How to Care for a Wooden Sculpture

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Everybody's idea of wood sculpture is unique, but they all require TLC.
Everybody's idea of wood sculpture is unique, but they all require TLC. (Image: Mike Powell/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Everybody is looking for unique home décor, so collectors looking for pieces that are just their style may install everything from over-sized, carved bears to religious icons that showcase their personal taste – or lack of it. While the finish of your wood sculpture can determine your cleaning regimen, a good dusting with the right tool may be all you need to keep things tidy – just as long as you monitor your home's climate year round.

Things You'll Need

  • Dusting cloths
  • Brushes
  • Vacuum
  • Lemon oil
  • Room conditioners

Display your wood sculptures in rooms with only a little humidity as wood continues to expand and contract even after it has been cut, thus intense heat can dry out a piece of art fast. Avoid subjecting your sculpture to excess moisture by operating a dehumidifier and maintaining an air cleaning system in close proximity so your sculptures fare as well in steamy Miami as they do during Minneapolis winters. Dust your sealed and finished pieces regularly and that may be all you need to keep the wood looking beautiful for decades.

Clean your wood sculpture with caution if the piece has not been sealed. Use a large, soft paperhanger’s brush or hog's hairbrush on the sculpture(s), particularly if the piece is old, fragile and shows signs of deterioration. Alternately, cover the end of your vacuum wand with a gauze cloth and vacuum the art using the machine’s lowest setting. If you still have concerns about damaging the sculpture, you can fasten a sheet of foam rubber to the end of the vacuum wand to further protect the art you are cleaning.

Avoid alcohol-based products if your wood sculpture is made of pine or another porous wood, as these wood types soak up liquid like a sponge, leaving alcohol to settle into cracks and undermine the wood. Scan product labels and eliminate anything with kerosene or alcohol in the formulation. Apply a gentle lemon oil to the dusted sculpture, but you may wish to test it on the underside of the art before you start since even mild oils can alter the color of a porous wood sculpture. Use rags rather than paper towels when applying product to avoid embedding lint or particles in the wood grain.

Treat hardwood sculptures slightly differently than those made of soft wood. Undertake an occasional cleaning and lemon oiling while maintaining the wood sculpture in a climate-controlled environment. Proceed with caution when cleaning exotic, dark hardwoods like ebony because lemon oil can remove color stains that have been applied by the artisan. Test the wood if you suspect it has been tinted, by scratching a small area on the underside of the art. If color has been applied, you will notice a change in color and you may wish to avoid cleaning your art with anything other than a dusting cloth.

Address wood damage situations using common sense. Use wood-fill products to fix minor scratches and dents. If your art has been exposed to extremes – close proximity to a heater, too much sun or the display case in which it is housed is not vented, turn to a professional. Some sculpture damage can be mediated using sanding, burn-in knife techniques or dry ice blasting, but none of these are wise to try if you spend more time admiring wood art than working on it.

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