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Hard time to get a varnish right. Newbie, help please!!

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  • Hard time to get a varnish right. Newbie, help please!!

    Hello everyone!

    So I picked up a chisel for the first time a few weeks ago after a found a piece of wood from some trees being cut down. Um, turns out the wood was from a tourist tree, or turpentine tree. They grow in the South and are the ones that lose skin. I was already surprised how hard it is to work on this thing until I found out that it is 100 times harder than oak. Anyway, I made it and I sanded it, max sanding was using 800 paper.

    Yesterday I put some wipe-on poly on it and strange things are happening. I did expect the wood to get darker, but not that dark in the cracks. Also on her
    buttocks there is some weird gunk, when I was sanding it almost felt the 'sand' did not want to come off. At no point I got to a place where I could see nice wood
    like in other parts.

    Can someone help with this? I am not sure how to save this thing. It really looked nice when it was sanded, all white, of course there were some little cracks, but I thought if I sand it even down more, shape will be lost.

    Any help would be appreciated, I am eager to learn. Thank you!


  • #2
    That is a really elegant piece of work. Do more. I see so little need for any detail.
    Welcome. Stick around (pun intended).

    Wood is what wood wants to be. Up and down, even across a log, wood changes.
    Besides the whole carving and finishing parts, you have to start somewhere to "learn the wood".
    You learn what it is and what it isn't. How it cuts and shapes. How does drying change it?
    Brian T


    • #3
      Wise words! Thank you! Um, yes, I heard today wood needs to dry 10 years or so before you should use it. I guess I just leave it like this now and watch what happens and 'learn the wood'. Great expression!


      • #4
        Elke: it's common practice to seal the cut ends of wood to slow down the speed of water loss as the wood dries.
        Old paint, wood glue, even fancy products made for the job.
        Outdoors, under cover and not cooked in a shed, wood should dry down to 12 - 14% moisture content ( the Equilimrium Moisture Content)
        at a rate of about an inch per year. So a 2" stick, drying from both sides, ought to settle down in a year or so. A 4" stick, at least 2 years.

        Build up a bit of an inventory of wood. Try to keep track of the ages.
        Sometimes ("learn the wood"), fresh green wood is easy to carve and the stuff turns from cheese to bone as it dries.

        I use 24" western red cedar blocks and actually do nothing to them. They crack. I might lose 2-4" out of each end.
        Fresh, they might weigh 30-40 lbs and after drying for years, about 20 pounds.

        I must be careless, the cracking doesn;'t bother me, just carve right through it.

        I bought some 64" posts for story poles and not one single fine crack in any of them!
        I bought some 4" x 4" cedar posts for a carving bench = they are all cracked to Hello.
        Brian T


        • #5
          Very nice stylistic carving! In the future, try to find some Poplar, or go to Heinecke Wood Products and order some top quality basswood. Either is much less hard thad what you carved... On the other hand, if you like the wood you used, continue - it looks great.

          I looked and noticed that the "turpentine tree" is native to OZ - are you there?

          Last edited by Claude; 11-07-2018, 10:19 PM.
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          • #6
            One thing about finishes....they all can produce different results. Some will keep the white color you want, others will change colors of the wood depending on what you want. Meaning a dark finish can be made by the kind of finish you use and same with a lighter finish. The wood will not often look like it does when sanded, depending on the wood you are using. Each tree and wood will also its own grain pattern,texture, and color, .....which can be rather bold if you do not know it. So the finish and the kind of wood and also its patterns will determine a finished look. To understand the look with a finish on it ....wet the wood will start to give you an idea what it will look like with a finish. Test a piece of wood scrap to see what your finish will do to it before you put it on the work. Finishes are a whole book or more is a major learning curve. For that lighter color....I use a matte spray finish...but note to much spray equals ....too much transparent gloss. Wood can have dark spots in the grain, they can also have mini cracks, and it can have damaged areas. I believe the wood you are using may have high sap in it ....which makes it difficult to use?

            One thing about working with wood ...these are issues we all face, somethings can be repaired ....something is just a learning lesson for the next time you carve. Wood can be repaired, but that is very time consuming and the learning curve is great....for someone new. I say be done and move on to the next project. Note each kind of wood is a learning lesson, what you can and can not do is not the same for all woods. Basswood is major great for beginners ...hardly zero grain pattern and easy to carve and finish mainly because we can tell what to do and not do. If you want major challenges then use found woods and local woods but ....know it will be a major learning lesson and you may not get what you want until you make a few or more works. Some woods you will hate and others you will love, some are hard as rocks and almost impossible to carve and other are a dream to carve....and note what is great for me ....maybe your worst nightmare. So gets lots of different advice and try things out to see where and what to do ......just for you.


            • #7
              Wet vs dry wood carving. Hardwoods and the exotics are often carved wet, then dried to finish. Why because they are ten times easier to carve wet. Worst issue with carving wet is cracking. Me I carve it all.....wet and dry. It will also depend where you are living ....dry in rainforest area like me how fast it will dry. Each wood again drys at different rates, depends on the kind of wood it is some dry fast and others major slow this takes research on your behalf. Plus it depends on how thick your woods is how fast it will dry? There are alot of factors the determine how fast a log will dry. If you get your purchased and kiln dried you do not worry about it.

              Me, is one thing I do not worry about, if it cracks cracks that is the way of the wood. Cracks can be repaired if you have the time and patience. These issues again....have a learning curve. Some people I know will know what percentage of how dry the wood is so they can work it....without issues...they are often master craftsmen making bowls and top of the line furniture. I do not have the patience for such learning...just carve the darn thing and move on. If the log is big I may go ahead and carve it because the wood drys from the outside first and cause the middle to crack,....I will carve it wet to make sure it has equal drying and thus prevent a major inside core crack later on. This is from experience of carving different sizes of wood.


              • #8
                One great thing about this forum we all have different ways of doing things. Brian can tell you what shape and angle his tools are and what is the best. Me I just shape the darn things by sight and could not tell you what shape or angle they are. Same with measurement of water in a log....I have no idea how much water is in it. For you it will be a pick and choose your way in carving....there are many, many paths and you will have to find out what works best for you.


                • #9
                  Elke, beautiful carving. I think the cracks went darker because the poly built up there.

                  I'd go one of two ways for finishing that assuming you want to keep the natural color of the wood. (for future carvings use)

                  I'd use a water based poly/varnish/acrylic that states "water clear". The first coat would raise the grain and need a little sanding or rubbing with a white synthetic sanding pad to get rid of the fuzzies.

                  or I'd use a spray on acrylic or lacquer from a rattle can.

                  For my own carvings I tend to use the satin lacquer if something needs a finish. It changes the color very little though


                  • #10
                    That's a beautiful piece of wood, and a wonderful carving. Add a couple more coats of poly, sand between coats, and let her shine.

                    BTW rule of thumb says wood needs to air dry for one year per inch of thickness


                    • #11
                      Amazing piece... what else can I say. I love it... even with the problems that you describe.
                      As far as drying the wood, if we waited 10 years for wood to dry we would never be able to carve. I buy my wood from a guy that fells basswood for a carving club and I know it is not dried for ten years, lucky if it is dried for a month. Buy the wood from Heinecke (or whom ever you like) and carve away... don't over think it or you will never enjoy it.
                      Last edited by Dwight; 11-09-2018, 05:01 PM.
                      ~ Dwight
                      "Hello, I am the Friggin' Happiness Fairy and I just sprinkled happy dust on you, so smile damit' this crap is expensive."


                      • #12
                        Thank you so much everyone for all this help! I did sand it down a tad and I got those stranger spots out, I think I will leave it like this now and move on. I did find Heineke Wood here on the forum last week and definitely will order some basswood. I was totally excited! ! Was at a Dickblick store and got a little piece and oh boy, this is like butter! Now I can't believe I hammered through this other wood. Claude asked what tree it is and it is this one, they are all over Florida and Georgia.


                        For me to do this was super exciting because I am a graphic designer and have a hard time seeing/doing things in 3D, after doing this I thought, hey that was not that bad!!! Next step is trying something more realistic and detailed. I can't wait to browse through this forum and see and read all the cool things you are doing! Thanks so much again!!


                        • #13
                          By more realistic what are you referring too, people, animals, or birds?
                          ~ Dwight
                          "Hello, I am the Friggin' Happiness Fairy and I just sprinkled happy dust on you, so smile damit' this crap is expensive."


                          • #14
                            IMG_0268.jpg Dwight, I would LOVE to carve anything realistic. I think it is really not easy. I already did a few Santas for xmas and that was fun. Right now I have on my list a human head. After that I want to do a lions face. I am really fascinated by Tilman Riemenschneider. Amazing that someone can even carve like that. I would LOVE to try! I just brought this piece from Germany, it was my mom's, she bought it from an Austrian carver, I am just amazed by this. I would love to learn to carve like this.


                            • #15
                              If you want to try this type of carving there are sites that sell roughouts that you can start with. Here is a link to a realistic cowboy roughout. Actually this link takes you take the main page. Use the stuff on the left side, scan down to realistic and you will find what you need. Working with a roughout is a good way to start.
                              ~ Dwight
                              "Hello, I am the Friggin' Happiness Fairy and I just sprinkled happy dust on you, so smile damit' this crap is expensive."