Complete Guide To Painting Your Wood Carving

While the beauty of furniture or wooden sculpture primarily comes from the form and detail, the inclusion or exclusion of color also plays a huge role in determining the final look of the piece. While mostly used in furniture making, many woodcarvers also opt to add finish to their work by painting their piece. Coloring a wood carving piece mostly depends on the purpose or personal choice.

If you want to finish your wood carving pieces but don’t know how, this article will help learn everything you need to know to do so. We will start off with what kind of paint you should use to, the pro’s and con’s of painting on wood, the preparation process, and a step-by-step guide of the actual painting process itself.

What Type of Paint Should You Use for Wood Carvings

While there are a lot of different types of paint in the market, not all of them are good for painting on wood. The two types of paint primarily favored by furniture makers and woodcarvers are acrylic and opaque. Both of these paints give off a different finish. This also means the surface preparation processes for the acrylic and opaque paints are different as well.  

Preparing the Sealer

Before you start painting, you need to prepare the wood surface properly. Otherwise, you won’t be able to obtain the best results. First, you need to sand the entire surface using a 220 grit sandpaper. ‘Sand’ is the term used by woodcarvers and furniture makers that refers to smoothing a wooden surface. Once the surface has been sanded thoroughly, use canned air to blow away the residue dust from the surface.

Preparation And Application of Acrylic Paint

When applying acrylic paint, the first thing you need to do is apply glaze seal on the wooden surface you want to paint. This will the paint from spreading thin being botched, which will make your job much easier. On the glazed seal has been applied, leave the piece out for a couple of hours to dry. Once dried, the surface is ready for paint.

In the initial stage apply a thin coating of acrylic paint on the surface. Wait for the surface to absorb the paint, and if it doesn’t, it means you glazed the surface too much, Too much glazing can lead the surface to becoming slippery and unable to absorb the paint properly. In these instances you need to use a thinner to thin the coating a bit and try applying a fresh coat of paint to see if it gets absorbed evenly.

As a rule of thumb, soft woods usually require a thicker coat of seal, while hard woods require a thinner layer of seal. Decide on the sealing mixture beforehand, not once the carving is finished. Chances are that applying  the sealer will raise the wood grain. Even out the rough spots using 220 sand grit paper and run your fingers over the surface to ensure smoothness.   

Preparation And Application of Opaque Paints

When it comes to using opaque paints, the preparation process is a bit different from acrylic paints. The general rule of thumb is to mix one part of thinner with two parts of paint in proper ratio. The paint will be applied in multiple coats (layers), so you can either create a base coating using one color or multiple colors depending on your choice.

Using multiple coats of paints allows you to concoct versatile shades of color easily without making a mess. If you plan on using dry brush techniques, this will really help you a lot. You’ll have to apply the paint with a brush, so make sure apply the mixture evenly and smoothly.

To ensure that you get a smooth coat of paint, you can use a simple trick. All you have to do is thin the mixture slightly using some water. Instead of applying one layer, you paint two thin layers on top of one another. Make sure to let the first coat of paint dry if you intend to follow this route, or else it might get botched.  

Pros of Painting Your Wood Carving

Like any other technique, there are both pros and cons of painting your wood carving or furniture. You need to weigh on these points yourself and decide whether painting your woodwork will be a good or bad option down the line. Let’s start with the pros first: 

1. Makes the Piece Easy to Maintain

Unlike stain polish, which needs to replaced frequently every couple of years, a paint coating is a much more viable option for wooden surface protection. This makes your wood carving piece easy and less expensive to maintain. Just make sure to use high-quality paint that doesn’t peel or chalk off.

2. More Options

When you opt for coloring your wood carving piece, you open up a whole world of shade and sheen options to choose from. Not only that, but different base options such as latex and oils also add another factor that mixes things up a bit. To create cohesion and a sense of unity, using subtle shades of the same color is the most effective.

But if you want to create contrasting pieces that stand out from each other, using different colors entirely is also a viable option. Since this can easily get tacky if not coordinated tastefully, make sure that the colors go with each other,

3. Easy to Apply

Compared to some kinds of stains, paint can be much easier to apply to wooden surfaces. Paint also allows for the surfaces to be easily recoated over time without the need for stripping the area back down to the wood.

Paint is easier to apply on wooden than stains, which immediately gives it an advantage if you’re a newcomer to wood carving. Another thing to consider is that you can repaint over the previous layer of paint if you choose to do so. This means you don’t need to scrape off the previous coating down to the wood’s surface unlike stain products.

4. Can Hide Flaws Easily

If you have an old piece of wood furniture or wood carving piece, painting it is the best way to preserve its look. While it won’t end up making it look as good as new, it will definitely help to hide the flaws on the wood’s surface such as nicks, scratches, etc. This can also be helpful if a piece you’re working on has minor flaws.

Cons of Painting Your Wood Carving

While paint jobs on wood carving come with its distinct advantages, it also has some disadvantages as well. Here are the main disadvantages to painting your wood carving.

1. Moisture Retention

Probably the biggest argument that can be made against painting wood carving is that it traps and retains moisture. When moisture is trapped between the payer of paint and the wood’s surface, it causes expansion and contraction within the wood. This can affect the physical dimensions of the wood.

2. Paint is Difficult to Remove

While being a quality protection option, you need to make sure that your color choice for painting a wood surface is final. Once painted, removing it from a wooden surface can be expensive, difficult, and time-consuming. To protect yourself from such a situation, make sure that your project is geared towards a natural or colored look from the very beginning.

3. Recurring Potential Problems

It should be noted that painting doesn’t resolve more intricate issues like peeling or bubbling, which is dependant on the surface itself. If a wood surface already has this problem, these problems will pop up in the future regardless of paint application.

5 Steps To Painting Your Carving

Once you’re finished with your carving, make sure to clean up the working area properly or else the residue will affect the painting process. Make sure to wash it before starting the painting process, especially if it is intricately detailed. You can use a toothbrush in the cleaning process. Dry the wood carving once its washed. You can use a painting stick for drying your carving if it’s a small piece. You can also hang them if you want to dry.

1. Prepare the surface

First, prepare the surface using a stainer/sealer or a mixture of linseed oil and spirit mixed in an equal ratio. Swipe the excess stainer/sealer from the carving and leave it to dry overnight.

2. Thin the paint

Once the sealing coat has been applied, it’s time to paint the piece. Whether you’re using acrylic or opaque paint, you need to thin it first. Most people use water to thin the paint, but you can also add in window or glass cleaners along with the water. The advantage of using cleaners is that it doesn’t raise the grain of the wood.

Another advantage of a water and cleaner mixture is that you can clean your brushes in it as well. The standard thinning formula is one part paint mixed with seven parts of the thinning mixture

3. Test the paint and the brush

 Make sure the paint isn’t so thick that the wood’s grain doesn’t show. If you see that happening, thin the paint more. The best way to do that is by applying a little bit of the paint on a scrap piece of wood that is the same or similar to the wood of your carving.

Make sure to use a good quality brush to ensure that the paint is being spread properly over the surface of the wood.

4. Paint your carivng

Paint your carving! Try to distribute the paint evenly. Once you’re done painting your carving, let it sit out in the open to dry,

5. Seal it

After your carving has dried, add a final coating of boiled linseed oil or any other sealer you like using the paint brush. This will not only make your carving paper better but will also greatly increase the durability and lifespan of your work.

Alternative Final Touches

Boiled linseed oil isn’t the only final finishing touch you can add to your wood carving. Here are a couple of alternative options as well.

  • You can spray or brush-on polyurethane sealer on your wood carving after painting it.
  • You can apply a mixture of linseed oil mixed with turpentine.
  • You can also opt for Tung oil or Danish oil.

Basic Tips For Painting Your Wood Carving

  • If you’re looking to create a custom color shade, start by adding the light colors before adding in the dark ones. That way you will require less dark color in the painting process.
  • Mixing colors on aluminum foil ensures that you don’t have to clean up a mess afterward.
  • To make sure you don’t add too much water or thinner in the mix, use an eyedropper.
  • To ascertain whether the paint has been thinned enough, paint it on a newspaper. If the print on the paper is visible the mixture is ready for application
  • Make sure to score the wood lightly between colors to separate them.


With all the basics of painting on wood discussed above, you shouldn’t have any more confusion or problems on how to approach it. The first couple of times might get a bit messy, but with practice, you’ll master the process.

Martin Swizz

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

Recent Posts