How Do I Care For A Tree Carving Sculpture?

How Do I Care For A Tree Carving Sculpture? 600 600 Simon O'Rourke

I’m often asked is how to care for a sculpture after it’s installed. It’s a really good question! I’m also often asked how to treat the wood to help preserve its life. If you want to retain the colour on a sculpture then there are several things you can do to help. And so, today’s blog explores care for a tree carving sculpture…

 

Hiker in oak by SImon O'Rourke

Preservation of a commissioned sculpture is a natural concern

 

Care for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Choosing an Oil

I’ve always said decking oil is the best thing for sculptures outdoors due to its containing fungicide and UV protection. This is your best option if you want to treat the wood in any way.
There are several different levels of decking oil to choose from, so it can seem a bit overwhelming.
The brands I’ve used in the past are Rustins, Cuprinol, Ronseal, and Osmo. I’ve also tried own brands from B&Q and Wickes.
Quite often, the cheaper the oil, the less viscous it is. This has advantages such as being easier to spray on, but it isn’t often as hardy against the weather.
A lot of oils today are water-based emulsions. This makes them safer for the environment, which is great. However, I’m less sold on how well they do over time, and the finish can be a little gloopy.

 

Care for a tree carving sculpture. Photo shows a close up of a yew dragon mouth sculpture treated with decking oil

Decking oil can help protect sculptures.

 

Care for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Application

One of the most difficult things about oils is the application. My sculptures tend to have lots of rough surfaces which means it’s not always easy to cover with a brush. It can be even more difficult to get an even coat across the sculpture. It’s worth taking the time to do this though.
It’s possible to thin down most oils with good quality thinners or white spirit and use them in a sprayer. However, bear in mind you will need more coats and therefore more time. The sprayers can be very difficult to clean too.

 

care for a tree carving sculpture: many of simon's sculptures are rough and textured and this makes it difficult to apply even coats of oil. photo shows an example of the texture of a lion's face.

It can be difficult to achieve an even finish when oiling heavily textured sculptures like this lion.

 

Care for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Pre-Treatment

It can be a good idea to treat a sculpture with a clear wood preserver prior to oiling, as this helps prevent things from growing on the surface.
I’ve also been told that raw linseed oil can be good to treat exterior green oak. I’ve had no personal experience using it yet though, so I can’t really comment. But I will be trying it on a scrap piece to see what happens! Watch this space to see if it works!
picture shows a dragon carved in oak by simon o'rourke

Hemlock endures a lot while hired out for events, so oil is essential for protecting the sculpture.

Care for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Retouching

The next question is then how often it’s necessary to repeat this process. As with many questions about the lifespan of a wood sculpture, there are no definite answers. The frequency of oiling will vary based on the environment, and it’s important to note that as soon as the oil wears off the surface then the sun will bleach the wood very quickly. You can’t get the natural colour back again at this stage, unless the wood is sanded or cut back.

 

care for a tree carving sculpture: a man is sanding a piece of wood.

People photo created by freepik – www.freepik.com

Care for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Choosing the Right Timber

I’ve shared before that not every timber is suitable for a tree carving sculpture. All wood has different longevity. So I try to make sure that the sculptures I make are created from long lasting timber like oak, cedar, sweet chestnut, certain cypress varieties or redwood. However, I will occasionally carve a tree stump on a property that is from timber with less lastability, like beech or willow. I will always make sure the client understands that the sculpture won’t be as enduring. I also always recommend a good coat of clear wood preserver prior to oiling for these timbers to give them the best start.

 

Simon O'rourke using a chainsaw to cut into wood

Choosing durable wood is a key part of creating a long-lasting sculpture.

Caring for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Installation

The other thing to note is with free-standing sculptures, it’s wise to place them on a surface with good drainage, or have some airflow underneath them. The Queen of the South Soccer Players are a great example of this. They have been elevated so no water will collect. They are also on a wooden plinth which is where moisture will begin to gather first and travel upwards, preserving the players for longer.

sporting sculptures made by simon o'rourke. Photo shows sculpture of three soccer players standing back to back with onlookers admiring the piece

Caring for a Tree Carving Sculpture: Going Natural

The reality is, no wood sculpture will last forever. Really, the only way to ensure the longest life possible would be to keep it indoors! As I have shared before in this blog about wood versus bronze sculptures, I like the ageing process though. I think it adds character and beauty, and is more in keeping with using a material that once had a life of its own. It’s important to know what sort of finish you’re aiming for when you commission a sculpture. Discussing the finish and creating something you will love is all part of the process when you commission a sculpture.

Side by side photo of a woman's face carved in redwood by simon o'rourke to show the aging process of wood. The left is far more yellow and warm. The right has deeper shadows and cracks and grey hues.

Cracks and changing colour give a chainsaw carved sculpture more character

Get in Touch!

If you would like to commission a sculpture, you can contact me at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ And whatever finish you choose for your own piece, I will be able to help with recommendations and tips for upkeep!