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Light & Shadow

I'm a little confused, I have learned that light & shadow are very important when wood carving. But most finishes wax,oil,stain etc make the wood darker. Darker wood = less shadow. So can anyone "shed some light" on how to finish & keep a shadow.




Hi Greg,

If you look at any of my lessons where I show a finishing process, I stick with a method that actually causes the deeper carved areas to be darker than the higher areas, and thus creating more depth and dimension. I seal the wood (especially with soft woods like basswood or butternut) with 2 coats of thinned down shellac. Then I brush a glaze or stain over the carving and then wipe it off with a cloth, leaving the stain in the deeper areas.

So you are correct. By putting a stain on the entire surface without using this method of wiping the surface, it would remove a lot of the dimension, make it all one color, and the carving could lose detail. By creating different light and dark areas, it definitely makes the carving stand out more.

Some of the lessons I show this process: Carving a Celtic Clover Knot, Carving an Open Book and Rose, Carving Snowflakes, and the Antique Finishing of a Celtic Cross.

I am not a finishing expert, by any stretch. So when I find a technique that works, I stick with it. If I discover another method in the future, I may give that a go, but this works well for now.

Happy finishing!


I have a few pieces that are dark...whether by design or accident. Look at what way the light is hitting your carving piece. If it’s head on, you’re right, the dark wood doesn’t have much tonal range. I try to put what I’ve made in places where the strongest light source will hit them from an angle...especially strong sunlight coming in from the windows. You will notice a tonal difference on even the darkest stained carvings, especially if there’s a lot of  elevation difference on the piece.


Thanks, very much Mary & Mathew.

Speaking of finishing, I am looking for ideas on what finish to use on cherry wood. I have typically used an oil/poly blend but it doesn't give that elegant finish I am looking for. I really like the look of Danish oil but all the warnings have succeeded in scaring me away from using it. I don't want to add color, just end up with a wonderful finish. I know Chris Pye uses bee's wax but that requires the use of heat, another thing I was trying to avoid. Any ideas would be appreciated. Thank you.


There are some good ideas on another thread.


The more Turpentine you add to beeswax the softer it will be when it is set. If you make it soft enough, you wont need to use heat when you apply it to the wood. Use a rag to remove excess try to push into crevices to get it all. The more you buff the wax with a rag, the more it becomes shinyer - (sorry can't think of a better word). Experiment before you apply to the carving.

Here is a cut and paste from Wikipedia to explain the different names of turpentine in different regions. "White spirit (UK) or mineral spirits (US, Canada), also known as mineralturpentine (AU/NZ), turpentine substitute, petroleum spirits."



Thank you for all the helpful information. I will be reading and trying different treatments.  Again, thanks .