FAQs: How Long Will My Wood Sculpture Last?

FAQs: How Long Will My Wood Sculpture Last? 2560 2560 Simon O'Rourke

Diary of a chainsaw carver – The ticking clock…

No this isn’t about actual clocks, although Simon did create a working longcase clock once!! This is actually about a question Simon is often asked: How will my wood sculpture age?
And it’s a very valid question. They say time waits for no man, and it certainly doesn’t hang around when it comes to how long wood lasts outdoors! When Simon is asked how long a sculpture will last, he usually has a two word answer: “it depends!”

How long will my wood sculpture last? Photo shows a wooden sculpture of a grandfather clock, turning an ashy grey colour. There are no signs of splits or cracks.

The grandfather clock made by Simon, now turning an ashy grey colour

How Long Will My Wood Sculpture Last: Structure of the Sculpture

One factor which determines how long your wood sculpture will last is the wood. Basically, different wood lasts for different lengths of time. And this differs again depending on the environment it’s in! Honestly, there are really no definite answers! With any of the factors creating numerous fluctuations in longevity, it’s not an exact science. This means although Simon may have an idea, there are no definite answers.

So which timber should you choose? Understanding that this much uncertainty means Simon only has personal experience and information from others to draw on, his conclusion is that Oak, Cedar, Redwood, Cypress, and Sweet Chestnut are among the longest lasting available timbers in this country. So he usually uses those for sculptures, although they are not the only possibilities.

You can expect an untreated sculpture made from any of these timbers to look weathered within a year to two years, and will still keep its shape and structure for a good 20 years or so. Given the fact that we still see solid Oak beams on the exterior of Tudor houses, I think it would last for over 100 years, and still have its shape, although the weather would have worn down the detail on the exterior!

How long will my wood sculpture last? Photo shows a comparison of a redwood sculpture two years on. The sculpture is the brown otter in Fforest Fawr. In the first the wood is a warm, vivid red colour. After two years it is fully in tact, but the shadows appear deeper and it is turning a deep brown with cold tones.

This side by side shows a redwood sculpture in Fforest Fawr after about two years of being exposed to the elements.

How Long Will my Wood Sculpture Last: Colour

When Simon creates sculptures, he doesn’t usually add colour. This is because it will wear away eventually and detail that was painted on would be lost. Rather, he loves to over-exaggerate depth and form in his work to create contrast using shadow. This will stand the test of time and still work as a sculpture in decades to come. In fact, often as the wood changes colour, the shadows appear to deepen, and the sculpture is more striking.

All this said, creating something that lasts forever isn’t his goal. He loves the look of weathered wood and feels that the aging process is part of the creativity and part of the art. Environmental artists like   Andy Goldsworthy share this sentiment. Although it has to be said that Simon’s sculptures last MUCH longer – some Goldsworthy pieces change the instant the wind or tide changes!

This example shows how this Redwood face sculpture has taken on a different feel having been bleached by the sun and worn by the wind! Although always impressive, the sculpture is now striking. Just look at that pupil!

How long will my wood sculpture last? Picture shows side by side photos of a stylised woman's face sculpture to show the aging process. Photo one is warm, with lots of yellow and orange tones. The second has much more depth and is more grey in tone.

This photo of one of Simon’s face sculptures shows some of the colour changes that take place over time.

How Long Will My Wood Sculpture Last: Telling A Story

Wood is always evolving, whether in life or death. The growth rings in wood tell their own history. As time passes, each growth ring becomes more prominent, as the faster-grown spring wood wears away quicker than the slower grown summer wood.

We often do so much to preserve art and keep it behind glass for future generations, but isn’t a reflection of a natural material. Life is fragile and temporary, and aging is a natural and beautiful process which we need to embrace, not fight.

Wood sculptures, like ourselves, will weather and deteriorate over time, but every split, knot, and wrinkle tells a story!

How long will my wood sculpture last? Photo shows Simon's European Lynx in fforest fawr. At two years old, it is now a deep reddish-brown.

The European Lynx in Fforest Fawr.

Your Own Sculpture.

If you would like to commission a sculpture, contact Simon via www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/
He would love to hear from you!

Thank you to My Tongwynlais for the updated photos of the sculpture trail.