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I am doing an entry level relief carving in basswood. And I have some questions about preparation and finishing it. I keep reading that sanding is taboo on a relief carving. However it seems that no matter how sharp my tools are, I run into a section where it just doesn't carve clean. Do I sand that to clean it, do I scrape it or just pitch it in the designer wood pile? What is the best and most fool proof way to stain and finish a relief carving?
 

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I carve in the round, soft woods like western red cedar and yellow cedar. Just a bunch of deep relief carvings, wrapped around the piece!

When I get tear-outs, I have to stop and hone the tool ever so gently then make very shallow cuts specifically in that area (Hello of a nuisance, yes?) In 15 years, I can't see a better way.

Finish. How much reflectance do I want to see? Flecto satin Varathane is OK. MinWax Tung Oil Protective Finish (TOPF) is really glossy with 4 coats. Artists' grade acrylic matte medium and gloss finish give approx similar results. I did some WRC dishes (4" x 4" x 12") with 2X acrylic gloss varnish, pretty shiny but that's OK.


Sanding. All or nothing. The shredding from the sandpapers changes the penetration of the finish. If I don't get it all, it looks blotchy-diseased, WRC in particular. Did a caterpillar, 4" x 4" x 18", in WRC and was not careful sanding the head = the tool marks are dark, the sanded parts are pale.

So the WIP on the bench at the moment is yellow cedar. A big dish, 17" x 13" x 2". Some parts have been sanded to 280. That was several days effort. Other parts were textured with a #5 sweep (gouges & crooked knives). There's enough visible grain pattern and in service, the dish needs a tough finish. Plan 4 coats of MinWax TOPF.

Hope these musings help.

Come to think of it, some carvings are satin and gloss parts, some partly painted with acrylics. I've used house paint on the big things.
If you really think that you have bombed the piece, finish it anyway. Sand some parts, test finishes and so on.
BUT! Do yourself a favor =never sand a piece and decide to stick a gouge into that. The sandgrains stuck in the wood are the kiss of death for gouge edges.
 

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I am doing an entry level relief carving in basswood. And I have some questions about preparation and finishing it. I keep reading that sanding is taboo on a relief carving. However it seems that no matter how sharp my tools are, I run into a section where it just doesn't carve clean. Do I sand that to clean it, do I scrape it or just pitch it in the designer wood pile? What is the best and most fool proof way to stain and finish a relief carving?
I carve too and have never cared for basswood because the chisels have to be so sharp. I like carving Honduras mahogany better. It's softer than most hardwoods and you don't spend your life sharpening chisels. The piece you are working on now I would sand it. If you are going to stain it I would use a wood conditioner prior to staining. It would also stain more uniform if you would stain it first with a stain that is too light and before it dries stain it again with the stain you want. Just be sure to practice the finish on a scrap piece of wood first. A better stain for more uniform color would be a alcohol based aniline dye. I often use Mohawk Ultra Penetrating Stain.
 

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Log dog
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Most relief carvings in basswood are then painted after. Basswood is bland and doesn't finish all that well. I love carving walnut
 

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Old School
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Whether it's to be painted or not may matter. I've done them both ways. Adding some kind of finish would help in keeping it clean. I've got a few that I've added a thin application of waterbase polyurethane. I didn't want this one to get darker. I did some sanding.

For this one, there was no sanding, just paring, with a light coat of WB poly.






.
 

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Rick Mosher
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I agree with everything everyone said. The cool thing about doing carving is that there is no wrong way. You can do very refined carving or really roughly carved pieces as well.

There are many people carving in Basswood and then doing detailed painting with acrylics. I have done some carving in Walnut and Mahogany and enjoyed both. I tried Oak and for me it was too hard.

I am an artist also so I enjoy painting but some purist woodworkers would consider it a sin to paint the wood.

I would just do what you enjoy, learn from the experience and share your work with us. :thumbsup:

Stewmac has some really small scrapers that instrument makers use that could be of help in tight areas.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Thanks for sharing your knowledge everyone. Part of my problem was an area that I could only get chisel in from one direction (was carving a horse and in between the ears) and of course that direction was not the way the wood wanted to be carved. And as I reflect on this piece I am thinking the wood was exceptionally dry. I live in northern climate and it has been exceptionally cold this winter, thus furnace running a lot and am thinking my wood was too dry?? Is there a good way to identify minor tearouts before staining?? I seemed to have found some that I didn't realize was there?? For finish what I did was put a brush coat of lacquer on let it dry then one light spray coat of lacquer then waited overnight then stained it and that is what really highlighted the tearouts. I wasn't happy with the look, so I waited and sprayed a toner over the whole thing, it helped. My wife likes it, but I think that has more to do with marriage vows. Mostly I do chip carving in basswood and butternut, and least experienced in relief and round carving, but I really enjoy doing them. I have mixed results with the wood conditioner one time it will work great--the next time not so much--I am assuming it has to do with density of the piece?? I get good and consistent color from the water based blotch control and really like it, excepting on flatter carved pieces I get some warping---that I don't like. I like the idea of the miniature scrapers.
 

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In order to highlight the defects before you commit yourself to stain you can wash the carving down with a solvent. You could use mineral spirits, naphtha,alcohol or lacquer thinner which none would raise the grain or affect the wood.

Could you post a picture of the tearout on the horse. One of us may have a tip on how to avoid the tearout.
 

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Log dog
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Plus 1 on the pics.
Can't really help without it. Wood is wood and no two pieces are the same. My way to solve your problem will be different than others and vice versa.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Hopefully here is the picture. The problem I had with the space in between ears was that there was some real nasty grain, and because of the ears I couldn't carve it from the sides. I could only come from the top down toward the head and that is not the way it wanted to be carved. On the area below the mouth (again where I had tearout) pretty much the same thing---as I carved towards the mouth the grain was such that the chisel wanted to go deeper and thus got tearout and because of the elevated mouth area I couldn't come from the top down. As I reflect on this piece I am also thinking maybe I got a little too aggressive lowering the background, and that caused some tearout problems, as I didn't get the tearout on the main body of horse, but more so in background area. So if I didn't stain the piece would tearout have been so noticeable?? And when I put a sealer coat on the piece (in this case I brushed on a coat of lacquer) why didn't it seal the tearouts so they didn't absorb excess stain?? On the mane, where it is on forehead, there are some small v shaped areas that had were diificult to cut cleanly and therefor stain got darker and almost muddied. I don't mind the darker so much (as it kinda adds a shadow effect) but I don't like how the stain lodged in there and wouldn't wipe out cleanly. My goal is to always improve (even if ever so slightly) on every piece, so any advice is much appreciated. 001 copy.jpg
 

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Nice job. :thumbsup:
I'm wondering with the problems you are having if you have any spoon chisels. They would help you in hard to reach places. Even though, you should have been able to make light shaves cross grain. With basswood you really need your chisels razor sharp. I sharpen mine on Arkansas stones and finish by stropping them on a piece of leather imbedded with a jewelers rouge.

When you work out your tearout problem you might try staining with a very light stain and seal. Then apply a darker glaze wiping off the excess. What that would do is darken all the low areas bringing out the detail.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Thanks Steve and cabinetman, your advice is much appreciated. I have limited spoon chisels--but even with that because both ears were higher than the background (and such a narrow area in between ears) I couldn't get a spoon gouge in there to go sideways of the grain. I am pretty sure that if that board was 6 inches taller, there would have been either a knot or an area where the board was part of the log where a branch went out from it. But that is things I need to learn to deal with. I should have been taking lighter cuts when I got into that grain. Steve when you glaze it--after you stain it then seal it--do you sand the seal coat before glazing and if so what grit?? And what do you use as a seal coat?? I am thinking about making some practice boards that have both chip and chisel cuts on them and experiment with sealers stain etc. Finishing is my biggest nightmare.
 

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If the wood is reasonably smooth I wouldn't sand the sealer before using the glaze. At that point there is very little finish there so sanding should be avoided. Then after applying the glaze you could apply what ever sealer you normally use over it. Be sure to follow the directions on the glaze and let it dry well. After you get sufficient sealer on the carving you could then start sanding the finish with 220 or finer grit. All you are trying to do sanding is smooth it where the finish has raised the grain.
 
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