Fixing a Damaged Wood Carving

Fixing a Damaged Wood Carving

It's often said that carving is an art form that requires multiple skills. Most carvers will readily acknowledge the obvious disciplines: sculpting, painting, engineering, designing the list goes on and on. One skill that should be included in the list of a carver's talents is that of a repairman. Damage and repairs are topics carvers usually don't like to think about because they represent a setback or at the very least, an interruption in the forward movement toward a finished piece. There are many types of damage and subsequent repairs that occur on carvings. The few basic types of repairs I will address here deal with a carving in progress. The most important thing to remember about a repair is also the most challenging: the repair must be permanent and invisible. The best repair should never be seen.  Poorly executed repairs can be a detriment to the appearance of a carving, so it's important to exercise as much care in their execution as you do in any other phase of carving.

The most difficult type of repair for me involves matching the existing texture on the carving to the texture in the repaired area so there is no interruption in the barbed lines. Different types of damage require different treatments based on the type of texture or damage. For most basic repairs, I use epoxies as fillers or build-up material and sometimes inserts to replace badly damaged wood. Some epoxies machine very well and some don't. Almost all epoxies don't accept burned texture very well because heat from a burning pen causes the epoxy to melt and crumble. Most epoxies that work well as bonding agents don't work very well for replacing stoned or burned textures. Knowing which epoxy material to use for a specific repair helps alleviate the frustration and sense of lost time associated with making repairs.

Damage to woodcarvings can take many forms, and addressing them requires finesse and attention to detail. Here, we'll focus on basic repair techniques applicable to carvings in progress. The ultimate goal of any repair is to achieve permanence and invisibility. A well-executed repair should seamlessly blend into the surrounding area, leaving no trace of its intervention.

One of the most challenging aspects of repair is matching the existing texture of the carving in the repaired area, ensuring continuity in the intricate details. Different types of damage call for specific treatments, and most basic repairs, epoxies serve as versatile fillers or build-up materials. However, choosing the right epoxy for the job is paramount, as not all epoxies are created equal in terms of machinability and texture retention.

Here are three commonly used epoxies for woodcarving repairs:

When working with epoxies, it's essential to consider the tools and techniques for shaping and refining the repaired areas. Here are some recommended tools and methods:

Approaching repairs as an integral part of the carving process allows carvers to address damages effectively without compromising the final outcome. With patience, skill, and the right materials, repairs can be seamlessly integrated into the artistic journey, ensuring that the finished carving retains its beauty and craftsmanship without visible traces of damage.


Usually one of three types of epoxy for most basic repairs, the type of repair to be made determines which type of epoxy to use. For repairs, epoxies are usually used as either a filler or build-up material, or as a bonding material. Although all three of these epoxies can perform all three of these tasks, each one has characteristics that steer it to a more specific use.

All three of these products are "two-part" epoxies, that is, they consist of a resin and a hardener. The tube labeled Quikwood comes in a stick form with the resin surrounding a core of hardener. The desired amount of material is simply cut off the end of the stick with a knife and kneaded together until the two parts are thoroughly mixed to a putty-like consistency. Often Quikwood is used to repair areas that will be, or have already been, textured with a stone. Since this material machines very well after it hardens, the stoned texture on a bird can be replaced or duplicated with this material. This material begins to set up in about 15 minutes, and is water soluble until it hardens. Some carvers believe that they can burn this material with a burning pen, but I have not attempted to do so.

Kulis Karvit comes in two plastic containers, one containing the resin and one the hardener. Equal amounts of resin and hardener are kneaded together to form a very sticky, putty-like mixture. This material is excellent for making repairs to areas that have already been textured with a burning pen. It is formed and shaped while it is still soft, and details are pressedinto the surface before it hardens. This material is also excellent for setting eyes (and forming eyelids) and making feet. It is also water soluble until it hardens.

The Quick-Cure Epoxy in the taller bottles on the left is a five-minute type epoxy. Equal parts of the resin and hardener are stirred, or mixed, together on a flat surface to form a thick liquid with about three to five minutes of open time. This clear epoxy is used as a bonding material and works well on both wood and non-wood materials.

A grinder can be used to shape or remove any of the three types of epoxy as long as the correct bit and tool speed is used. All of the epoxies respond poorly to higher grinding speeds because of the heat generated by the friction of the bit against the epoxy. Almost any type of bit will load up and become clogged as the epoxy becomes softened by the heat. Slower grinding speeds don't generate as much heat and the bits cut or abrade more effectively.

Repairing a Woodcarving
Fixing Woodcarvings