June 30, 2021

How to Date Wood Carvings | Clear Methods To Follow

How to tell how old wood carvings are

It’s no secret that wood carvings are the best choice if you want to make yourself a beautiful keepsake or decorate a room. Proper care and maintenance can last for generations, but that’s not all – wood carvings need to be treated properly to make them last. One of the most difficult aspects of woodworking is how to treat wood carvings to make them last. Do not worry. In this article, you will learn how to properly treat and care for wood carvings.

Dating wood by the rings

Dating wood by the rings is a process called Dendrochronology. It involves observation of tree rings to the actual year they formed, and it gives you the climatic and atmospheric conditions during different periods in the life of the wood. Drill a sampling portion and growth ring counting (Source). 

Each ring represents a year, and outside rings close to the bark are the youngest. Sometimes, you may not have the exact date, but you have a range. That does not mean you cannot have the actual date. 

An exact date comes from a sample to the edge; however, most trimmed wood does not give such. Dendrochronology also gives you data on the timed events and rates of change in the environment. You are also allowed to check in radiocarbon dating for radiocarbon ages. 

Radiocarbon dating is the process of rating the age of an object with organic material using radiocarbon properties. As the tree grows, it develops layers of cells near the bark. 

The rate at which it grows is affected by changes in climate. That is how growth rings become visible. Each wood ring represents a complete cycle of a season or one year. The wood rings are visible in trees that have grown in temperate zones. 

The dendrochronology process is consistent in areas with marginal conditions such as aridity. In these conditions, ring growth is sensitive to the environment. During summer, the wood grows fast and is light due to large cells. In summer, the growth slows down.

Dating wood by the color

The same way your complexion is affected by the sun is the same way the color of the wood is with time. The wood continues to evolve even when treated, and the color changes its appearance over time. 

UV light and oxygen contribute to the change in color over time. Lighter wood darkens with time, and darker wood lightens. When you identify the type of wood, check the change in color, as it tells you how old the wood is. 

Cherry comes in reddish, but it turns to a dark hue in twelve months. The color continues to deepen with time. The aging process is bound to happen if your wood is exposed to UV light and air. 

Wood color varies from one type of wood to the other. Wood contracts and expands with time, and that changes its state. You cannot have an exact age, but you can work on a range. Study how each type of wood changes its color. Do not judge wood using one type of wood as a yardstick.  

Dating wood by the grain

The wood grain shifts or changes direction with time, and the wood expands and contracts. That results in the grain structure moving in three different directions and more across the grain. 

It also shrinks in the radial direction and starts changing shape since the annual rings start moving side to side. What is essential is estimating the wood movement and know how much a board moves. 

The rule of thumb helps you master the skill. Observe the moisture content so that you get to know how much it affects the wood. Consider the time of the year since wood shrinks more during winter and swells during summer. During the spring, it falls. 

Understanding the grain helps you estimate the age of your wood. Some irregularities come on the surface of the wood that tells you the age of the piece. The piece tells you if an item was made by hand or machine. If the wood furniture was handcrafted, the details of the carvings do not match. 

Consider the style, shape, and size of the carving

The style determines the age of the wood since you have to look at when the carving style was popular. The time is not specific, but there is a time range that you work on. 

An analysis of the wood’s cuts and weathering gives you the wood’s age, and that is before you cut it. Minerals and isotopes tell you if the wood is affected by multiple environmental factors that you can trace back. The trees that produced the wood are common and scarce in some places. 

If the wood existed in an area for a certain period, trace the years it survived. If the tree died at a certain period, it was carved before. Tools used to cut the wood leave traceable scars. 

The scars tell you the techniques used to cut the wood. You would know the age if you had an idea of when the tree was planted. There are other materials used on the wood that determine the age. 

These include screws and nails. There is an evolution in the type of screws, from square ends to pointed ones. The wood piece’s edge tells you the wood’s age, and the style tells you the era in which the wood was made. The 15th century highlighted floral and animal-based patterns, and the 17th century had gildings and engravings. Different styles depict different eras. 

Consider the history of the carvings

There are radiometric techniques that determine the age of the wood. As the archaeologist gives the date, there is a consideration of the date of manufacture. If that proves to be a problematic carving style exercise, use the date of the material to give you an approximate measurement of time. 

Wood is an organic material that you are allowed to trace its age from the original tree. Since the process of making wood changes with time, use radiocarbon dating. Radiocarbon dating determines age using the features of radiocarbon (Source). 

The object should contain organic material. There is also luminescence dating. The process evolves how long ago a material was exposed to the sunlight and buried (Source). That gives you the minimum age, and it might have been buried soon after it was created.


Dating wood carvings are a great hobby to get into. You can find different types of woodcarving that are diverse in their way. Some types of wood carvings can be intricate, while others can be fundamental. If you are into wood carving, you can easily find various wood carvings that you enjoy. Learn more about carving through our wood carving guide. You may also want to see our post on How to Build a Wood Carving Duplicator.

David D. Hughes

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