3 Easy Steps to Seal an Outdoor Wood Carving

Finishing wood usually depends on how and where it will be used. For outdoor purposes, you usually have to seal the wood properly. Because if you don’t, it can’t survive rain and other harsh elements outdoors. If you have just worked on a carving for this purpose and need help sealing, we have you covered. In this guide, we will tell you the 3 easy steps to seal an outdoor wood carving.

To seal an outdoor wood carving you have to follow 3 simple steps: Choose the sealer that prevents the carving from moisture and heat, then sand the wood to prepare the carving for the sealer, and finally apply multiple layers of the sealer with a paintbrush of your choice.

As simple as these steps may sound, there’s more to it than that. Just a heads up before we start — although these steps are going to make your outdoor carvings safe, know that sealers wear off. After a few years, you might have to reapply another coat on your wooden carving for protection. This will help in prolonging the life of the wood further.

Now with that out of the way, let us go through the 3 steps for sealing an outdoor wooden carving.

What is a Sealer?

Don’t be confused by the term sealer, instead, look at its meaning. A sealer is basically a coat that is going to seal the wood inside it. It is used to protect the wood from moisture and other elements. Sealers include things like drying oil, shellac, polyurethane, and paint. Stains are also included in wood sealers, but they darken the color of the grain.

The way sealers work is that sealers are absorbed in the grain of the wood and when they harden, they create a protective coat outside. This coat prevents the wooden surface from absorbing any moisture. Thus protecting it from mildew, rot, and cracking.

Usually, there are water-based sealers and oil-based sealers available in the market. The water-based ones dry off very quickly and are usually non-toxic, but not always. Most people use water-based sealers for their woodwork, they are easy to use, relatively affordable, and generally more popular.

Woodworkers who really want to bring out the best in their projects, apply oil-based sealers. These dry slowly, but the color of the wood deepens and the grain structure is more prominent when you use these.

Steps to Sealing an Outdoor Wooden Carving

When you seal a wooden carving, it is protected from water, sun degradation, and oxidation. It is also protected from molds, fungus, and rot, that eat at the wood from inside out. So here are some steps you can follow to seal an outdoor wooden carving: 

Step 1: Choosing the Correct Sealer

Choosing the right sealer is a big deal, with so many in the market, you might not know which one to choose. The one thing you need to focus on is whether the sealer will protect the wood carving from the harsh outdoors. In this regard, some products on the market protect your wood from moisture. But the outdoors has much more in store than just a little water.

Sun degradation is a huge part of why paints peel off in the outdoors. So a normal indoor sealer will not work very well against that since it is not meant to face the harmful UV rays that are in the sunlight. Some products have UV blockers or inhibitors that prevent sun degradation. Lastly, you want something that is eco-friendly and non-toxic.

One great choice for an outdoor sealer is the Minwax brand Helmsman Spar Urethane. It works great against the outdoor elements, specifically sun degradation.

Step 2: Preparing to Apply a Sealer

Before you start to apply the sealer on your wood, you might want to prepare it for the process. Some sealers require you to sand it first, wash the wood with soap, clean it, dry it properly and dust it off. Only then apply the sealer.

Usually, the instructions are mentioned on the manufacturer’s site or on the product itself, and most of the time you have to sand your wood in advance. If it is an oil-based sealer, you would not like your wood to be sanded finely. That is because then the pores are clogged and the oil does not get absorbed.

For water-based sealers, since water is less thick it can penetrate the wood better. It also dries off way faster than oil-based sealers, so there is that benefit too.

Also if you are applying the sealer outdoors, make sure there is no sign of rain. This is because it takes time for the sealer to cure and usually requires 2-3 coats before you are done. Since some sealers can be toxic and release fumes when used, you would usually stain your piece outdoors. In that case, check the forecast ahead and ensure there is no rain in the coming days.

If you can’t sand your piece because there are too many fine details on it, just clean it as well as you can. Though usually, you need to sand the wood before applying a sealer to remove marks. Not sanding the wood is not a large issue, however, just a recommendation and a “perfect practice”, as long as you make sure the piece is clean and there are no pieces of wood or dust on it.

Step 3: Applying the Sealer

To apply the sealer, you need to use a paintbrush of your choice. Usually, it has to be a big enough paintbrush that can cover enough surfaces. But make sure the brush isn’t too big either, so that it does not apply sealer inside the crevices of the carving.

Simply apply a thin coat of your sealer on the piece of wood that you have previously sanded and cleaned off thoroughly. If you have not sanded it, just ensure the piece is clean and apply a thin layer on it. Once you are done completely coating the wooden carving, let the carving dry in an open space.

Once it is dry, you want to sand the surface with fine sandpaper. The reason behind it is that the sealer gets absorbed by the pores of the wood and the grain thickens up. It gets raised and sticks out of the surface, so you need to sand the grain down a bit.

Once you are done sanding over the first coat to even the surface, time to apply the second one. Evenly apply another thin layer of your sealer on the wooden carving. Once complete, it is not crucial to sand the coat again since anything over one layer is sufficient for the wood, but it is generally recommended to seal the carving a third time for more protection and a better look too.

After 3-4 coats, you are going to have enough protection for the wood to last at least a year, this will depend on much the sealer gets damaged over time. Moisture is not going to damage your wood as much as the sun will. So try to keep the wood out of direct sunlight if possible. Even with UV inhibitors in your sealer, chances are it will wear off in a year or two. You will need to reapply the coats again to preserve your carving.

Be sure to take a look at this short 3-minute video for a more visual approach to how you can apply sealer to your carving. You can skip the first minute to get right to the demonstration!

Does Sealing a Carving Protect it From Rain?

The whole reason for sealing your wooden carving is to protect it from moisture. When you seal any wooden project, you do it to keep it from sustaining damage from water. If you apply enough coats of sealer to wood, it will protect your carving from rain or snow.

Rain is the least of the things you need to worry about when sealing your outdoor wood carving. Just ensure that there is enough UV protection in the sealer otherwise you will start to see damage on it within a year. Sun degradation is worse than moisture, in the sense that it wears off finish and sealers faster than rain or snow will.

For more information, here is an article on how you can make your carvings waterproof.

Keep in mind, outdoor wood and indoor wood carvings require different sealers. Though you can use outdoor wood sealers on the one indoors, the same cannot be said about the opposite. Because outdoor sealers have components that protect them from the sun, rain, snow, and other elements. While indoor furniture is well protected from most elements.


Can you seal outdoor furniture the same way as mentioned above?

Yes, you can, the process is the same when it comes to applying sealer to any outdoor wooden project. Though furniture might require more frequent coatings since it gets wear and tears from being used.

What is better between oil-based sealers and water-based sealers?

Both sealers provide a similar level of protection from moisture to wood. It boils down to what kind of finish would you like to keep on it? Do you want a deeper grain color? Or keep the wood as it is? For the deeper color of the wood grain, oil-based sealers are the best. If you just want it to dry fast, just use a water-based sealer.

Can I use the same sealer for interior furniture?

Yes, you can, just make sure that the sealer is non-toxic. The job of the sealer is to strengthen the wood surface and make a protective layer around it. So whether you use it on interior wood or exterior, it does not matter as long as it does not have toxic elements.

Do you have to sand after applying the first coat of sealer?

When you apply the first coat of sealer, it is absorbed by the wood. The wooden pores get sealed off and the grain also rises up a bit. To ensure the second coating clings and that the surface of the wood is even, you need to sand it. 

How often do I need to reapply a coating of the sealer afterward?

Usually, this depends on the condition of the wooden carving. You need to check on the wooden carving every once in a while to see its condition. If the condition deteriorates you need to apply another coat of the sealer once you sand off the previous one.

Final Thoughts

Sealing wood is an important part of working with it. Sealing protects the wood from the elements and depending on the components of the sealant, it will protect it from more than just moisture. Just follow the steps mentioned above and you will be able to seal your wood carvings without any hassle whatsoever.

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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