The most popular question we get is "How do you prevent cracking and splitting?" And the answer to that is easy. You can't! Or at least not completely.
Trees hold a lot of water. It is what holds the grain of each log together. Over time, that water evaporates and the grain separates from the outside in. If a log dries too quickly, cracks can become quite large and numerous. If a log dries too slowly, it can begin to rot in the center. We have to find a happy medium between these to ensure a great carving.
Many people find splits and cracks add great character to a carving, however, no one wants a major crack to form on the face of a bear! So here are a few techniques we are using to prevent just that...
The first one is perfect for small to medium sized carvings. We take a large log and cut it either in half or in quarters. The grain then is relaxed before we begin a piece. If any cracks arise, they would be very small and located along the backside.
The second one is for whole log carvings. Once a piece is carved, we create a "pressure crack", meaning that we carve a line (or several lines) down the backside of the piece. This promotes the log to split there instead of on the front.
Another technique is one we do for all of our carvings. We apply two to three coats of a marine grade spar urethane. The first coat is applied very liberally to really soak into the wood. This penetrates into the piece and helps hold the grain together. The clear gloss finish is used on most pieces as it gives a nice shiny look, but semi-gloss and satin are also available. Whether your carving is placed indoors or outdoors, it will begin to "weather", or fade. Apply one coat of the same urethane every year or two. This will instantly give your carving new life and longevity.
After a split has happened, all is not lost. They can be filled with a wood filler. Here at Riverside Wood Carving, we make our own but any hardware store will have a good wood filler. They come in various colors to match and urethane can be applied once dried.
If you would like us to help maintain your piece over the years or if you have any questions at all, please contact us!