A Whittler’s Guide To Wood Carving Treatment

Whittling is probably the most popular and simple wood-carving technique out there. The process of just using a knife on a small piece is appealing to many, even those who’re not interested in knowing the nuances of wood carving. But if you’re reading this article, you’re looking for something more, you’re ready to take it to the next stage.

After mastering the basics of chipping away at wood, you’re probably looking forward to knowing how to treat/finish/seal wood carving. The treatment process is very important because of how long your carving will last depends on it. This article will teach you how to do that and provide you with insights into the best wood carving treatment practices.

How to Protect Wood Carvings Outside

If you plan to keep your wood carving creation outside the house, then the biggest obstacles you’re going to face are the sun, rain, and insect attacks. While some wood species are resistant to these elements in varying degrees, even they don’t fare well in the long run without treatment. So, the importance of wood carving treatment cannot be stressed enough.

Wood carvings for outdoor decorations can be both small and large, but the treatment process more or less remains the same. The first most common damage caused by wood by environmental elements is cracking and splitting. Woods tend to crack and split over time naturally. While you can’t prevent it from happening, you can definitely slow the process. There best way to do it is by sealing.

If you would like to know more about sealing then We have a dedicated article for you that discusses how to seal an outdoor wood carving. Be sure to check out the article for more information about Sealing.


Sealing comes with many advantages which have made it an indispensable part of woodworking. The main purpose of sealing is to increase the longevity and durability of a wooden surface. There are 4 main ways of wood sealing- smoothing and staining, using polyutherane, using shellac, and using lacquer.

Once the wood starts to rot, cracks and splits start to appear. This problem is especially severe during winter, which is why wood sealing is a must if you’re serious about preserving furniture and woodwork.

Staining used to be considered very similar to sealing in the application process, but with one major difference- sealing is done to protect the surface while staining is done to enhance the surface’s beauty. In the past staining used to be done separately after sealing to get the best results for wood surface treatment. But these days there are wood preservation mixtures that contain the properties of both at the same time. As a result, the terms sealing and staining are used interchangeably these days.

Sealing wood via staining is not difficult and can be done in a couple of easy steps anyone can follow:

·         First you need to prepare the surface area to makes sure it’s dust-free. To do so, wipe the target surface with a hand or electric sander until the surface becomes smooth. When using sandpaper, start with the lowest grit sandpaper and finish off with the highest grit sandpaper available. While sanding the surface, make sure to sand the wood grain as well. This will ensure consistency and prevent swirly marks.

·         Once the surface area has been sanded and smoothed, you need to focus on cleaning all the sawdust that has resulted from sanding the wood. Use a clean, dry, white piece of cloth to clean the surface, it will make things easier. Wipe the surface several times to ensure it’s dust-free. On a final note, never use water in this process, it will ruin the sealant’s effectiveness.

After dusting the surface area, use a brush to paint the sealant on it with slow, firm strokes. While painting the sealant on the surface area, there will be some excess residue. Wipe the residue sealant with a dry piece of cloth and let it set. Once the sealant has dried off, wipe over it again to remove any remaining residue.

Using polyurethane for sealing wood is very popular among professional woodcarvers and furniture makers. There are three types of polyurethane sealers in the market- oil-based, water-based and synthetic-based polyurethane. Each type comes with its own pros and cons, so do your research to ascertain which one fits your needs if you intend to follow this route for sealing the wood. Here are the steps to applying:

·         First use a dry piece of cloth to wipe the surface clean.

·         Once the surface has been wiped clean, use a brush or dry rag to apply the polyurethane mixture evenly over the surface. Make sure to apply generously on the wood grain as well since it’s the most absorbent part of the surface. Once applied, leave it to dry for a bit before wiping the surface with a piece of cloth to remove excess residue.

·          After removing the excess residue, it’s time to the sand the polyurethane coated surface to add the final touch. Similar to sanding in the staining described above, start smoothing the surface using low grit sandpaper and increase the grit count the smoother the surface gets.

Though a less commonly used technique, using shellac for sealing wood is still a popular wood treatment method around the globe. The main drawback of using shellac is that’s meant to preserve wood indoors, not outdoors since it doesn’t have waterproofing capabilities. As a result, its sealing and protective capabilities are a bit different from staining and polyurethane agents.

Shellac is mostly used for wood finishing rather than wood protection due to its ability to enhance the look of the surface. They come in various colors and have a wax-like form that makes it less messy to use compared to liquid and paint based wood sealers. Here are the steps to using shellac properly:

·         First find yourself a brush with hard bristles. If you have the habit of waxing your shoes, then the process is very similar. Dab one end of the brush into the shellac container.

·         Now use the smudge of shellac that stuck with the bristles to even apply all over the surface in straight lines. The main challenge of applying shellac properly is applying it quickly enough before the lines dry out. If they do dry one after another, the difference becomes apparent.

·          Once the shellac has been applied over the surface, let it dry before giving it one final wipe.

The last technique on this list is sealing the wood with lacquer. Lacquering is usually used when large wood surfaces have to be sealed, which is why it is applied using a spray gun with a nozzle sprayer. The process is complicated, so it’s not recommended for new users. Extra safety measures should be taken beforehand to ensure the lacquer doesn’t accidentally spray on your face or skin.

Applying lacquer is a bit sensitive and it has to be applied in multiple layers. The coating for each layer has to be thin; applying a thick layer ruins the sealing effect. Each coat of spray has to be applied on top of the last layer until 3-4 layers of lacquer coating have been applied on the surface.  

How to Finish Your Carving

There are different ways to add the finish to your wood-carving, each technique having its own unique benefit. With so many options to choose from, naturally, it might be a bit confusing to newcomers as to how to finish their wood-carving. In truth, there is no best way to finish your wood-carving project. Rather it depends on a couple of factors that determine what finish will yield the best results.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when deciding how to finish your carving project:

·         What type of carving it is

·         What kind of finish best suits the timber surface. There are three types of finish used in wood- carving- matte, semi-matte, and gloss. Basically, it mainly depends on what species of wood you’re using for the project.

·         What sealing technique best suits the wood.

Based on what your requirements are after weighing in these questions will determine how you’re going to finish your wood carving. The best practice would be to experiment with different finishes in small blocks of wood before starting a project to find out the best finish for your project. This allows you to be more flexible and learn new techniques as required.

Wood Carving Finishing Tips

Want to know some easy tips and tricks for your next wood-carving project? Whether you’re a rookie or a seasoned wood-carver, these tips and tricks will make your wood-caring projects easier and faster!

·         Using a wooden scraper instead of steel one can be more effective if you’re a novice. When preparing the surface for the finish, scraping is often required. But in the hands of a rookie, a steel scraper can create nicks on the surface, ruining it partially or entirely. You can make one at home easily using garage tools.

·         If you’re working on multiple pieces of wood for a project, the most effective way to dry them in the finishing process is to hang them by chains to save space. Each alternate link of the chain can be used to hang blocks of wood vertically or horizontally, allowing for flexibility in positioning.

·         When working with bowls, vases and other small objects finishing the bottoms can often be troublesome. By using staples to slightly elevate a wooden block, you can easily make finishing bottoms for bowls, vases, and other small objects by rotating them in any direction you want.

·         If you’re working on wooden frames for paintings or other purposes, metal cans can hold the frame up for you easily. Use cans of the same dimensions to hoist the frame up from all four corners and you can easily get any angle you want to work on.

·         Another effective way to hold up heavy objects is to seal them easily is using triangular cut-offs. These cut-offs can be easily made in your workshop space can be used for wood-carving projects of any size

·         Your brush’s bristles can harden over time, making it difficult for you to seal wood properly. You can use dish detergent to clean your brushes, which in turn will make the bristles soft again.

·          For finishing circular objects that have holes in them, using a dowel rod or hanger to bunch them together can speed up the sealing process.

·         Make paint covers from leftover blocks of wood. Using them when you’re sealing the surface can help prevent drips and splashing, reducing the amount of mess you have to deal with when cleaning up.

Best Sealer Before Painting

There are different sealing agents out in the market offered by different brands, but not all of them deliver the promised results. So the best thing that you can do is research the products and read reviews before making a purchase. Fortunately for you, here is a list of the best sealing agent brands for the four types of sealing processes.

·         Best Wood Stainer for Wood Carving:

·         Best Oil-based Polyurethane for Wood Carving: ZAR 34107 United Gilsonite Oil Based Polyurethane Wood Finish

·         Best Water-based Polyurethane for Wood Carving: Minwax 63333444 Polycrylic Protective Finish Water-Based,1 quart

·         Best Synthetic-based Polyurethane for Wood Carving: Minwax 630150444 Minwax Water Based Oil-Modified Polyurethane, quart, Gloss

·         Best Shellac for Wood Carving: Liberon BDS500G 500g Dewaxed Shellac 

·         Best Lacquer for Wood Carving: Minwax Water-Base Wipe-On Polyurethane 16fl oz

All of the above-mentioned products can be found on Amazon and other large e-commerce platforms, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding them.

Applying Oil To Your Carving

Applying oils is also a very effective way to preserve wood though it has a bad reputation resulting from misconception. They’re very effective finishing agents because the ingredients used in finishing oils are all-natural. As a result, the cons of chemical finishing agents won’t affect the wood itself. Using oils to finish wood-carvings or furniture is very economical as well as they cost less than industrial-grade finishing agents.

The only oil that you should be avoiding is linseed oil, as this oil attracts dust to the surface easily. Oil residue is also much easier to remove than other sealing agents, making oils more suitable for small carving projects.   

The Final Take-Away

Now that you know all the basics of different wood treatment techniques, you should have an easier time figuring out which finish will be right for your project. If you’re new to all this, practice and experiment as much as possible to learn fast. That way, you get the best results out of your wood-carving skills.

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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