How to Finish Basswood Carving

Finishing on my Basswood Wood Carvings

Carving family crest, wood carving, basswood, Fred Zavadil

Majority of questions I get from other wood carvers are about finishing on my  carvings. I wish I had a simple, step by step recipe, but I do not. I will post answers to questions I get most often,  feel free to ask at if you would like to know anything else. Please don’t be upset if I don’t provide specific answer to your question. I really do not have a “step by step” instructions; finishing of my carvings depends on different factors which I have to consider individually for each carving.

Family crest, relief carving

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. You might also want to read post “How to prepare carving for painting and staining” – preparation plays a major role in achieving required results in my carvings.

What kind of stains do you use?
This is very important – I mix my own stains from oil paints and paint thinner.Carving family crest, basswood, Fred Zavadil 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.

Do you use cloth or brush when you apply stain?
I use brush. After I apply stain or paint, I use cloth to remove excess stain/paint. I do not just leave the stain on the carving, I work with it – by wiping off excessive stain 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 after staining?
It depends, in most cases, I will not use anything, sometimes I use varnish for better protection if needed (I do not like anything too shiny) – and I  experiment a lot to see what would be the best.

Do you paint you wood carvings?
I only paint carvings when I am asked by a client and even then, I use very little paint so that the wood can be visible under paint. As I said before, I use stains which I mix from oil paints and these stains give sometimes the illusion of the carving being painted.

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

Why do you use oil paints and not acrylic paints?
For me,  oil paints do not have the feel of plastic when applied to wood, somehow they feel softer and are easier for me to work with (I used to paint pictures a lot in the past). They take much longer to dry than acrylic paints  – it gives me more time to work with them. I do a lot of experimenting – until I am satisfied.

Please do not ask about specific brands / names / etc.  – I do not have preference, I buy what is available when I need it. I  try to find the best quality for all products I use, sales people in stores are usually very helpful if you need with this.

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 ready to be painted 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!!!!

Relief carving, basswood, Fred ZavadilBasswood, bas relief carving

Woodcarving, relief, angelAnge

Wood carving, family crest, basswood

Carved coat of arms, basswood, relief woodcarving

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

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