How to Prepare Wood Carving for Painting and Staining
Most of the questions I get on regular basis are about finishing on my carvings and about stains / paints used. A lot of us struggle with this part and we all know that bad stain or paint can ruin the best carving. From my experience, it is really not the ‘bad stain or paint’, but in most cases the damage is caused by non existing or inadequate wood preparation before painting / staining. Most of you probably know about that nice green (on paper) which would look sooooo good on your carving and which would change your wonderful little sculpture into a green plastic toy and no matter what you do, in the best case you can only change it into a brown plastic monster!!!!
Please, keep in mind that I work primarily with basswood (linden wood) – you might get different results with different wood. Also, I mix my ‘stains’ (oil based) and only use oil paints (for artists) when painting a wood sculpture.
I would like to share few tips on wood preparation before staining or painting and a process I follow most of the time – hopefully they will help to prevent another brown monster creation. It is something I developed over the years, it works for me really well, and I hope that it will help some of you to get the results you would like to achieve. Please keep in mind that none of this is ‘written in stone’ – I am not exact on ratios when mixing, so, do not worry about being perfect!
Very, very important: keep sanding your carving, it should be clean and smooth.
2. Apply mixture on your carving – as much as the wood absorbs (a lot! – the more the better)
3. Let dry about 24 hours or until dry
4. Use steel wool to clean all the little fuzzy stuff on your carving
5. Mix varnish (polyurethane) with paint thinner 4:1. (80% of varnish and 20% of paint thinner)
6. Apply mixture on carving
7. Let dry another 24 hours or until dry
8. Apply stain/paint
When you apply all those mixtures, you are basically sealing your wood – it means that when you later stain or paint your carving, the wood does not suck the paint/stain in. They stay and dry on the surface of the wood and are much easier to manipulate. If the paint is too heavy you might be able to wipe or wash it off (depending on type of paint and wood) before it dries.
Also, start with lighter colors!!!! You can always make them darker.
I personally do not like painting my carvings but there are circumstances when hint of paint will enhance the carving or when clients insist on having their carvings painted (trust me, I do my best to get those ideas out of their minds – wood is beautiful on its own and in my opinion should not be covered with paint). In those cases, I use oil paints for artists, you can buy them in hobby or art stores – they dry longer than acrylic paints and give me more time to work with them. I also try to use just light coat of the paint and try to make sure that the wood is visible under the paint.
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