How to Paint and Finish a Wood Carving

If you want to properly paint and finish a wood carving, you need to follow a few steps. First, try the paint beforehand, then prepare the wood. Finally, follow a painting process and pick a finishing technique such as using paint, oil, shoe crème, or wax. Read on to find out more.

Table of Contents
Paint Wood Paintbrush

Try the Paint

One of the worst mistakes you could make as a woodcarver is to finish a beautiful piece and ruin it by not trying the paint beforehand. 

There are many types of paint and finishing methods, and what works for you greatly depends on many factors such as, the kind of wood you used.

Thus, to avoid an unwanted disaster, take a piece of wood – preferably the same kind you used for your object – and try the paint on it. After that, you can also make different attempts with various finishing techniques and determine which one you like best.

Prepare the Wood

Wood is a very specific material. You might already know it, but it is highly absorbent. Consequently, you need to prepare it before you paint it so it manages the paint well and doesn’t suffer any damage.

There are different pre-treatment options, so you should choose the one you enjoy the most. You can use burnishing, which is a way to polish the wood. On the other hand, you could use a sanding sealer to seal the pores of your material.

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Also, you might use a spray sealer if you have any cracks you want to cover. Using 220 grit sandpaper allows you to create a very smooth surface. There is also flat-plane carving that lets you have a flat material to work on.

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Start Painting

Now that you prepared the wood and tried the paint, start the process! If you pre-treated the wood, then it means that you can use any type of paint.

The first thing you must do is to apply a coat of mineral spirits or linseed oil. Wait some minutes and then take the excess off. After that, let it dry overnight.

Then, it’s time to thin the paint. If you use certain thinners, you might get a better effect because they don’t harm the wood’s grain.  The next step is to start using all the colors you want. Do not be afraid! It’s time to let your imagination soar and make your project have beautiful colors. All you need to do next is to let it dry before starting with the finishing process.

Go for an over Paint

Once the paint is dry, spray the whole thing with lacquer coats, at least three of them. Keep them thin so you do not make a mess. Make sure you cover the whole thing, including small parts and details. 

Then, use a paper bag and get rid of any rough areas that the lacquer left. If you want, you can leave it like that or use other materials such as wax to give it an antique look.

Use Oil

If you’re looking for a finishing that’s easy to apply, then Danish oil might be a good choice for you.

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Using a soft-bristled brush, apply the oil and wait for 15 minutes. Do the same thing the next day. However, keep in mind that Danish oil can make basswood change color and become gold. Thus, refrain from using it if you do not want to create that effect.

Find Some Shoe Creme

Suppose that you need to finish your project but can’t buy a specific finishing material. Good news – shoe crème might work. It’s effective if you use bark carvings made of wood or cottonwood.

Nonetheless, keep in mind that it is not clear how long such a finishing lasts. To use it, apply it to your carving and allow the grain to show through. If you want, you could even use shoe crème instead of paint.

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Make sure you use a bristle brush to guarantee that the crème covers all parts of your carving. After that, buff the project with a rotary brush or a horsehair brush. Repeat the process for a second time so the final finished look is ready.

Common Wax Might Work

If you really love the color of your wood, using floor wax as a finishing material might be a good idea. It may take a few coats to give it a nice clean look, but you can apply it a couple of times and use a horsehair brush to buff it once it’s completely dry.


What is the best oil to put on a wood carving?

There are several oils that are commonly used to finish and protect wood carvings. Some popular options include:

  1. Tung oil: Tung oil is a natural oil that provides a durable and water-resistant finish. It enhances the natural grain and color of the wood while providing a protective layer.

  2. Linseed oil: Linseed oil is another natural oil that is commonly used for wood finishes. It penetrates the wood and provides a glossy and durable finish. However, it takes longer to dry compared to other oils.

  3. Danish oil: Danish oil is a blend of natural oils and varnish. It offers good protection, enhances the wood’s beauty, and provides a low-sheen finish. Danish oil is relatively easy to apply and dries faster than pure oils.

  4. Mineral oil: Mineral oil is a food-safe option often used for cutting boards and kitchen utensils. While it doesn’t provide a hard protective layer, it can be used to nourish and condition the wood, giving it a natural, matte finish.

When choosing an oil for your wood carving, consider factors such as the desired finish, level of protection needed, and the specific wood type. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and test the oil on a small, inconspicuous area of the carving before applying it to the entire piece.

How much paint to use when painting a wood carving?

The amount of paint needed for a wood carving depends on various factors such as the size of the carving, the complexity of the design, and the desired level of coverage. It’s generally recommended to use multiple thin coats of paint rather than applying a thick layer all at once. This approach allows for better control, smoother coverage, and minimizes the risk of paint pooling or dripping.

Start with a small amount of paint on your brush or palette and gradually build up the layers as needed. As you work, assess the coverage and adjust the amount of paint accordingly. It’s easier to add more paint if needed than to remove excess paint. Remember to allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next to avoid smudging or disturbing the previous layers.

Experimentation and practice will help you determine the right amount of paint required for your specific wood carving project, so don’t be afraid to test different techniques and observe how the paint behaves on the wood surface.

How much water should you add to acrylic paint?

The amount of water to add to acrylic paint can vary depending on several factors, including the consistency of the paint, the desired effect, and the specific technique you’re using. Here are some general guidelines:

  1. Thin washes or glazes: If you want to create a transparent or translucent effect, you can add more water to the paint. Start with a small amount of water and gradually mix it into the paint until you achieve the desired consistency. Typically, a ratio of 1 part paint to 1-2 parts water is a good starting point for thin washes or glazes.

  2. Blending and layering: When blending colors or layering them, you might want to slightly thin the paint. Adding a small amount of water, about 10-20% of the volume of paint, can make it easier to blend smoothly and achieve smoother transitions between colors.

  3. Brush techniques: For dry brushing or stippling techniques, where you want the paint to have a thicker consistency and retain texture, it’s generally best to use the paint without adding water. However, if you find the paint too thick, you can add a small amount of water to improve workability while still maintaining texture.

Remember to mix the water and paint thoroughly until you achieve a smooth and consistent mixture. It’s advisable to experiment with different ratios and techniques on a test surface or spare wood before applying it to your wood carving.

How can you get the right color when painting a wood carving?

To achieve the right color when painting a wood carving, follow these tips:

  1. Color mixing: Start with a basic understanding of color theory and how different colors mix to create new shades. Experiment with mixing primary colors (red, blue, and yellow) to create secondary colors (purple, green, and orange), and further mix those to create a wide range of hues. Adjust the ratios of each color to achieve the desired shade.

  2. Test on a sample: Before applying the paint to your wood carving, it’s always a good idea to test the color on a spare piece of wood or a small area of the carving that is inconspicuous. This allows you to see how the color appears on the wood surface and make any necessary adjustments.

  3. Layering: Achieve depth and richness in your colors by layering multiple thin coats of paint. Start with a base coat and gradually build up the color by applying subsequent layers. This technique allows for greater control over the intensity of the color and helps avoid the paint appearing too thick or blotchy.

  4. Lighting considerations: Keep in mind that the lighting conditions under which the wood carving will be displayed can affect the perception of color. Consider the lighting in the intended location and how it may interact with the painted surface. Adjust the color choices and shading accordingly to achieve the desired visual impact.

  5. Reference images: If you’re aiming to replicate a specific color or achieve a realistic representation, refer to reference images or photographs that capture the color accurately. Analyze the colors present and use them as a guide while painting.

Remember that achieving the perfect color can be a process of trial and error. Don’t be afraid to experiment, make adjustments, and practice on smaller surfaces before applying the color to the entire wood carving.

How should you care for your brushes?

Proper care and maintenance of your brushes are essential to ensure their longevity and optimal performance. Here are some tips for caring for your brushes:

  1. Cleaning: After each painting session or when switching between colors, clean your brushes thoroughly. Rinse them under warm water and use a mild soap or brush cleaner to remove the paint. Gently work the bristles with your fingers or a brush cleaning pad to loosen any residue. Avoid using harsh chemicals or solvents as they can damage the bristles.

  2. Shaping: Reshape the bristles of your brushes while they are still wet. Use your fingers or a brush comb to gently reshape the bristles back to their original form. Make sure to remove any excess water by gently squeezing the bristles with a clean cloth or paper towel.

  3. Drying: Dry your brushes horizontally or with the bristles facing downwards to prevent water from seeping into the ferrule (the metal or plastic part that holds the bristles). Hanging brushes upside down or using a brush holder with slots can help facilitate proper drying. Avoid drying them near a direct heat source as it can damage the bristles.

  4. Storage: Store your brushes in a clean and dry area, ideally in a brush holder or container that keeps them upright and protects the bristles. Avoid storing them in a sealed container or with bristles facing upwards, as this can lead to deformation or bristle damage.

  5. Brush care products: Consider using a brush conditioner or preservative to help keep the bristles soft and maintain their shape over time. Follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer when using these products.

By following these care practices, you can extend the lifespan of your brushes and maintain their performance, allowing you to enjoy painting with them for a longer period.

To seal and paint a wood carving, you should follow a few steps. First, sand the carving to smooth out any rough edges or surfaces. Next, apply a wood sealer or primer to create a smooth and even surface for painting. Once the sealer is dry, you can proceed with painting using acrylic or wood paint. Apply multiple thin coats, allowing each coat to dry completely before applying the next. Finally, seal the painted surface with a clear protective finish, such as polyurethane or varnish, to protect the wood carving and enhance its durability and appearance. Remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for drying times and application techniques for each product used.

When it comes to choosing the best paint for wood carvings, it largely depends on personal preference and the desired outcome. However, acrylic paint is a popular and versatile option for painting wood carvings. Acrylic paints are available in a wide range of colors, are easy to work with, and dry quickly. They also adhere well to wood surfaces and provide good coverage. Another option is using wood stain, which can enhance the natural beauty of the wood while still providing color. Experimenting with different paints and finishes on small test pieces can help you determine the best paint for your specific wood carving project.

Priming basswood before painting is not always necessary, as basswood has a relatively smooth and non-porous surface. However, priming can be beneficial in certain situations. If you find that the wood has a lot of grain or pores, or if you want to ensure better adhesion and an even paint finish, applying a primer can be helpful. Priming can also be useful if you’re working with a specific type of paint that requires a primer for better adherence or if you want to prevent any potential discoloration or bleeding of the wood’s natural oils. Ultimately, the decision to prime basswood before painting depends on your specific project, the desired outcome, and the type of paint you intend to use.

Key Takeaways

Carving wood is very fun, but painting and finishing are some of the best parts of the process! That’s where you can let go and let your imagination soar with the colors and different techniques to achieve the desired effect.

Now that you know the different finishing options and you have a process to paint your projects, go to the workshop and start having fun!

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Graham Robson

In the world of wood carving, your wooden project starts with you. Using the right kit can be seen as an extension of your existing skills and abilities that you're required to build over time.

About Me

My name is Graham, I’m an English teacher and woodcarver during the weekend., my website designed to act as a digital workshop for wood carving in the one place.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as i enjoyed writing it!

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