Wood Sculpture Restoration

About: Light Sculptor, Maker, Drummer, Permaculturalist, Citizen Scientist, Gardener, Cook, Inventor, Tinkerer and Nature Lover

So a friend of mine's Great Grandfather was a wood sculptor and composer. He created this beautiful wood sculpture circa 1910. It was checking in a very bad way. ("Checking" if you're new to woodworking are the cracks in wood that form when moisture or curing of wood isn't done properly. If you have the space and time make the effort to start curing out your own carving woods. Because once you have the wood sculpting bug you'll be glad you have extra wood stock available.)

If you have a wood sculpture or other wood that needs repairing this is a pretty easy and affordable way to breathe new life into damaged pieces whether it's furniture or sculptures.

Do you have wood sculpture with heavy checking or cracks forming?

This Instructables will help!

Necessary Items:

Sandpaper: various grits rough to 220 grit

Famowood: Professional Wood Filler



Steel wool and rags: to finish and wipe down excess stain from sculpture.

VENTILATION: Be safe make sure you have proper ventilation, gloves, respirator. Especially when working on bigger projects.

Step 1: Cleaning and Prepping Wood Sculpture for Repair

Step 1: Take a soft, clean dry rag and gently work your way from top to bottom. Try and remove any excess buildup of dust and what have you. The cleaner your piece is before repair, the easier later steps will go.


Odds are the reason your wood sculpture is checking is due to moisture. ( It can also be due to being placed by places where temperature and humidity fluctuations occur ie heat vents, near windows.) If you clean it regularly with water or other water based solutions it will not help the longevity of the piece.

I will be posting other instructables soon with tricks on how to make wood sing and glow but more on that later.

all right, all done cleaning and prepping?

Step 2: Prep Your Wood Restoration Area

It's best to set up a space to restore or work on your wood sculpture restoration project where you have great ventilation, room to work, good light and tools and materials close at hand.

Lay out a drop cloth.

Grab your Famowood wood filler and a pallette knife and your ready for the next step.

Step 3: Filling Cracks and Checks With Famowood Filler

Now that you have your sculpture situated on a drop cloth or expanse of newspaper to prevent messes.

Take a small amount of color matched famowood professional wood filler and a flexible pallette knife and begin filling any visible checks from top to bottom on the sculpture. It can be a bit awkward to work with initially but you will get a feel for the wood filler and techniques for good filling of holes and checks.

Always check your fills twice to make sure everything is up to snuff.

This is pretty much the toughest part of the instructable and the most time consuming, depending on how cracked the sculpture is. Be patient.

Once your sure all the checks or holes are filled flush with the wood let the Famowood cure and dry.

Step 4: Remove Any Extra Filler or Mistakes While Famowood Is Curing

This seems self explanatory but you will be very glad you take the extra time to remove any mistakes or over applications of the Famowood Filler while it is still esy to work with and hasn't fully cured.

This will save you a lot of time later on in the next step.

Step 5: Sanding Down Sculpture

Once your lovely sculpture has all it's checks and cracks filled and the famowood is cured your ready to start sanding down the piece.

Take a good sanding sponge (or sandpaper wrapped around a sponge) and begin gently sanding the sculpture. From top to bottom. This helps blend the old wood with the wood filler and allows the filler and wood to take an even stain. It helps to hide the old checks and damaged spots in the sculpture.

Remember to go easy on sanding in detailed areas as you are restoring not reshaping the piece and don't want to lose all the beautiful details due to over exuberant sanding.

Step 6: Apply Stain, Wipe Off Extra Stain, Let Dry

Be sure to have your drop cloth and work clothes on!

Take your matched stain or as close as you can get to the original and begin applying with a clean dry rag in a well ventilated area. Remember a little goes a long way.

Wipe off any extra stain and let the piece sit in the well ventilated space.

This is a good time to use some finesse and blend the imperfections away even further.. depening on how good you are with stains and woodworking.

Let the stain soak in when you feel it's a good match let it dry.

Step 7: ENJOY

Clean off your sculpture of extra stain.

Let dry fully. Wipe down again with dry, clean rag to remove any leftover stain.

And there you have it... a newly restored wood sculpture!!!

You now have several options: Polishing wax, Polyuretahne, Natural Oils which we'll cover in our next Instructable.

Hope this helps and that your old cracked sculpture is shining like new!



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    14 Discussions


    Question 2 months ago

    Im looking for help on my project. I have had this beautiful Myrtlewood box for many years now. It used to be a music box but I repurposed it. I don't know anything about woodworking at all. I just love this box and wish it to be in the best shape possible. It seems to me that the sealant is chipping off. I know it won't be hard to remove it. I just don't know what to do once I have fully removed it. I don't know what I should use to reseal it. I don't believe that it needs any type of staining. The wood is beautiful and in good shape. Any advice on what to seal it with?


    1 year ago

    Good Day!

    This bear belongs to friends of mine and has unsuccessfully endured the elements. Upon receipt, a sealant was never applied to protect the natural wood and/or bark, and now the bear is discolored, cracking and the bark is peeling from the wood on the left side. The bear is only three years old, but the rain, heat, humidity and night dampness have all taken their toll.

    Is there any way this piece can brought back to its original color (as seen under the chin), or any possible closeness to the original color, and the peeling bark secured to the "trunk"? It would be a shame to see this chainsaw piece lost, as it stands ready to greet all the guests who visit his "den".

    Thank you so much for your time and the very detailed instructions above.

    2 replies
    Luminous WonderBeezAmmie

    Reply 1 year ago

    Good Day BeezAmmie!

    My utmost apologies for the delay. Am soooo sorry... have had some family matters & major life hiccups to resolve. And have limited wifi on the permaculture site i'm working on currently.

    Feel free to send me some images of the bear carving. I'll be happy to help any way i can and maybe we can make the old bear happy again in his den. Will have to look at the pictures of the bear, assess damage and see if we can triage to come up with best ways to bring him back to life, see if we can salvage him, reduce damage and weathering in the future!

    First off here are some actions that can be taken right away:

    Find a home or new "Den" for the Bear where temperature and humidity fluctuations are kept to a minimum.

    Avoid placing the Bear where direct sunlight, humidity or temperature will adversely age/damage the bear. Once, i see the pics, we can see if it's possible to secure the bark, restore the bear/ remove damage or wet rot, resand, surface treat, match stain and seal the bear. there are some neat tricks with natural stains that may come in handy to match the original color under the chin. But be sure the bear is cured out/dry before sealing.

    Hope this helps and Let's Save the Bear!!!


    Luminous Wonder

    BeezAmmie Luminous Wonder

    Reply 1 year ago

    Thank you so much for the reply, my friends will truly appreciate a knocking of heads to restore their piece - they are just beside themselves with its condition and not acting sooner.

    I am including images of the bear for your perusal and brainstorming! As you can see, the element damage is quite significant and, without a protective coat, really took its toll on this piece in just a matter of years. And, yes, this "beary" happy dude is a perfect example of how not to neglect protecting the rawness of a carved piece!

    I look forward to hearing from you at your leisure and again, thank you for the favor of your reply to my plea of helping preserve the bear that guards a wonderfully beautiful, woodland den!

    Kindest of regards,



    2 years ago

    I need help! My late father was a woodcarver and I have many of his pieces. At Christmas time our storage building flooded and many pieces were soaked. Fortunately most are not checking and have dried well. However some are dull and dry looking. What do I need to do now that they are dry? Many bas relief and some are free standing pieces.

    1 reply
    Luminous Wondercwright138

    Reply 2 years ago

    Nooo! I hope all of the carvings are recuring & drying out safely. ( my utmost apologies for the delay)

    We definitely need to figure out the best ways to restore, maintain & preserve your late Father's woodcarving legacy! And you are Awesome for looking out for such amazing creations in wood.

    Inspect each woodcarving closely for water damage, checks & moisture.

    Try and move them to a safe, climate controlled space where they won't be exposed to temperature & humidity fluctuations.

    Next clean them free of dust, debris.

    If the wood sculptures are dried back out & not showing signs of checking, cleaned of dust the next step will be choosing a good finishing oil to restore the rich lustre & finish of the pieces.

    Couple questions: Are the pieces stained, sealed or polyurethaned?
    Or natural wood carvings?

    One trick i like to use is real oils when breathing new life into a piece.
    Real Tung Oil, Olive oil, Grapeseed, Almond, Sunflower oils are used in the past with good results.
    keep in mind that this is a quick & dirty way to restore multiple pieces in a short amount of time, without spending a lot on stains, sealers woodworking finishes. Although you may have these on hand too. And there are other ways to restore the pieces... maybe it's your first step in carrying on the woodworking tradition! :)

    Once the sculpture or relief is clean & dry & prepped. Take a small bit of oil on a clean cotton rag, paper towel and test it on the bottom of the sculpture or back of bas relief.
    It will darken the wood, bring back it's lustre and seal the wood to a certain extent.

    Certain oils, stains, sealers will have different results so it's always good to test it first on the same type of wood or somewhere on the piece that is covered, bottom or back of piece.

    From there add a generous amount of oil to cloth & gently rub the oil onto the sculpture. Let the oil absorb into the piece then rub off all excess oil.
    This will make the woodcarvings look & age much better. Have seen thia done in Italy & stateside.

    here are a couple links too:




    Hope this Helps!
    Cheers & let me know if you have more questions or need help.

    my very best

    (Love the owl carving btw)


    2 years ago

    This is very helpful! I have a 1973 (Bali/Ubud) Jackfruit or Nangka 24" wood carving. It is a curved single women figure who is kneeling and praying. Quite modern. It has never been treated and need a deep cleaning beforehand. What do you recommend for a cleaning process prior to the restoration?.

    Thank you!


    1 reply
    Luminous Wonderpatpaler

    Reply 2 years ago

    Here are some helpful links when it comes to safely cleaning & prepping a wood sculpture for restoration. And some care & maitenance tips too!



    The sculpture sounds beautiful.. do u have a picture of it to share?


    KanPo Studios

    3 years ago

    Excellent Instructables. I was wondering, did you had a chance to investigate what wood the sculpture is made of ? What we do sometimes, is that, if we can identify the wood, we can literary make those cracks or checks invisible with the same species of wood.

    I work a lot with mahogany in the tropics. When "something" happens with any of my sculptures, I usually used the wood that was used. Reading your instructable, I know your commission dates back to a whopping 1910 circa. I would have done anything to work on a "piece" that old. The oldest I've worked is from the 1950s.

    In KanPo Studios, our last option is to use wood fillers. Looking at your photos, you have done a fantastic job with the fillers.

    Woodcarvers unite !

    1 reply
    Luminous WonderKanPo Studios

    Reply 3 years ago

    Thanks so much Kanpo!

    Usually, i will sand the bottom of the base of the wood sculpture to create a filler out of the original wood so it matches up.

    My client insisted on using famowood filler, which i'm sure you know is actually not as easy to work with as a homemade wood filler made from sanding the original for material. This sculpture was in dire need of restoration & very fragile.

    Especially when it comes to the final finish, matching the original stain & wood with the patches & repairs!

    Maybe we'll restore some wood creations together someday! say pre 1910? :)

    Woodworkers Unite!!!


    3 years ago on Step 7

    You did a beautiful job on an amazing sculpture! I would be afraid to take sandpaper to it! Could a scotch pad green scrubby be used instead?

    1 reply
    Luminous WonderBLASTFEMI

    Reply 3 years ago

    Thank you!
    A scotch pad green scrubby will work for a gentler restoration. (Will test it out here as well to be sure)

    This piece arrived in dire shape in need of immediate repair. I could actually hear it checking before it was restored!

    Wow the repair looks amazing, good to see old sculptures have a chance a new life! Welcome to instructables by the way, hope we see more from you in the future!

    1 reply