How to Repair a Cracked Wood Carving

Your wood carving is your favorite piece of artwork in your home right now. But as the months and years drag on, you notice something amiss with your beloved wood carving: It’s beginning to crack. Fortunately, repairing a cracked wood carving is affordable and can be done at home.

To repair a cracked wood carving, you’ll need sandpaper, wood filler, and wood stain. Wipe the carving down with a dry cloth and find an open area to work. Then, you’re going to fill the cracks with wood filler or wood shims, use sandpaper to smooth the wood, and stain the whole piece.

The process of repairing a cracked wood carving on your own is pretty easy. Yet, cutting corners or skipping steps might end up ruining the sculpture altogether. So, follow along as we teach you step-by-step how to repair cracked wood carvings!

Figure Out What’s Causing the Cracking

Before you repair your beloved wood carving, you first want to figure out why it’s cracking in the first place. Otherwise, you might have to go through this entire process again when the cracking returns.

In most cases, your wood carving is cracking because it’s dried too quickly. There are some precautions that you can take to avoid any potential cracking on your Wood carving project.

It might take years or even decades for a log or a piece of wood to naturally dry completely. 

Wood usually starts drying on the outer surface first and then begins to work its way inward. When the wood is exposed to conditions where the outer layer dries faster than the inner layers, the outside will shrink too rapidly.

That’s where the splitting and cracking comes from.

Drying too quickly often comes from the environment that your wood carving is in. This is usually caused by direct sunlight, sudden temperature changes, and extreme heat.

Keep this in mind as you continue through this tedious repair process.

Gather Sandpaper, Wood Filler, and Wood Stains

Before you get to sanding down your wood carving, you want to make sure that you have all of the necessary equipment on hand and ready-to-use. The last thing you want to do is put this project on a brief hold as you make another trip to Home Depot.

Here’s a list of what you’re going to need for this project:

  • Sandpaper (preferably 100 grit and 120 grit)
  • Wood filler
  • Wood stain
  • Paintbrushes
  • Palette knives
  • An apron (or clothes you don’t mind getting dirty)
  • Dry and clean rags
  • Newspapers or tarp to put on the floor
  • Gloves and a breathing mask (optional for safety)

This is the bare minimum equipment that you’ll need to complete this project in one go-around. If the cracking on your wood carving is more severe and needs a little extra elbow grease, you might need the following as well:

  • Grinder
  • Wood shims
  • X-Acto blades (or a pocket knife)
  • A hammer

Now that you’ve gathered up all of the supplies you’re going to need, it’s time to set-up shop and get this project off the ground.

Find an Open Area to Set Up Shop 

It doesn’t matter how tiny or how massive your cracked wood carving is. You’re going to be using materials that stain easily and produce toxic fumes. 

That means you want to choose an area of your home (or yard) with great lighting, incredible airflow, isn’t too hot, and is allowed to get a little dirty. 

A shed, a garage, a patio, or a large backyard would work well.

To set up your own little “workshop,” the first thing you want to do is put down a thick layer of newspapers, a large tarp, or something that’ll keep your floors clean. Then, you’re going to gather all of your supplies in one place and put them within reach of where you plan to work.

Note: While you can work outside while fixing your wood carving, you don’t want your piece to be exposed to the elements directly. Avoid working outdoors when it’s very hot, sunny, or rainy.

It’s time to get to work!

Clean Off the Carving With a Dry Rag

The first thing you need to do is wipe down your wood carving with a dry and clean rag. This will help you get rid of any dust, debris, or dirt that may be hiding on your wood carving. 

These things will make it difficult for the filler and the stain to adhere to the wood later on. Make sure to put a little extra focus on the cracked areas when wiping your piece down.

You may think that water will be the best way to get rid of all of the dirt.

But you should never use water on your wood carving as you’re about to work on it. 

In fact, using water directly on your wood carving will force the wood to absorb the water. That means the wood will have to dry out again, which makes future cracking even more likely!

Once your wood carving is as dust-free or possible, it’s time to fill those cracks.

Fill Large Cracks With Glue & Wood Shims (Optional)

When it comes to wood carvings, you’ll want to fill the larger cracks first. Unfortunately, your wood carving might have massive and noticeable cracks if it’s been stored in direct sunlight or hot temperatures.

To fix these larger cracks, you’ll need wood shims and glue.

Wood shims are just narrow pieces of wood that are a little thicker at one end than the other. 

The goal is to simply jam a shim into a larger and wider crack to fill the hole with actual wood before sanding it down and staining it. To make this process easier, you’ll want to choose wood shims of similar color to the current color of the wood carving.

The Nelson Wood Pine Shims Pro Pak is a great choice in most cases. The thickness of these wood shims ranges from ¼” to 1/32” to help you to fill cracks of all sizes. Since it comes in a pack of 120, you won’t be running out to get more anytime soon.

Here’s what you’ll need to do to fill those giant cracks in your wood carvings:

  • See if the wood shim will fit into the crack without any modifications.
  • Using an X-Acto blade or a pocket knife, shave down the wood shim so that it’ll fit into the crack snugly.
  • Remove the wood shim and apply glue to the bottom.
  • Using your own strength or a hammer, secure the shim inside of your carving’s crack.
  • Wipe away any glue that’s dripping from the piece.

Now that you have the wood shim securely lodged in the crack, you need to get your grinder out. Use your electric grinder to smooth down the wood shim so that it fits in-line with the rest of the wood on the carving.

There’s a learning curve when it comes to repairing large cracks and splits in the carvings. So, take a look at this video that’ll walk you through this step more in-depth:

Use Food Filler to Fill Any Smaller Cracks

Once the larger cracks are filled, you’ll want to begin working on the smaller cracks taking away from the perfection of the piece. This process is a lot easier than the previous step.

For this step, you’ll need a filler and a palette knife.

Many wood fillers will come in a tube that you can squeeze into the narrow wood cracks. It’s also a good idea to use the palette knife for the deeper cracks to make sure that the wood filler is getting as close to the center as possible.

Most professional woodworkers will use the FamoWood Latex Wood Filler. This is a solid choice since it dries quickly (15 minutes) and will speed up the entire repair process. It’s also known to prevent future cracks later on as your wood carving continues to dry.

Before you consider yourself “done” with this step, make sure that you double-check that all of the cracks have been filled completely and as deeply as possible. 

Give the wood filler at least 15 minutes to dry and then continue to the next step.

Touch Up the Wood Filler You’ve Applied

After the wood filler has dried and settled completely, you can see whether you need to do any touch-ups before moving onto future steps. This is where you’ll notice whether the wood filler sunk deeper into the cracks and needs an extra filling.

Now is also the time to make sure that you didn’t use too much filler at the last step.

If you did, make sure to wipe it off of your wood carving before proceeding to the step where you’ll be sanding the whole piece down.

Carefully Use Sandpaper to Smooth Out the Piece

No matter how carefully you applied the wood filler in the last few steps, it’ll still be somewhat noticeable to the naked eye.

At this stage, you’ll need to sand down the entire wood carving.

You might be wondering why the entire piece needs to be sanded down if you only had to apply wood filler to a few select cracks. Sanding everything down will help remove some stain, give everything an even texture, and help ensure color throughout the carving.

The Fandeli Assorted Grits is one of the best and most delicate sandpapers that you’ll use on a wood carving. It comes with 25 large sheets that’ll speed up the smoothing out process and last much longer than other options.

Pro Tip: Sanding should always be done from top to bottom. 

That’s because, as you sand, the dust and shavings will begin to rain down on the rest of the wood carving. This can cause excess dust to get caught in the sandpaper and force you to sand over dust instead of directly on the bare wood.

Be sure to use either 100 or 120 grit sandpaper so that you’re not damaging the piece.

Once the entire wood carving is smooth to the touch and the wood filler (or wood shim) that you recently applied is hardly noticeable, you’re ready for the next step: Staining.

Be sure to wipe down the carving again with a dry cloth to get rid of sanding dust.

Stain the Entire Wood Carving 

Welcome to the fun and relaxing part of fixing a cracked wood carving!

You’re going to need wood stain and either a rag or a brush (or maybe both, depending on your personal preferences).

The RUST-OLEUM Wood Stain is a good option for staining and adding a little color to your repaired wood carving. This wood stain comes in 26 different colors to get the exact match for your carving and will help fill in any tiny holes that you missed while adding the filler.

That’s less you have to touch up later!

Whether you’re using a rag or a brush to stain your wood carving, there’s one thing you need to keep in mind: More isn’t always better.

So, you’ll want to be careful about how much wood stain you’re applying to the carving at once. Even out what’s currently on the piece before ever deciding to add more.

Too much stainer will make your brush strokes visible or make the carving look clumpy.

Well, it looks like you’re almost done!

Give Your Carving Time to Dry

The last thing you need to do is give your carving a little time to dry. This will probably take an hour or more in most cases, but it’s good to give it a little extra time based on where you set up your workspace. 

Avoid touching the wood carving until it’s completely dried.

Otherwise, you might end up leaving fingerprints or absorbing some stain on your fingertips. This will force you to have to stain the entire piece again or do minor touch-ups.

If you can, let your wood carving sit for half a day or more to guarantee it’s entirely dry.

Once it’s dried completely, you can move your wood carving to its permanent location in your home. Just be sure that it’s in a place where it won’t crack again in the future.

How to Keep a Wood Carving From Cracking

Now that you’ve gone through the rigorous process of repairing a cracked wood carving, you probably never want to do that again! There’s also only so many times you can repair cracks before the entire piece falls apart for good.

It’s time to go over what you can do to prevent this cracking from happening in the first place. Here are some strategies for keeping your wood carvings in tip-top shape at all times!

Choose Its Location Strategically

Fortunately, most wood carvings will crack because of where they’re stored or displayed. That’s because the environment may encourage the wood to dry much faster than if left in its natural environment.

Here are some tips for where you should store your wood carvings:

  • Keep your wood carving inside and sheltered from the elements.
  • Place your wood carving in a room that doesn’t experience direct sunlight or heat.
  • Avoid putting your wood carving in an area with frequent temperature fluctuations (like in front of a vent, by the heater, near a door to the outdoors, etc.).

Luckily, a cool and dry location will give your wood the time to dry off at a more natural pace and reduce the risk of cracking to just about zero.

Use Relief Cuts

The last thing you want to do is intentionally damage your wood carving on your own. This might be the best way to encourage the inside of the log to dry naturally instead of forcing the exterior layer to crack and check.

This can be done with a “relief cut.”

For larger carvings, you’ll use a chainsaw, saw, or knife to cut through the wood carving at the center/back of the piece. The goal is to cut through to the center of the carving in an area that others won’t see.

As your wood continues to shrink as it dries, the exterior won’t be so restricted. This can reduce or prevent cracking entirely.

Apply Polyurethane Glue

If you’re lucky enough to catch the cracks and checks as they’re just starting to develop, you have another option: Using polyurethane glue.

All you have to do is squeeze a little glue into tiny cracks, and it’ll stop them from growing dead in their tracks. Just keep in mind that this won’t protect the entire piece from future cracking, just that particular area.

You will have to pursue other prevention tactics afterward.


Repairing cracked wood carvings isn’t a job that’s strictly left to the professional woodworkers. It’s extremely easy to do as long as you gather the correct supplies, have a little free time to yourself, and have an eye for detail.

Just remember that safety always needs to be in the back of your mind when working with tools and materials. Make it a point to use power tools carefully, wear a breathing mask if you’re sensitive to fumes, and work in a safe area.

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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