August 19, 2021

How to Preserve an Outdoor Wood Carving

How to protect wood carvings outside

You can preserve an outdoor wood carving by coating it with a good quality Spar varnish once a year, which makes your carving last longer. A clear coat does not require re-coating often, but it brings no damage if you maintain it once every 2 to 3 years. 

Keep your carving on an elevated surface to avoid excess moisture intake. Use stones or furniture pads under the carving. The process allows the wood to breathe through the base. Continuous airflow comes as you seal the surface with a wood stain. It protects your carving from damaging elements and not only makes it shine but also gives a protective layer. More coats give you more protective coatings. 

Clean and dry your wood carving

Clean your carving using a lint-free cloth. Avoid using water since it creates spots and absorbs moisture and the peeling of the top surface of the carving. Do not use all-purpose cleaning sprays used for tables unless your wood carving has a plastic coating. 

Sticky spots require soap and water, but ensure you dry the surface as soon as possible. Dip a lint-free, clean cloth in water, and add mild soap or a detergent dissolved in water. 

Dry the surface using a dry, clean and soft cloth. Wring the cloth as it becomes almost dry and wipe the dirt off the area. Do not use the dripping wet. 

Wood preservatives

Multiple chemicals preserve wood, although some are toxic. Wood preservatives are also known as pesticides. The process of adding preservatives takes place through a pressurized or vacuum process. 

Amongst the preservatives are water-borne, oil-borne preservatives. More maintenance is on wax, and re-applications are needed. And light organic solvent preservatives. Each has its pros and cons. List down your expectations and compare them with the features of each. Water-borne preservatives are more affordable than other options. 

Advantages of wood preservatives 

  • They make wood water repellent
  • They prevent rotting and decaying
  • They give a protective layer to wood against freezing or thawing
  • They prevent carvings from mold, fungi, and mildew
  • They prevent contamination by sealing the pores of the wood fiber

Wrapping your wood carving

Cover the wood carving with a plastic tarp as if you are covering a tree stump. If you can lift it, cover the bottom of the carving. The tarp protects elements such as dust, moisture, water, and insects from affecting the wood. It also protects the surrounding vegetation from spilled chemicals you are using to coat it. 

Proper storage

Some wood carvings are mobile and stationary, determining the storage type for your items. In some cases, a thatched gazebo for carvings in sunny areas. 

For stormy areas, a shade is ideal for your carvings. Some users take out their carvings at night and keep them in a garage or storeroom. Make sure they are covered with plastics to protect them from dust. 

There are seasonal carvings that you store in your backyard when not in use. Cover them and take note of the natural elements that dominate your area. Keep your carvings from fireplaces, and do not allow them to rub against each other. Small carvings are in inboxes. 


A rotary tool is ideal for sanding carvings. The carving should be of hardwood, and if the wood is soft, the rotary school becomes too aggressive to give positive results. 

The chances of distorting the shape of the carving are high, and the overall quality of the carving is disturbed. However, that does not mean you should abandon softwood. 

Use folded-up sandpaper as an alternative. A detail sander is less aggressive and has fast sanding. Rubber grips are for curved edges, and the converted oscillating toothbrush is less aggressive and for tight spaces. 


Sealing wood carvings increases the life of your items. It is ideal for outdoor furniture since it is more exposed to natural elements. There will not be a need to replace the carving in a short period since that is avoidable. 

There are water-based wood and oil-based sealers, and they have disadvantages. Match your wood type with the ideal sealer.


Wax comes with advantages and disadvantages on outdoor wood furniture. It gives a beautiful finish to your wood carvings, is easy to apply, and protects your carvings from scratches. 

Wax makes your items look new. Wax penetrator through multiple layers of wood, giving additional protection to your carvings. Depending on the type of wax, some are non-toxic—research more on toxic-free waxes. 

More maintenance is on wax, and re-applications are needed. However, they make your carvings look dull as the layers increase. It is difficult to remove since it penetrates through layers of wood, is affected by heat, and stains wood. 


Paint lasts longer on wood carvings, and that requires less maintenance. The wood paint soaks into the open wood pores and plugs them. That slows down the drying process and helps to reduce and prevent checking and splitting. However, it traps moisture. 

Factors that affect outdoor wood carvings 


The nature of wood leaves room for splits or cracks, although that does not happen with every carving. It depends on the wood used, and carvings react differently over time. What causes cracks is the change of weather, including humidity levels. 

As the humidity changes, the outer rings lose moisture, leading to cracks. However, add a coat of preservatives. The wood coat is either paint or stain, soaking into the pores and plugging them. That exercise slows down the drying process hence fewer chances of splitting. 

A coat of spar urethane regulates excessive moisture that the carving takes in or loses. Remember that the procedure does not stop your carving from breathing as it releases moisture. Keep your carving on top of stones or furniture pads to keep the airflow continuous. 

Rain and sun

You must deal with the rain and the sun when your carving is outside. Rain does not cause rot if there are times the sun comes between the storms. Consistent sunny days affect the carving due to UV rays, and they are damaging to the wood. 

Damp wood is a host for fungi that causes rot. That is why outdoor wood items such as fence posts are treated with preservatives. Drill holes near the base of your carving, and insert rods made of borate. It contains a mineral that prevents rot, and controls termites and ants. As the borate moves, moisture disappears as well. Even if the carving has been rotting, no further rotting is allowed with borate. 

Ground contact

If your carving has contact with the ground, the chances are high that it cracks, rots, or splits due to moisture absorption. That is why you must look for flats, stones, and water-borne preservatives that are more affordable than other options. Or furniture pads to raise your wood item from the ground. 

There is enough air that circulates, and it keeps the carving dry. The surface of your item has to be breathable. Grass and soil cause rot since they are carriers of moisture and mildew. It is ideal for keeping your carving under a shed during winter. Placing your carving near a fireplace protects your wood carving from natural elements but is not close to fire since it is damaging. 

Maintenance and repairs

Suppose you fail to maintain your carving and repair it whenever you notice damages that will not keep your wood carving in good shape. Cracks are filled in using a small piece of wood. Using a piece of wood with a similar color brings out a perfect finish, making the patch less visible. A combination of a patch of the same color and spray paint results in a flawless finish. You should also see our post on How to repair a cracked wood carving.

David D. Hughes

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