February 18, 2021

How to repair cracked wood carving

Are you wondering how to repair a cracked wood carving? Growing up, my mother always had some arts and crafts projects going on. With each phase, we had to understand what not to throw out or tamper with.

Otherwise, you would throw out a pile of paper only to hear it was for a new project. Amongst her projects, you would also find some wooden artefacts and wood carvings. My adventurous self found a way to knock one of them over and crack it to cut to the chase.

Male sculptor at work in workshop

Her almost-finished carving was ruined. After I failed to fix it with two superglue tubes, she found out and did a horrible job of it. Needless to say, I got into a lot of trouble that day. I wished I had a way back then, to know how to fix it seamlessly. I eventually found out how to do this, and in this article, I will share a few of those handy tips on repairing a cracked wood carving. Let’s dive in, shall we?

List of things that you may need to use:

You will need to fix a cracked wood carving, depend on the crack that you want to fix, and how large the surface area is. It will also depend on how handy you are with some of the tools we are about to list. Here’s what you will need for small cracks:

A cracked carved wooden ball
  • Polyurethane glue like Gorilla glue or any wood glue that can hold the two pieces of wood together. 
  • Water to activate the glue.
  • An angle grinder Or a sharp knife
  • Cedar shim, or any other shims to repair the crack that can match the wood as much as possible. You can either make these yourself or buy them.
  • A chop saw or chainsaw.
  • A finger sander or any versatile sanding tool
  • A hammer
  • Paint or stain that matches the carving
  • A buffer
  • Sandpaper
  • Personal protective gear such as gloves and goggles.
  • Epoxy wood rebuilder.
  • Putty knife
  • Painters tape
  • A soft dry cloth

These simple tools will help you seal the crack.

Step By Step Process.

There are different ways to fix a crack in the wood. Different strokes for different folks. We will go through the different ways you can do this.

Method 1

What you will need

  • An angle grinder
  • Cedar shim
  • A strong wood glue

How to do it

  1. Ensure the carving is clean, sand it if need be so that the glue doesn’t get mixed with dirt or dust and perhaps fail to stick properly.
  2. Choose shims that match the wood’s shade, especially if you will not be painting over it. If you will, then the wood type or colour won’t matter too much.
  3. Ensure the shim fits in the crack. This may need you to try out more than a couple.
  4. Take the shim, whether bought or homemade and put a generous amount of wood glue on it. 
  5. Then place the shims in the cracks and make sure that they fit well, leaving no gaps; otherwise, it utterly defeats the purpose of sealing the crack. 
  6. Knock the shim in using the hammer 
  7. Let it dry. Some glues require that you spray the area with water so that it activates. 
  8. When you are sure that it is dry, use the angled grinder to shave off the excess shim that is hanging off. The point here is to get the shim to be fully immersed in the crack and not outside of it. Make sure that it is deep enough.
  9. If you’re happy with what you have, smooth the surface over by using a finger grinder or any grinding tool that suits the surface. 

Method 2 

What you will need

  • Wood epoxy
  • A putty knife

How to do it

  1. Get wood epoxy that matches the colour of your wood.
  2. Stuff the epoxy putty into the crack. 
  3. Buff it out 
  4. Paint over the area is to use the necessary wood stain to blend in with the rest of the carving. 

Method 3

What you will need

  • Glue
  • Painters tape
  • A vacuum

How do you do it?

  1. Clean the carving in question and as much of the crack as possible
  2. Make sure the glue is at room temperature.
  3. Stick the painting tape over the crack
  4. Have your vacuum ready and placed under the crack
  5. Lift the tape off the crack, covering only the edge. This will stop the glue from seeping out the side when it is then poured in.
  6. Pour the glue into the crack as the vacuum sucks the glue through the crack. 
  7. When you are satisfied that enough glue has been sucked in, you can now wipe the surface clean and then dry the area. 
  8. Once it is dry, you can remove the remainder of the painting tape. 

Method4

If you want to fill cracks in much smaller carvings such as caricatures, you will need less bulky materials so that shims won’t work. What you will need;

  • Fine Sawdust that looks like flour
  • Wood glue

How you do it

  1. Identify all the cracks you need to fix.
  2. Make sure they are wide enough to accommodate the glue and sawdust mixture. You can use a small chisel for this. 
  3. Then dip the chisel in the glue and then in the sawdust, forming a paste.
  4. Push the past into the cracks and make sure that it flows over a bit
  5. Make sure the glue you use gives you some time before it starts to dry up. White pasty glue works well.
  6. This paste will act as a wood filler. Fill the cracks and wait for it to dry.
  7. You can then sand the area down when it is dry.
  8. Clean the area around the cracks. 

How Long it will take

Wood glue being applied to flooring

The amount of time it takes to seal and repair a crack in a wooden carving will depend on the method you choose and the carving size in question. The more glue used, the longer it will take to dry. Some glue can take 30minutes to dry and some even more. Have patience and follow the instructions from the manufacturer.

Expected Results

  1. Using the right method properly will give you a smooth finish and hardly noticeable result. However, the methods that involve pouring in glue or epoxy may need a bit more attention to ensure that the crack is filled in well. 
  2. It is also important to prepare yourself for the crack getting deeper or the carving breaking even more. This would be a worst-case scenario. 
  3. The third outcome that you could expect is where the crack is filled but not neatly. This was what got me caught when I broke my mother’s wood carving, a shoddy job with way too much glue that I didn’t know how to use. 
  4. When you use wood filler, it can show through the wood stain and look horrible, so consider the end product when choosing your method of repairing.

Things to look out for

  1. Ensure that you do not try to clean the surface with water and ensure that the cloth you use to clean the carving is soft and dry.
  2. Be sure to give the carving a decent finish. Sometimes it can have a rough surface if it is not finished off correctly, and this may end up as a focal point rather than an inconspicuous bit. You will need to make sure that it is as level as possible. Sand it down to ensure that you can hardly tell where the repairs were made.
  3. Also, make sure that you have the right paint or stain colour to ensure a uniform look when all is said and done. Match the colours. If you have a more natural colour wood that isn’t stained or painted, you may want to use wood epoxy or wood fillers. It is easier to get matching colours than with a shim.
  4. The strength of the wood surrounding the repaired part may differ from the glued area. In most cases, the glued part is stronger than the surrounding areas. As such, you may end up with a carving that has varying strength.
  5. Also, if you will be using shims, it helps to have someone else stabilise the piece of wood. This way, you don’t have the shim drying skewed.
  6. Remove all excess glue properly after you have finished applying it and it has dried. You want the finish to be smooth and easily blend in with the rest of the wood carving.

Conclusion

Whether you will need a complicated fix or something tiny, there is the right way to go about fixing a wood carving, and the wrong way. It all depends on the method that you use and also the tools that you have at hand and the types of wood that you are dealing with. Regardless of the size of the job, you want the job to be done well. Moisture content is another aspect to think about. Cracking is often linked to it, as is the drying process. Exposure to heat and cold takes it toll.

Let’s face it, wood cracks, that’s just what it does. We hope this article helps you decide which method is best for you. 

David D. Hughes
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