Surface Finishing

Monday 9 July 2018

The right finish is critical on a carving and so many well-carved pieces are lost on this final hurdle.

A well-selected finish will enhance the look of the carving. If it is a male figure, a heavy tool finish can add strength, and sanding a female figure helps to enhance the softness of the form. Given the right time, thought and technique, the finish will be the icing on the cake.


Many people feel that sanding is cheating in some way. This is because the cut of the tool can no longer be seen and mistakes can be hidden, therefore people think the easier route has been chosen. Sanding a carving correctly is far from the easy route. I often see poorly-sanded pieces where the carver has not gone far enough down the grades of sanding paper or has not spent enough time on the earlier grades to take out some of the heavier marks.

A well-carved and well-sanded piece really takes some beating, especially if the carving is in a wood which has a beautiful grain; for instance, walnut (Juglans spp).

Power tool sanding

Using power tools for roughing-out the initial shape will increase the speed at which I can create the carving, but this sacrifices the pleasure of using carving tools. When it comes to sanding by hand, there is no pleasure lost. Sanding is a real drag for me, so I use power tools as much as possible.

When employing power tools I would very rarely use rasps or riflers, but they do still have their uses.

A very fine rifler is an ideal tool for cleaning up around the delicate areas of a carving.

Tool finish

For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of carving is using a very sharp tool and working over the surface with very clean cuts. It is critical that the tools are absolutely razor-sharp. This will provide a clean cut which, in some hardwoods, will shine. If I’m working on a tool finish, I re-hone the tool every 10-15 minutes. The cuts can go with the grain and across but not against the grain as this will provide a messy cut.