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Keep those Carvings Clean

Today, we much prefer natural-looking wood, rather than carvings that are gilded or painted.

So, as such we need to keep our carvings clean: we want to show off the wood, not the dirt!

Look at this photo. Both wood and hands are pretty dirty eh? But here's the thing, this carving is to be gilded, so it doesn't matter whether the wood is clean or not; all the grime will be covered.

However, it makes me a bit queasy to look! I habitually keep my work as clean as possible, whether it's to be gilded or painted or not. And before any finish (oil or wax etc), which only preserves the dirt - and that's not the same as natural patination from later handling.

It's easy to get dirt on your carving, to make the piece look tired and grubby. I want my carvings to look clean and fresh and it's almost impossible to get dirt off again without re-carving, and that is such a waste of time.

Far, far better is to avoid getting the carvings dirty in the first place.

Dirt and grime comes for several places:

1. Hands

 - which are naturally oily, readily pick up dirt. It's easy to rest the heel of your hand on a bench surface, pick up whatever dust or dirt is resting there and then transfer the dirt to your carving as the heel of your hand rubs on the the wood.

The hotter and more humid the weather, the more this is an issue.

  • Get out of the habit of fondling the carving as you go along - or get into the habit of checking your hands before touching the wood
  • Even if you just think your hands are dirty or oily - just not clean - wash and dry them
  • Wipe the handles of your carving tools with a dry cotton cloth too if they feel a little oily or you've been sweating.

2. Sharpening

- Oil, blade metal and grinder particles easily get on your hands.

  • Keep your sharpening area entirely separate from your place of carving, and keep it clean.
  • Wash your hands! Regularly.

Here's my rule: At any time when I'm carving, my hands are clean enough to go and have my lunch without the need to wash them again. (Seriously!)

3. Pencil marks

 - on the wood. Pencil graphite never hardens; it's always smudgable, even weeks later. I often draw on the wood while I'm carving; it's almost an essential practice: lines, areas of waste, that sort of thing.


  • Use a thin Sharpie, ballpoint (biro ) where the ink hardens. You can use different colours for different tasks.

4. Dirt on the bench

  • Keep a soft bench brush to hand, or better still a vacuum. Use them every now and then, certainly between sessions
  • Keep carvings covered between sessions. Dirt particles drift in the air
  • While you are cleaning up, don't forget the floor.

5. Carving Gloves

I claim this idea!

  • You can see me using these carving gloves in many projects on Woodcarving Workshops. Incredibly helpful at stopping oil, sweat and dirt from your hands transferring to your carving, and protecting the heel of your hand from rubbing on sharp edges in the wood
  • In the 'Related Videos' below, you will find a link to where I demonstrate them and show you how to make them, easily and cheaply.


Keeping your carvings clean may seem a lot of work but it's not actually a big deal and far more a matter of habit.

And remember, not having to re-carve grubby areas saves you a bunch of time, and heartache.

If you find your woodcarvings not looking so fresh, try these things and see how clean you can keep your work.


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