February 17, 2021

How to fix a Rotting Wood Carving

Wood carvings were always a big part of my community, especially when the annual town fair rolled around. But the struggle of keeping the wood carvings in pristine shape just in time for the show, even when it’s been raining, has always been an essential part of the town’s carvers. It took me some time, but I finally learned how best to keep my carvings in good condition. 

rotting carving ball

Staring at a wood piece that may be rotting can be a daunting feeling, and you may feel helpless. But there is a way to redeem your wood before it becomes irreparable. 

In this article, we take a look at how to fix a rotting wood carving. We will look at a list of things that you may need to use, a step-by-step guide to fixing it, and what you can generally expect. Let us dive right in, shall we?

List of things that you may need to use:

  • Sandpaper 
  •  A good wood filler
  • The wood stain that matches the carving
  •  A soft clean cloth
  • Old newspapers, or material to lay underneath the sculpture so that you don’t dirty the area
  • A pallet knife as well as a utility knife
  • Steel wool or sandpaper or a sanding block
  • Extra cloth to clean up when you are done. 
  •  Paintbrush
  • Rasp
  • A chisel
  • A Polyester filler
  • Wood hardener 
  • Goggles.
  • Rubber gloves.

Step By Step Process.

Method 1

There are a couple of ways to make sure that you redeem a wood carving that may be otherwise rendered useless if left to rot. Often, rotting wood gets damaged and cracked. 

Wooden owl

The following method will show you how to deal with those damages. Make sure that you are working in a dry and well-ventilated space. Identify the area where the rot may have cracked the wood or damaged it so that you can repair it. 

  1. The first thing you will want to do is clean up the sculpture and expose the parts that will need repairing. If rot is setting in, there is also a high chance that there is dirt built around it. However, as you clean it, make sure that you do not use water. This will only make matters worse and may even stain the wood. Water can only make the rot even worse. 
  2. Lay down the cloth or newspaper so that you work over it. 
  3. Using the wood filler that matches your sculpture’s color, fill the sculpture’s visible cracks from top and bottom.
  4. You can use the pallet knife to smooth the wood filler in. 
  5. Lets the wood filler dry and cure
  6. Sand it down and make sure it is smooth and has no rough edges. 
  7. Apply the wood stain 

Method 2

  1. The first thing you will want to do is to remove the wood that is rotting.
  2. Once the rotten wood is removed, coat the area with a wood hardener.
  3. Mix polyester wood filler and begin pressing it into the parts of the wood that are damaged. 
  4. Shape and smooth the area over.
  5. As it hardens, shape the filler to match the carving around it. this is where you may need to use your chisel and a sharp tool. You may use consolidant, which will help strengthen the wood fibers. 

Method 3 -These are more brutal, and shouldn’t be used on delicate carvings

  1. Use a chisel and mallet to chip away the rotting wood.
  2. You can also use a belt sander for sanding away all the rotten bits. However, you cannot be delicate with this method.

Method 4

  1. Clean up the sculpture
  2. Remove the rotting wood.
  3. You can also use epoxy sealant. Wood epoxy works as a consolidant and can be sprayed on, injected, or poured in since it’s a liquid resin. This will help the wood fibers grip the wood putty better.
  4. Apply the wood putty
  5. Allow it to dry
  6. Smooth out the area. You can do this by sanding it down.  
  7. You can then paint or stain the putty so that it matches the rest of the carving.  

How Long it will take

The actual time needed can be determined by the size of the wood you want to repair and how deep the rot goes. A lot of wood putties have a working time of about 15minutes. However, the entire process can take up to a week. 

Remember to keep the wood in a dry and well-ventilated place not to take longer than it needs to. If time is not a luxury that you have, you should look for a wood hardener that dries and hardens quickly. 

Expected Results

You can expect to have to lose some parts of your wood carving. This can be heart-wrenching. Just keep in mind that you are trying to get rid of what’s damaged and stop any further damage. 

Things to look out for

  • It is important to read labels and know the wood filler’s drying rate that you will use. This will guide you to know how fast you will need to work before it hardens. 
  • When you use polyester filler on a vertical area, there is a chance that it will sag and drip down. So consider this if you will be working on a carving that stands tall. 
  • Make sure the wood is not beyond redemption. Rotted wood is different from wood that is still in the process of rotting. You can save rotting wood. 
  • Make sure to read the instructions properly before you use any type of wood filler.


It can be painful to have to throw out a wooden carving because it is rotting. But this doesn’t need to be the end. You can redeem your wood as long as it is not completely rotten.

We have outlined a couple of methods that you can use to get rid of the rot and also repair your wood. We hope this helps you fix a rotting wood carving.

David D. Hughes

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