Jump to content

Wood working tips and tricks

Joe Aimetti

Recommended Posts

I got this information from the "Smoky Mountain Woodcarver's" site (Woodcarvers.com). Some good information and tricks for wood checking, cracking and working with difficult wood. Thought it could help some beginners out.




Remember to follow common sense when working with flamable liquids like Denatured alcohol. If you soak the wood with it and try to use a high speed grinder or burner, you better bring some hotdogs and get some use out of the wood before it burns compleatly away!



Using ALCOHOL to Soften Wood


Some woods, such as walnut or oak, are very tough and hard to carve. You can soften the wood up by applying de-natured alcohol to it. The alcohol will not cause the grain to raise like water will. The alcohol, of course, will evaporate with time.




Some woods will be pithy and will fuzz up (some basswood) when you cut it or grind it. I have found that when you mix 50% de-natured alcohol and 50% white shellac and coat the wood, it stabilizes the wood and makes it very smooth to cut and grind. This mixture will not hurt the wood or cause the grain to raise up. You can paint or burn the wood after you finish carving just like always. You will have to re-apply the mixture as you waste the wood.


Help for Preventing Pieces from Checking


It is worth leaving wood in your shop for some time before it, whether it

has been air or kiln dried, so as to allow it to acclimatize and settle

down. Ideally the wood should be stored for awhile where the carving will

finally reside but this is neither practical or very possible. Be aware

of dry atmospheres such as centrally heated houses such as most of us have.

Keeping wood in a damp out-building or garage, and then bringing it into

a warm, very dry house is asking for trouble. Try to introduce what you

need gradually - perhaps initially in a plastic bag- some time before you

need it and keep an eye on it. Keep work covered in a plastic bag between

carving sessions. Keeping damp rags or towels in the plastic bag with the

wood also helps.


Help for Brittle Wood


For really brittle woods, especially in undercuts on relief carvings:

mix a solution of 5 parts water to 2 parts of white (Elmer's) glue.

Paint this on the weakened areas of the carving and allow to dry. The glue

will penetrate the dry wood and add some needed strength while you work the

areas around and underneath the area. (Editor's note: most any water

soluble glue will work).

Our thanks to John Mark Vaughn for this tip.



Splitting or Checking


If you are working on a piece and you are worried about it checking or

splitting, store it in a plastic bag along with some damp towels or cloths

between carving sessions. Also, be sure to not store it where there are

wide temperature variations.


Need to fill in a crack or check? Mix sawdust from your piece with glue and put into crack or check. When dry, carve or sand and finish as usual. A piece of the same kind of wood can be glued into a large crack or hole and then carved to fit.


Need a good wood filler? Use baking soda. Just fill in the crack or hole and add a drop or two of super glue. You can carve and paint it when it hardens. Thanks to Bob Lowe for this tip.


Hairline crack in your carving? Pick up some acrylic paste from any art supply store. It can be colored to match any wood, using acrylic paints. This paste will fill into hairline cracks and can be piled up to about 1/8" thick without cracking. It can be carved and sanded like wood and will take any finish you wish


Often logs or even large blocks of wood develop checks from drying stress. Checks often develop in the most undesirable places. The usual remedy of pushing in glue and sawdust mixture doesn't work well. Try putting in the glue first. Work the glue down into the checks with a thin knife blade, then sprinkle the area with sawdust and work it into the check. The crevice will be more deeply filled.


If you need to darken a piece of black walnut that isn't quite dark enough, paint it with a 10% solution of lye to get proper effect. The best way to do this is to work the wood to the desired dimensions first and then wash or paint on the solution. After drying the piece should be polished with fine sandpaper. Care must be taken not to make the lye solution too strong. Don't forget the microwave oven can be use to dry small pieces of wood - at low temperature. Several sessions at a lower temperature are usually better than one time at high temperatures.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...