How to protect wood carvings outside

Painting wood carvings for indoor use, as we discussed in our previous article on basswood, isn’t enough when they go outside. Outdoor carvings need extra care to last. In this article, we’ll share tips on protecting wood carvings outdoors and explain why it’s essential – so you’ll know why you’re doing it.

Do you have to protect outdoor carvings

Once, I used to say ‘yes’ without hesitation when asked if outdoor carvings needed protection. But now, my answer is still ‘yes,’ with a small exception. There’s an artistic approach where you can leave it as is, but it comes with specific rules. However, for the most part, if you want your artwork to withstand the elements, proper measures are a must. And here are more reasons why protecting outdoor wood is crucial.

3 reasons to protect outdoor carvings

1. Protection

Filling the tiny spaces between the wood fibers is like giving your wood carving armor. It shields it from getting dirty and greasy, especially from handling. If left unprotected, the wood might end up looking dull and dirty because of stains. Some parts of a carving can get touched repeatedly, making the color uneven and spoiling the overall look. Protection can also include preventing woodworm infestations

2. Enhancing the carving

picking a finish that enhances the carving

Whether you’re applying a basic sealer or using techniques like sandblasting, burning, and color staining, the finish should make your work look better. In simpler terms, if the finish makes your carving look worse, it’s not worth using. Carvings that took a long time to create can be spoiled in just minutes with the wrong finish. Many carvers have rushed to finish a project and later wished they had tried different finishes on scrap wood first.

3. Sealing

Sealing the wood acts like a barrier, making it harder for moisture to move between the wood surface and the air. This moisture movement is often the cause of wood cracks, bends, and other shape changes caused by wood movement.

Now that we’ve grasped the importance of safeguarding wood, let’s explore the choices available for outdoor protection.

Types of wood finishes for outdoor carving

The biggest threats to your wood carving when it’s outside are sunlight and moisture. So, the best protection needs to shield against both UV damage and moisture. You can sometimes find products that do both jobs in one. But other times, you might need to use two different products. Here are some types of finishes that work well for outdoor wood carvings.

Types of Outdoor Wood Finishes

  1. Spar Varnishes and Urethane, Marine: This are the durability champions most products will offer UV and moisture protection
  2. Outdoor varnishes and polyurethanes: Just like the spar these are also durable. They will include the specialized floor polyurethanes.
  3. Outdoor oils and stains: These are great but for higher durability go with products marketed for floor especially for big carvings, sculptures
  4. Exterior Spray Finishes: These spray polyurethanes are good for the small projects they are easy to work with too.
Minwax Helmsman Indoor/Outdoor Spar Urethane
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If you're making a wood carving for the great outdoors, especially in places with rough weather, then you'll want to meet the Helmsman Spar Urethane. This stuff is built to last and protect your carving like a champion. It's like putting on a sturdy coat for your wood.

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Now, let’s explore how these finishes can keep your outdoor wood carvings safe and looking good.

How to Protect Wood Carvings for Outside Display

So, you’ve chosen the perfect finish for your outdoor wood carving, but how do you ensure that it provides the best protection and longevity for your masterpiece? Let’s explore the steps to safeguard your wood carving and make it thrive in an outdoor environment.

1. Prepare Your Wood Carving:

Before applying any finish, ensure that your wood carving is in top condition. Sand the surface if needed to create a smooth and clean canvas for the finish to adhere to. Remove any dust or debris, as these can affect the finish’s quality.

Choose the Right Environment

2. Choose the Right Environment:

Select an appropriate location for your outdoor wood carving. Avoid areas with direct exposure to harsh sunlight or excessive moisture. Placing your carving under a covered patio, in a garden, or on a well-shaded porch can help extend its lifespan. Also make sure your carving is on a raised platform direct ground contact require specially treated wood.

3. Apply the Finish:

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your chosen finish carefully. Apply the finish evenly using a brush, sponge, or spray, making sure to follow the wood’s grain. Multiple thin coats are often better than one thick coat, as they provide more even coverage.

4. Allow Proper Drying Time:

Be patient and let each coat of finish dry thoroughly before applying the next one. The drying time can vary depending on the type of finish and environmental conditions. Rushing this step can lead to an uneven or less effective finish.

5. Sand Between Coats (If Necessary):

For a smoother finish, you may choose to lightly sand the wood between coats. This step helps remove any imperfections and ensures better adhesion for subsequent layers.

6. Repeat as Needed:

Many finishes require multiple coats for optimal protection. Don’t skip this step, as it can significantly enhance the longevity of your wood carving. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for the number of coats required.

7. Maintain and Inspect Regularly:

Check your wood carving periodically for signs of wear, damage, or fading. If you notice any issues, address them promptly by cleaning and reapplying the finish as needed.

8. Store During Harsh Weather:

In extreme weather conditions, such as heavy rain or snow, it’s a good idea to bring your wood carving indoors or provide extra protection. This can help prevent damage caused by prolonged exposure to harsh elements.

9. Clean Gently:

If your wood carving accumulates dirt or grime, clean it gently with a soft brush or cloth. Avoid harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaning materials, as they can damage the finish.

Enjoy and Share

With proper care, your outdoor wood carving can grace your space with its beauty for years to come. Share your artwork proudly with friends, family, and the world.

By following these steps and selecting the right finish for your outdoor wood carving, you can ensure that your masterpiece remains a stunning and enduring addition to your outdoor space. Happy carving and enjoy the beauty of your wood art in the great outdoors!

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