How to Seal Wood Carvings: Step-by-Step Guide

By Kevin Kessinger •  Updated: 09/21/23 • 

A wood sealer is a type of finish that sits as a top coat to protect your wood carving or other wooden projects from the damaging effects of different elements. Harsh UV rays, humidity changes, rain, and other elements can all affect your wood carvings. A sealer protects it by preventing the elements from seeping into the wood.

Sealing wood carvings is beneficial to all carvings, whether indoor or outdoor. If you want to seal a wood carving, you’re in the right place. In this article, I’ll show you different types of wood sealers and how to apply them to protect your wood carvings.

Types of Wood Sealers to Use

1. Wax

Wax is the least protective wood finish and sealer. To seal wood carvings using wax, you can use beeswax paste or furniture wax. Not only are they easy to apply, but wax does not change the color of your wood carving.

Bark Carving Finished with Wax and buffed

Bark Carving Finished with Wax and buffed

To apply wax, use a piece of cloth and rub the paste wax on your wood carving. Leave it to dry for about 20 minutes and rub out the excess while also polishing if you want a higher sheen.

Wax is a great sealer for most indoor wood carvings that do not have a lot of contact. However, wax-sealed wood carvings tend to attract dust and can become dull over time. However, a quick wipe with mineral oil and buffing again should bring your carving back to life.

2. Wood Oils

There are different types of wood, and they all will seal your wood carvings to a different degree. However, compared to wax, oils have slightly better protection.

Linseed oil is one of the most popular oil sealers among wood carvers. Instead of using raw linseed oil, boiled linseed oil, or BLO, is preferred because of its enhanced protection and faster drying and curing times.

Before and After Sealing a Wood Carving with Boiled Linseed Oil (BLO)

Before and After Sealing a Wood Carving with Boiled Linseed Oil (BLO)

Tung oil is another oil used to finish and seal wood carvings. It is a food-safe finish and usually contains no extra solvents. It can take anywhere between 15 and 30 days to cure, depending on several factors.

Danish oil combines different oils and solvents, making it quicker to dry and have better penetration. The Danish oil I usually use is Watco Natural Danish oil.

Apart from these three oils, you can use several other oils to seal your wood carvings. We’ve written a full guide and review of the best oils for wood carvings.

3. Polyurethane

Polyurethane, once dry, forms a hard and protective plastic-like coat. It is the most durable wood finish that you can trust will seal and protect your wood carvings. Apart from being a very durable finish and sealer, polyurethane is clear and does not impart color to your wood carving.

However, choose a water-based polyurethane if you want a clear top coat for your wood carvings. Oil-based polyurethane is slightly more durable, but your wood carvings will be slightly yellow with time. Water-based poly is also great because it contains fewer VOCs and has a very low odor.

4. Spar Varnishes

If you’re looking to seal your outdoor chainsaw and other wood carvings, spar varnishes are what I use. A spar varnish is a type of varnish that is modified with more oil and UV additives to help protect your wood carvings from outside elements. If your wood carving will be exposed to harsh UV rays, battering rain, and other elements, a spar varnish is your best option.

Apart from offering a top protective seal, spar varnishes also let your wood carvings change in response to changes in temperature and humidity. This ensures your wood carvings do not crack or split because the wood is able to change freely.

5. Paint

Painting a wood carving is another way of creating a seal that will protect it. However, instead of using watercolor paints that are absorbed by wood, you should use acrylic or latex paints. These paints color your wood carvings and offer a top seal protecting against elements such as harsh UV rays, rain, and moisture.

> Recommended Reading: Finishing Wood Carvings

Step-by-Step Guide to Seal a Wood Carving

Step 1 – Choose Your Wood Sealer

Before sealing your wood carving, the first step is deciding the sealant to use. From the above section, you’ve seen there are different wood sealers you can use. However, choosing the type of sealant will depend on various factors, such as where the wood carving will be located or finishing options.

If your wood carving will be located indoors, the wax paste sealer is adequate to provide the protection you’ll need. Wood oil sealers, like linseed oil, are also great for indoor wood carvings. However, if your wood carving is located outside, you’ll need a better sealer, like polyurethane or spar urethane, to help protect it from adverse outdoor weather conditions.

Step 2 – Prepare the Carving for Sealing

Once you’ve decided on the wood sealer, it’s time to prepare the wood carving. Preparing a wood carving will depend on various factors based on your preference. For example, if you’re finishing an outdoor wood carving, you can start by painting it to give life, then proceed to seal it with spar urethane.

Sanding and smoothing some carvings is also part of the preparation to ensure a uniform and smooth finish. Fine-grit sandpaper, like #150-grit, is good for a smooth finish. For sanding intricate details, use wood rifflers or needle files.

If you plan to paint your wood carving with acrylic paints, it is important to prime the surface of your wood carving to ensure the paint will adhere properly. However, some paints, such as latex paints, do not require a primer and can be applied directly without any problems.

Step 3 – Apply Your Wood Sealer

Depending on the type of sealer you decide to use, there are different methods of applying it.

For paste wax, take a piece of cloth and rub the wax onto the wood carving, removing as much of the excess as possible. Once done, leave it to dry for about 20 minutes and continue to remove the excess and buff to your desired sheen.

For oils, apply it in excess over the wood carving and let it soak in for several minutes to allow better penetration. Once it’s soaked in, wipe off the excess and let it dry, depending on the oil you use.

Applying Spar Varnish to a Wood Carved Octopus

Applying Spar Varnish to a Wood Carved Octopus

Use a brush to apply several coats to the wood carving for polyurethane and spar urethane. Once you apply the first coat, leave it for about 24-48 hours to dry. Sand the coat slightly and apply a second coat. Once dry, you can apply a subsequent coat or leave it if you’re satisfied with the results.

For paint, wait for the primer to completely dry and use a brush to apply it to your wood carving. For larger wood carvings, a larger brush is good. However, get a set of smaller brushes if you plan to add smaller details to your wood carvings.

Raccoon Wood Carving Painted in Acrylic Sealed with Spar Urethane

Raccoon Wood Carving Painted in Acrylic Sealed with Spar Urethane

Step 4 – Reapply the Sealer Occasionally

The job does not stop once you’re done sealing your wood carving. This is especially true if your wood carving is going to sit outside. Occasionally, you’ll have to reseal your wood carving and repair it to ensure the sealer protection keeps different elements from destroying your wood carving.

There is no specific time frame I’d recommend to reseal your wood carving. However, make sure you check the condition of the carving and reapply as necessary.

Kevin Kessinger

Kev is the founder of Pro Wood Carving and has been carving spoons, small pieces, and whittling since his teenage years. He has continued to level up his wood carving skills and wanted to share his journey and knowledge with other wood carvers. He launched Pro Wood Carving in 2021 to make wood carving more approachable for everyone looking to improve their skills.