Russian Birch Bark Carving

Russian Birch Bark Carving

Staining for Mock Russian Birch Bark Carving

Supplies Needed:

  • Gloss Spray Sealer
  • Burnt Umber Oil Paint
  • Assorted brushes
  • Wiping Rags
  • Turpentine



This step will take some time to complete so please allow yourself about one hour when you begin working. This is not a ‘quick and dirty” staining technique! Also, as with any new staining technique it is advisable to create a practice board first before you actually stain your finished project. This allows you to both learn the technique and discover how each stain reacts to different carving woods.

1. Once the carving is complete remove any dust and extra wood fibers from the project.

2. Using a gloss spray sealer and following the directions on the can give your project about three light coats of sealer. Allow about one half hour between each coat. To learn more about spray sealers please see Applying Spray Urethane/Polyurethane Finish. Raw basswood will grab a stain very hard so the sealer is needed to protect from over absorption of the oils.

3. Place a small amount of Burnt Umber Oil Paint on a glazed tile. I am using oil paints instead of oil stains! Oil paints tend to be much thicker in consistency and take much longer to completely dry. These two aspects of the coloring will be important to this project.

4. With an ox haired or stiff brush scrub in one coat of oil paint to the entire carved surface. Turn the piece often to insure that each v-gouge receives coloring. You want to coat the entire surface, however do not allow the color to create a heavy built up in the deep areas. Instead work these puddles out with the brush. Again, since oils take so long to set you do not have to “rush” through this coating. You have plenty of time to work! Do not thin the oil paint with turpentine, you want it thick.

5. Once everything is coated use a clean dry large brush, about 1 1/2″ wide, to smooth the coloring across the face of the piece. Again this larger dry brush will move the excess coloring out of the deep areas. There is no color on this brush! Instead I am using it to move the color that I have already applied.

6. Use a clean dry cloth to wipe off the excess oil color. Fold the cloth tightly into a square as you work. This will let the cloth hit the high areas of the design while keeping it away from the v-gouge areas.

7. At this point you will begin to see the design lighted in comparison to the background.

8. Now you will need a few small cotton wiping cloths and turpentine. Fold the cloth in half to double its thickness. Wrap the cloth tightly around your finger tip. Lightly wet this finger cloth with turpentine then bloat the cloth on a dry rag … you just want a very small amount of turpentine on the cloth. Wipe the finger cloth across the high areas of the design. Always work from a cleaned design area into an un-worked area. Change your cloth often to keep from staining with a dirty rag. Continue until the entire design has been lightened.

9. Allow the project to dry for several days … oil paint does take a while to completely set. A coating of Danish Oil Finish can now be applied if you wish but is not necessary. The sealer and oil paint are enough to complete the finish to the project.

Notes: Once I had been through all of the staining steps I felt that the coloring, though accurate to Russian Birch Bark, was a bit to dark for my taste. Russian Birch Bark carvings are often stained with a blackish tone to the background … however I was looking for a brown toning. So I repeated steps 5 through 8. I went back to my large dry clean brush and reworked the background areas. This moved a little more of the burnt umber out of the background allowing it to lighten in tone. Then I re-wiped with the clean cloth and again highlighted the design with the finger cloth and turpentine. You can repeat steps 5 through 8 as many times as you like, each time lightening the entire effect.

If I were to do some more Mock Russian Birch Bark carvings I would also consider using as my staining Burnt Sienna to give a reddish tone to the brown, Mars Brown for even a darker red-brown look, or Raw Umber for a black brown look.


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