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Wood Finishes

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I love trying different finishes on wood with my most satisfying, wax with an accented stain.  I apply the first coat of wax gently, polish, then apply two more coats without polishing.  The reason is it allows me to apply the stain in the crevices.  Only now do I polish completely, to even the appearance that I want for the final product.  If too dark I polish some more.

Another good tip is pour 50/50 equal amounts of Tung Oil and Mineral Spirits together and brush on to your carving.  You get a nice accent for the crevices.

Thanks! I'll have to experiment. Seems harmless enough 🙂

I am terrified about ruining a carving with a finish I can't remove after I discover it looks awful. So I'm all for "fixable" finishes. Do you know if this is removable if I do my typical "fussing" way too much with finish and make it look too blotchy?

My method of 2 coats of thinned down shellac and then stain brushed on and wiped off has been my go-to finish because I know if I have to, I can remove it with denatured alcohol if I screw it up. Keeps my blood pressure down...

I know how you feel Mary, on not wanting to ruin a carving, but wanting to try different finishes too. One day I made a bunch of small rosettes, and I use them to try out different finishes. Saves me the horrible anticipation of waiting to see what happens!!

Also, Ralph, do you have a picture with the results of that finish? It sounds like something I'd like to try.

Ugh! I've ruined my beautiful carving. I didn't know what to use to finish it so applied a gel stain. The wood has lost all its luster and character and is now a bland mono-colour. I'd appreciate some advise on what to use to seal and enhance the colour and grain of natural wood. I tried tung sealer on a sample piece of wood, but it only provided a clear seal and didn't offer any enhancement. I tried straight varnish but it didn't enhance the wood in any way. Any advise to avoid future grief?


Sorry to hear about your gel stain mishap. Gel stains aren’t meant to penetrate the wood too deeply...maybe you can carefully remove it depending on the carving?

It depends on what type of carving I have, but my go-to finish for relief carvings is danish oil, followed by renaissance wax after the oil had dried. The oil provides the seal and the wax provides the luster.


I have never used gel stain. But can cautiously give some advice about removing stain.

You must Experiment removing the stain with a test piece of wood (same type as your carving).

There are generally two types of stain

a Water base

and Where I live in the World what is named Turpentine base. Here is a cut and paste from Wikipedia to explain the different names for different regions "White spirit (UK) or mineral spirits (US, Canada), also known as mineralturpentine (AU/NZ), turpentine substitute, petroleum spirits."

To remove a Water based stain use warm soapy water rub on with a rag and remove stain with another rag. Keeping in mind that applying moisture to the wood is not a great idea, so do so quickly and get it as dry as you can. You could use a tooth brush to help get into crevices.

To remove  a Turpentine based stain use Turpentine (or equivalent to your region) brush it on, use a clean rag to remove.

There are also stains available that are mixed with a polyurethane or a varnish, I think these are a bad product and wouldn't recommend use. If These are used, you would have to get extreme and use a Paint Stripper/Thiner. Paint stripper chemicals could damage your wood & maybe your health, so use is not really recommended.

Just want to stress to you, that like any good Scientist/Wood carver. You should experiment before performing an operation on your wood.




there is usually always a way to correct finishes and achieve good results, you may just have to experiment a bit. It's always a good idea to save some of the wood you are carving as Greg mentioned. Perhaps using this idea you can try some clear ammonia to see if it helps release the water base stain? If the use of water lifts the grain a bit... 4-OT steel wool is an effective tool to bring it back down without altering the carving details, once dry of course...good luck in any case.

I like trying new or different finishes too.  But NOT on my carvings or violins!!!  Make a sampler board, take a length of wood, sand, scrape or plane to desired finish on both sides, divide board off into  2" to 3" wide bands with a shallow saw cut, front and back, on one side hit it with random v-cuts, stipling and gouge marks, test a different finish on each band, record the steps taken on the back side for a record. then you can compare finishes side by side, save for future referance. make one for each type of woods you carve, basswood, mahg., oak etc.  Their easy to do, don't waste carvings and make a nice referance tool. can also be shone to customers to pick out desired finishes for your work

have fun

Matthew, you said, "my go-to finish for relief carvings is danish oil". I have seen Danish oil finishes and they are beautiful. My question is how do you handle the threat of spontaneous combustion? That threat has frightened me away from using the product.

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