Seeking help selecting best finish for a carving project

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Forum topic by Earthcarver posted 01-25-2016 01:30 PM 461 views 0 times favorited 1 reply Add to Favorites Watch
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1 post in 271 days

01-25-2016 01:30 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question oak finishing carving milling fine-detail

Hi Everyone,

I’m new here, and a bit of a newbie to woodworking. I am hoping someone can help me select an appropriate method for finishing a project that I’ve nearly completed.

As as spare time hobby, I’ve been creating a 3D sculpture made from white oak. The sculpture is made from many (30) oak tiles about 2×4” glued together to make a hollow structure. Each tile has a lot of very fine detail carved into it using a CNC machine (to a depth of about 1/4”). I’m nearing the point where I can glue the final pieces on to close the structure up, and once that is done I won’t be able to access the interior of the sculpture any more.

I need to select a finishing method to achieve the following (in approximate priority order):

1) Protect the surface from dust and fingerprints/stains. The sculpture will likely be picked up and handled (although I hope to limit the handling).
2) If possible offer some protection against warping/cracking. Several of the tiles have bowed by up to 1/16” and one shows signs of a crack on the underside (possibly a result of a sudden change in room humidity).
3) I would like a matt finish. Since the surface relief on the tiles is best viewed when lit at a low angle, lots of tints and reflections from a glossy finish will detract from the carving.
4) I would prefer a finish that is reasonably close in color and look to natural timber (although I don’t mind some mild enhancement of the grain, and will tolerate some mild color change/darkening).

Other issues that I need to consider:

5) The surface is not smooth as you would get from sanding: even flat areas of the tiles have fine ridging from the passage of a small milling bit (ridge width would be around 1/50-1/100”). I actually want to preserve this texture.
6) Because of the above, and the larger carved details, I will not be able to sand the surface either before or between coats of whatever is used on the surface.
7) Because of the fine detail and high relief of the carving, any finish that tends to ‘pond’ in (hence fill-in) fine hollows could be a problem.
8) Once I glue the last pieces into place, I won’t be able to access the interior of the structure any more. I therefore need to decide at this point whether it is important to apply a finish to the inside of the sphere before completing the gluing.

Given these restrictions, I’m figuring I probably have to go with an oil finish (boiled linseed oil) which – while it won’t offer a great degree of protection – might be enough to prevent fingerprint stains. I’m a bit nervous about the tendency of linseed oil to stain the wood. I am wondering if there is a thin colourless water-based polyurethane that might apply that produces a matt or low-gloss finish?

I would be very grateful for any help or suggestions from someone with more experience than myself (which – face it – would probably be everybody here).

Thank you!

1 reply so far

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5648 posts in 2786 days

#1 posted 01-28-2016 05:33 AM

A picture would help!

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

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