How To Finish a Wood Carving – 5 Different ways

When it comes to creating a finish in wood carving there are a few ways you can approach this task. From lacquer to oils to wax, we will discuss the different ways you can apply a shiny finish to your wood carving.

To create a finish for your wood carving use sandpaper or scrapers, wash, and clean the wood. After that, apply lacquer or any other preferred form of finish in multiple coats, removing raised fibers between each layer.

We will elaborate on every step of the process in more detail, but before we do, it is important for you to know one thing.

Never burn wood if you have applied any form of a coating such as lacquer or paint on your wood carving. This is very dangerous and you should never do it.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the first step.

1. Sandpaper for a shiny finish

Depending on the amount of smoothing needed, you will need to use a different sandpaper grain. The higher the grit number the smoother the paper is.

Depending on your project you may choose to use a lower grit sandpaper if the wood needs more sanding, especially if your piece is a little larger, on the other side, for projects that need less sanding or smaller projects, you can go as high as 800 grip sandpaper for a softer sanding.

Be careful when sanding details of your wood carving, it’s better to switch to a higher grit sandpaper for areas such as the “nose of a gnome” or other easy to damage areas.

The Different Finishes

There are many different finishes that you can apply to your piece. One prefered finish for woodcarvers is clear or natural paste wax. However, there are other good alternatives that we will go into.

2. Finishing with Wax

For a full guide on finishing with wax, you can read our article by pressing here. There you will read how you should apply beeswax for the best possible results.

For a more general understanding of the process check out the summary below.

Wax has always been the most common finish for all forms of woodworking, wood-carving being no exception. One of the main advantages of wax is how easy it is to apply and reapply on any wood surface.

There are other advantages that wax holds. For example wax also serves as a good barrier for protection and dust build-up prevention as well as water resistance. Wax is also easy to remove and easy to rebuff to shine.

Here is a quick guide on what you should do to apply wax:

  1. Sandpaper the wood first. Not doing so is acceptable but will not lead to the best possible results
  2. Apply the wax with a lint free cloth or brush
  3. Leave it to dry for 10-15 minutes
  4. Buff with brush or clean lint free cloth

3. Deft Spray Finish

You can also use deft spray lacquer. It dries very quickly and leaves a very professional looking smooth finish.

When using deft spray you do not want to use too much of it. Put thin layers one after another that leaves the wood looking “finished”.If you put too much it will become a wooden mirror, and that never looks good, so try to avoid it.

There are a few important things to remember when using deft spray, it is pretty hard to get right from the first time so it’s a good idea to practice on a piece of wood first.

  1. Don’t stop after you start spraying the wood. You want everything to be as smooth as possible. At a continuous pace, spray the wood left to right changing directions to spray the lower if you have to.
  2. Leave it for 24 hours. Do as little to it as possible, do not touch it until a full day has passed
  3. Use steel wool or 600 grit sandpaper between layers
  4. Repeat the process until the wood is smooth and no pores are visible, do not to sandpaper through the coating.

4. Oil Finish

You can also use tung oil on your wood carving, tung oil is a little different from sprays. You need to let the wood absorb it. So here is a manual on how to use tung oil:

Tung oil is best for finishes that you want to look sturdy and solid. Furniture is the best example of a project that you need to use tung oil for.

As an alternative, you can also use Danish oil instead of tung oil is you are doing something more decorative and something you want to look as nice as possible.

If you are wood carving a wall panel you can use danish oil as it will give your work a very beautiful finish.

Here is a quick simple manual on how to use tung oil or danish oil:

  1. Apply on wood and let it sit for 10 minutes
  2. After the 10 minutes, wipe off excess
  3. Wait at least 24 hours before the next coat
  4. Repeat 3-4 times

You can also finish off with a spray after tung oil. You can use Deft spray or whatever you usually, it can even be paste wax or liquid wax.

If you use a cloth to apply oil it must be destroyed or laid flat to dry. If it is left scrunched up it can self-combust.


5. Polyurethane

If you are working on larger projects such as a wooden table you may consider using polyurethane.

Polyurethane provides a shiny coat that is very durable, much more durable than any of the above methods we covered, but it may not be as majestic as something like danish oil, instead, it looks good, solid but quite basic.

Here is a guide on how to apply polyurethane on your wood carving:

  1. Sandpaper the surface
  2. Wipe the surface to remove all wood dust from it
  3. Paint a coat of polyurethane
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 enough times until the wood is smooth and no pores are visible, be gentle when sandpapering, do not to sandpaper through the coating.

You can also add a secret Ingredient for some more shine if you would like your project to look a little more glossy.

Add a Secret Ingredient For a Shiny Finish

It is important to say that most woodcarvers do not like a shiny finish as it makes the final product look a little fake and cheap. With that said there are exceptions where you can, and should try your best to make a wood carving shine.

To do that, you will need restore a shine finish polishing compound. This is the secret ingredient by the way…

After you have applied your finish, whether it’s tung oil, wax, or lacquer you can use it is safe on all clear coat finishes.

The best projects to use it on are things like musical instruments, furniture, and flooring.

It is fun to try and make your woodcarving to shine, but trust us, it will not look nice. So don’t waste your money unless your project requires the finish to be very eye-catching and shiny.

Tips on Wood Finishing

We found a very useful video that gives 12 tips when applying a finish on wood.

The video is not focused on wood carving rather it is more for furniture carpenters. However, very similar principals work with your wood carved pieces!

If you have a few minutes watch this before applying a finish on your wood piece as it may inspire you to a change it up a little.

Highlight Specific Areas

If you have a larger wood carving you should consider the areas that you want to stand out more than others.

This especially makes sense if you are relief carving, as some areas will have a natural shadow and other areas will be better exposed to the light.

You can watch this short 3-minute video of a relief carving being finished with oil and lacquer. The application of the finish is strategical, and depends on the lighting that the project will get.

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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