How to Finish and Stain Basswood Wood Carvings

Majority of questions I get from other carvers are about how I finish and stain basswood wood carvings. I wish I had a simple, step by step recipe, but I do not. I will post answers to questions which I get most often. Please don’t be upset if I don’t provide specific answer to your question. If you would like to watch a video of me mixing stain and staining one of my basswood relief carvings, please scroll down.

Carving family crest, showing how to stain and finish basswood wood carvings, Fred Zavadil

Please keep in mind that I work primarily with BASSWOOD and my answers relate to basswood.  All answers / information provided are related to my own experience and to what works for me. If you would like to use my way of staining, please read “How to prepare carving for painting and staining” and watch a video where I show how I do it. Preparation plays a major role in achieving required results when I am staining my carvings. For this method to work, BASSWOOD HAS TO BE SEALED BEFORE STAINING!!!

What kind of stains do you use?Family crest, basswood relief carving - showing how to stain and finish basswood wood carving, Fred Zavadil
I mix my own ‘stains’ from oil paints and paint thinner. Regular stains which you can buy in stores will not get you the same results and might not work the same way. If you use store bought stains, you should follow instructions on how to use them.

How do you mix your stains?

I mix oil paints for artists with paint thinner. I do not have a ratio specifying how much of paint thinner I use – but I do not use too much. My stains are not liquid, they have more like a yogurtCarving family crest, basswood, How to finish and stain basswood wood carving consistency.

What colors do you use when you mix your stains?

I use different shades of brown, burnt sienna, red, orange, white, yellow, green and black. Sometimes I only mix 2 colors together, sometime more. I do not have a formula or ratios specifying the amount of each color,  I mix stains depending on what I want to achieve. I mix new stain for each carving – I am not able to tell you what colors and in what ratio I mixed for a specific carving.

Do you use cloth or brush when you apply stain?
I use brush to apply stain. After I apply stain, I use cloth or paper towels and soft brush to remove the excess stain. I do not just leave the stain on the carving, I work with it – by wiping off excess I can create lighter and darker areas. It gives the carving feeling of depth.

Do you use turpentine?Carved Mahogany sculpture of an Archer, figurative woodcarving by Fred Zavadil

What do you use to finish the carving after staining?
It depends, in most cases, I don’t use anything. If a customer specifically asks, I use varnish to finish my basswood carvings. Because I do not like my sculptures glossy, I usually experiment with varnish on a piece of wood before I put it on the actual carving.

Do you paint your wood carvings?
I paint carvings when I am asked by a client and even then, I try to use very little paint so that the wood can be visible under paint. I do not really like using colors, but, sometimes carvings can be improved a lot by adding a little color.

What paints do you use?
I use oil paints for artists – paints used for picture painting. You can buy them  in stores selling hobby or art supplies.

Why do you use oil paints and not acrylic paints?
Oil paints do not have the feel of plastic when applied to wood and somehow they feel softer. They are also easier for me to work with because I used to paint pictures a lot in the past and know how they work. Also, oil paints take much longer to dry than acrylic paints  and give me more time to work with them.

Staining and finishing is not an easy task and my best advice is to experiment. Not on your carving – take a piece of wood, make few cuts in it in different directions and different depth and stain/paint it. I understand that you are all excited when the carving is done and you want to have it finished and show it to everyone but PLEASE, take time to experiment before you ruin it with bad paint or stain!!!!

How to finish and stain basswood wood carvings – my way


Relief carving, basswood, Fred ZavadilProfile of a woman, stained basswood, bas relief carving

Woodcarving, relief, angelRelief carving of an angel, stained basswood

Wood carving, family crest, basswoodCarved coat of arms, painted and stained basswood, relief woodcarving

Christus Rex, woodcarving by Fred ZavadilSculpture of Christ the King, Religious woodcarving, stained basswood

How to finish and stain basswood wood carvings by Fred Zavadil

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