natural, food-safe finish. It dries quickly and provides a low-gloss finish.
  • Mineral oil: Another food-safe oil that is often used to finish cutting boards and other kitchen items. It provides a low-gloss finish and requires regular reapplication.
  • Oil-based polyurethane: This is a blend of oil and polyurethane that provides a durable, protective finish coating. It dries quickly and is easy to apply, but it may not provide as natural of a look as other oils and is also essentially an outer shell coating rather than a oil that soaks into the wood.

When using oil finishes, it’s important to apply them in thin coats and allow each coat to fully dry before applying the next. You can use a brush, cloth, or spray gun to apply the oil. Once the final coat is dry, you can buff the wood with a soft cloth to bring out the shine.

Applying the Finish to Chainsaw Carvings

I usually apply two to three coats of the finish, allowing the first layer to dry before applying the second coat. The finish helps protect the wood from moisture and UV damage, as well as giving the carving a nice sheen.

When applying the finish, it is important to use thin coats. Thick coats can lead to drips and an uneven finish. I usually apply the sealer with a brush, making sure to brush in the direction of the grain. This helps prevent brush marks and ensures a smooth finish.

After the finish has dried, I apply a second coat. This helps ensure good coverage and a more durable finish. Again, I apply the finish in thin coats, making sure to brush in the direction of the grain.

Once the second coat has dried, I inspect the carving for any missed spots or drips. If necessary, I touch up any areas that need it. Repeat the process one more time for a third coat.

Sealing and Varnishing

Once the chainsaw carving is complete, it’s important to protect it from the elements. Sealing and varnishing are two effective ways to do this.

I love to use marine spar varnish for sealing and varnishing my chainsaw carvings. It’s a durable and long-lasting option that provides excellent protection against water, UV rays, and other environmental factors. Additionally, marine spar varnish is resistant to cracking and peeling, which is important for maintaining the integrity of the carving.

Before applying the varnish, I make sure the carving is clean and dry. I use a soft-bristled brush to remove any debris from the surface. Then, I apply a thin coat of marine spar varnish using a brush or spray gun. I let the varnish dry for several hours before applying a second coat. I repeat this process until I achieve the desired level of protection and shine.

Another option for sealing and varnishing chainsaw carvings is clear coat. Clear coat is a type of protective coating that is applied directly to the surface of the carving. It’s available in both spray and brush-on forms and can provide a variety of gloss finishes, from matte to high-gloss.

Water-based polyurethane is another option for sealing and varnishing chainsaw carvings. It’s a clear, water-resistant coating that provides excellent protection against UV rays and other environmental factors. Water-based polyurethane is also easy to clean up with soap and water, making it a convenient choice for many carvers.

No matter which option you choose, it’s important to look for varnishes or sealers that contain UV inhibitors. These additives help to protect the carving from the damaging effects of sunlight and prevent fading over time.

Wrapping Up with Chainsaw Carving Safety Measures

When working with a chainsaw, safety should always be a top priority. In addition to the standard safety gear such as carving aprons, gloves, eye protection, and ear protection, there are additional protection measures that can be taken to ensure your safety while creating a chainsaw carving.

When working with a chainsaw, it is always a good idea to take additional protection measures. This can include wearing a face shield or respirator to protect your lungs from sawdust and other debris. It is also important to wear a hard hat to protect your head from falling branches or other objects.

Overall, the best protection when finishing a chainsaw carving is to be aware of your surroundings and to take all necessary precautions. By taking the time to add an extra layer of protection, and wearing additional safety gear, you can ensure your safety while creating a beautiful and unique piece of art.

Safe carving is Happy carving!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top