How To Prepare Basswood For Staining In 3 Steps

Basswood it’s a soft wood, ideal for woodcarving and moreover perfect for whittling just with a knife. Its light color can be easily stained. Moreover, if you want a darker finish or let’s say a richer color on your basswood you need to stain it accordingly. A lot of us struggle with this part and we all know that a bad stain or paint can ruin the greatest carving. From my experience, it is really not the bad staining, in most cases, it’s the bad preparation of the wood before stain/paint that causes an unpleasant outcome.

To stain basswood you need to first sand it in stages until you reach a smooth surface, then paint your carving using water-based or oil-based paint, and after that, you finally apply your choice of sealer to finish your carving. In cases where you don’t want the wood to absorb the paint, you can seal the wood twice, once before and once after painting it.

Basswood absorbs the staining products really well. But if you need a richer stain or something more, stay tuned to find some tricks and tips. Keep in mind that in this article we are talking about staining basswood, any other wood may need a different kind of preparation, or the results may appear to be different.

Step 1: Sanding

I know sanding is one of the most time costuming things when you carve, it needs a lot of patients and good music to get through it!

When you want to stain your Basswood it’s nice to sand it first. It will give your carving a smooth surface to work through. Moreover, sanding] it will help the stain be absorbed by your wood easily.

           Some carvers like the rough look of a knife or a chisel. You can skip step one if you want a rougher look.

Start sanding your carving by using 100 grit sandpaper. Sand your carving and then brush off sawdust between your grits.

  • Continue sanding with a 180 grit sandpaper.
  • Repeat your sanding with a 240 grit sandpaper.
  • Wet your carving to raise the grain (Especially when sanding basswood). Wetting the wood will bring out all the natural grain off the wood.
  • Use a 240 grit sandpaper-again. Sand it and continue to 400 grit sandpaper.
  • Turn on your music, or watch a rainy day from your window remember patients is the key to good wood.
  • Wet your wood again and WET sand it on 800 grit.
  • Continue by wet sanding it again, but this time on a 1200 grit.
  • Last step, clean it of any excess sawdust and let your carving dry.

Step 2: Paint Your Carving.

Use of paint. Some carvers don’t like to paint their creations at all, some others like to paint spots to pop up details on their carving. Personally, I think, it depends on the carving, some carving may look better if you apply some paint and some others if you just stain it.

Before applying any paint on your carving if you didn’t sand your creation, make sure that you have clean cuts on your carving.

  • Paint your carving, or parts of your carving and let it dry. You can use water based paints(acrylics) or oil-based paints (oil paints take a longer time to dry, so be patient). There is a lot to be discussed about the type of paint you need to use, but for now, either will do.

Step 3: Finish It With a Sealer.

Finishing your carving with a sealer will give it a glossy or a matt look (depending on the product you will use) but more important it will protect your carving from weathering. At this point you can use danish oil, linseed oil, beeswax, odies oil, varnish or even your own finish.

  • Apply your product with a brush or a cloth and then buff off the excess product for a nice polish.

Pay attention to the manufacture label, some of the products are extremely flammable so follow the instructions on how to save them and how to throw away the cloths that were used to puff off the excess product.



If you use water-based paint, it is nice to use a water-based finish. It will give your carving a smoother look. Or you can use a more natural finish, like beeswax odies oil or any other product that you love.

  • When you clean the excess product, buff the carving gently with a Scotch-Brite pad or a 2000 grit sandpaper
  • Repeat the process. Coat again if you want. Usually, I repeat the processes 3 times. It’s a personal preference. Sealing it ones is enough.

Step 1 ½: Sealing Your Wood Before You Paint It.

 I know that this isn’t quite the correct order of steps, but the above method is great if you want your paint or your stain to penetrate the wood. If you don’t want that kind of result you need to seal your wood before you use any stain or paint.

Sealing your wood plays a major role in achieving the required results when you are staining your carvings. You need to know that is a fact that basswood is thirsty as heck by its nature, and will soak anything like a sponge.

  • Apply polyurethane with paint thinner at a ratio 3:2 (60%  varnish and 40% of paint thinner). Or a simple way, you can use boiled linseed oil.
  • Let it dry, sometimes it will take 24 hours, depending on the thickness of your carving.
  • Use a Scotch-Brite pad or a 2000 grit sandpaper to clean the little fuzzy stuff,
  • At last, paint your carving, using oil paints-more comparable but you can also use acrylic paints too.

No matter what kind of paints you use always start with light colors!


Step 2 ½: Painting And Letting The Grain Show.

Another strange step. You can paint your carving without hiding the grain on the wood. You can achieve that with thinner paint. But you need to be careful because as I mention above basswood is super approving and will absorb anything.

  • Thin your paint, if you are using watercolor with water, and if you are using oil paints with paint thinner.
  • Apply it to your carving

The more water you use, the more faded your painting will be, and the grain will show more.

When you dilute acrylics with water, some of the adhesive properties are lost and the color itself appears chalky, not translucent/transparent.
When you dilute acrylics with the purpose-made acrylic medium (matte/satin/gloss), what you see is thinned, vibrant color.



Stains are normally used on unsealed wood. When you use stains on wood without sealing the wood, the stains will penetrate the wood. If you do not like the color and want to change it to a lighter tone, you will have to re-carve your project to get rid of the dark stain and then re-apply a different stain.

My best advice is before you apply any stain on your carving, use a piece of the wood you used for your project, make few cuts in it, apply the stain, and let it dry. It should give you a rough idea of how your carving will look.

Final Thoughts

Staining your carving is fairly easy. Follow the steps and you will be amazed by the look of your carving. Explore the above idea and make it your own. That’s the meaning of the woodcarving too. Take a basic idea experiment, explore with it, and make it your own.

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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