Cracks in wood carvings can happen to anyone, no matter how long you’ve been carving. Fortunately, fixing cracked wood carvings isn’t as difficult as you might think—as long as you follow these eight tips. Fixing Cracked Wood Carvings can be time-consuming, but it’s important to do it right the first time so your carving doesn’t develop more problems down the road. Don’t try to mask cracks with some kind of filler; that usually just makes the problem worse over time and can even attract insects!
Figure Out What’s Causing the Cracking
Any cracks in your carving have likely been caused by changes in temperature and humidity, so you should begin your repair process by determining exactly what has changed to cause them. Start with obvious culprits—is there a crack along an exposed edge? Does it run from top to bottom? Is it diagonal? Once you’ve identified what’s causing a given crack, move on to find out why.
Are these changes related to something specific—or are they more gradual? Has anything else happened that might have contributed to cracking (like a move or change in furniture)? Taking steps to remedy whatever is contributing to cracking will be key to fixing existing damage, as well as preventing further cracking.
Depending on what caused your wood carving to crack, you’ll want to treat it differently. If humidity is causing your wooden carving to crack, then all you have to do is make sure there is enough ventilation in your workshop. The opposite also holds—if it’s dryer than usual, then fix any leaks in windows or seal cracks in walls around your workshop.
Fixing Cracks on woodcarving: How to fix cracks in a carving
1) Figure out how deep the crack is
If you’re dealing with a hairline crack, don’t bother to fix it. No matter what you do, it won’t be noticeable if it’s shallow. On the other hand, deep cracks need a more permanent solution. Once you know how far down your crack goes, you can make an informed decision about how best to fix it.
2) Sand it
When it comes to Fixing Cracked Wood Carvings, nothing works quite as well as a little sandpaper. The trick is to get into all of those little nooks and crannies so that no dust or grit remains.
Use wide grit sandpaper that matches your carving. It’s best if you start with a coarser grit (60-80) and move up to finer grits (120-150).
Rub lightly back and forth over any areas where there are cracks. You may have to reapply several times but keep going until you see bare wood appear through the crack. Be careful not to rub too hard because that can cause more damage than repair!
3) Putty over the crack
If your carving’s crack is minor, there’s a good chance that it can be repaired with some wood putty and sandpaper. Start by smoothing out any rough patches, cracks, or edges around the crack in question with sandpaper.
Puttying requires more finesse than patching, so you may want to consider replacing broken areas instead of trying to fix them if you aren’t experienced in woodworking. When applying wood putty, cover everything but the intended area; you don’t want extra putty getting inside the crack and being difficult to remove later.
Run your finger along the area where you applied putty as well as adjacent surfaces: if there are still visible ridges or lines indicating a seam, apply another layer of putty over those lines until they disappear into uniformity with surrounding areas.
Allow each coat of putty to dry thoroughly before applying another one. You might need several coats of putty to get rid of all imperfections left behind by chipped pieces and seam lines. Once you’re satisfied with your putty work, sand down its edges using fine-grit sandpaper—this will blend it into what surrounds it more smoothly. When done carefully, even severely cracked carvings can be saved!
4) Glue pieces together
If one of your carving pieces cracks, glue it back together. You can mix up a batch of carpenter’s glue or Elmer’s glue, apply it to both sides of your carving, and hold it in place until dry. Just make sure you work on a disposable surface that won’t be ruined by excess glue. And let your sculpture sit overnight before using.
This method might not work if one side of your piece is cracked through too deeply—you may have to discard any parts with deep splits—but if you have simply fractured an edge, not gone all the way through, then don’t throw away those broken pieces! They might still come in handy.
5) Sand away excess putty
Remove excess putty from cracks in wood carvings by carefully rubbing it off with fine sandpaper. Then, wipe away any traces of sanding dust using a cloth dampened with mineral spirits. You can buy mineral spirits at most hardware stores. Sanded areas will look dull when you’re done; don’t worry—this is normal, and you’ll fix that next.
6) Use stain to cover up imperfections
If you’re looking for a quick way to cover up unsightly cracks in wood carvings, consider using an oil-based stain. These stains tend to provide more coverage than paints and they tend to blend into your project seamlessly.
To apply an oil-based stain, you simply need some paintbrushes and a few hours. You should be able to conceal most cracks with two coats of stain. For areas that can’t be reached by brush—such as deep grooves—simply fill a syringe with stain, insert it directly into each crack, and inject it quickly.
Now let that sit overnight and then clean off any excess staining fluid with nail polish remover or alcohol before finishing it off with one final coat of water-based polyurethane. That’s all there is to it! Remember: oil-based stains tend to smell pretty awful when they dry, so always set up fans in case fumes start getting out of hand. I usually put mine outside on my patio so neighbors don’t get grossed out!
Just remember that staining can also darken/change your carving and may not be a great option if you want to preserve its condition or color.
7) Seal your new statue with a protective coating
Many pieces of wooden artwork have cracks in them due to changes in temperature and humidity. To seal your carving, brush on several layers of lacquer. This thin coating will help keep moisture out of your carving and ensure it stays preserved for years.
Make sure you sand lightly between coats for a smooth finish! If you don’t have lacquer on hand, try using polyurethane or shellac instead. These options may be more flexible than lacquer depending on where you live. Whatever product you choose, make sure it has good durability (and isn’t water-soluble!) before applying.
Here are some materials that would work well:
- Rust-Oleum Ultimate Wood Stain is durable and weather resistant.
- Shellac from Minwax is highly rated and available at most hardware stores.
- Polyurethane from Minwax is also highly rated and available at most hardware stores.
- A fourth option might be tung oil; although it won’t protect against rainwater, its natural ingredients would breathe easier into your carving compared to chemical-laden commercial products like varnish or lacquer.
8) Be sure to make it level again
Gently sand off some of your carvings if it has become uneven. Then, check for level by placing a carpenter’s level across your carving. This will ensure that it is straight and level. Be sure to use fine-grain sandpaper when you are leveling out your wood carving.
Finally, apply two or three thin coats of furniture wax after you have leveled out your wood carving. This will help protect your woodcarving from cracking again in warm temperatures. You may even want to consider adding some metal pins and nails into your carving which can add extra support as well. Check with any local craft supply store about these materials. Most stores can sell you products for supporting items like these at reasonable prices.
Most cracks occur because of changes in temperature and humidity. Because wood expands and contracts with humidity, changing seasons may cause cracking. The good news is that there are a few things you can do to help.
- Keep your wood indoors when possible;
- keep it in a storage area or closet during extreme heat or cold so it doesn’t experience large fluctuations.
- Keep your carving out of direct sunlight which could cause bleaching as well as warping and cracking.
But if all else fails, always remember: You have options! You don’t have to toss a beloved family heirloom just because it has small cracks running through it.