When we go out looking for those potential new sculpture pieces – well we often find them wet and bedraggled stuck in some back wash of a river or lake. Black, sodden masses but with that wonderful presence that makes us feel this would be a great sculpture. There is no way I can explain this feeling or how it happens but all of us that have been on a field trip have experienced it . . . . and it’s a fabulous feeling of rightness.
Now we bring our treasures home. Here I can save you a lot of hauling work – just bring with you on any wood hunt a very sharp instrument like a pick or a knife. Poke the point into the wood; how far it penetrates will determine if the wood core is solid or if wetness makes it feel heavy enough to be good sculpture wood. If it passes the “poke” test by all means haul it home.
When you get home, first shoot it with a strong jet from the garden hose, or, if the piece is small, submerge it in a pail of water with some oil soap added. Brush with a stiff brush.
After the wood has been cleaned of all debris you have a choice to make: Some woods will scrape better while wet and some woods will just shred when you try to scrape and clean them. Put those shredding pieces in a dry area of the garage or shed and check them every week or two to see if the shredding subsides. I try to work the first scraping as soon as possible for I find that it is so much easier to work when nature has done the soaking. Often I will put the piece back outside in the rain when I am not working on it as wet wood sure scrapes easier. Experiment and do what works best for you. . .
Keep in mind that when wood is scraped down to the hard wood you are looking for, about the time you start to sand, then, avoid ever getting the wood wet as water on good wood will raise the grain and much more sanding will be needed to achieve your lovely smooth surface again. Of course there are times you cannot avoid getting your sculpture wet as when you are bleaching or when you douse the piece briefly to check if all dead wood is gone. Hopefully this wetting will be a quick one and will do no damage. Some of our NWDA members will wet their piece with hot water to see if work is done, places where rotted wood has not been removed will turn black and show the areas that need more finishing . . . usually this quick check will do no damage and will work to help your finishing.
Also, water is used if we need to glue a break or fill a void that weakens our sculpture. We always wet the area to be repaired or filled before gluing to insure a tight fit. This procedure should not affect finished sanded areas.
With very fragile wood we will paint thin areas with a mix of wood glue and water to harden the wood and keep it stable. Be sure to let any glued or repaired wood rest and dry for at least 24 hours. I allow the repairs to dry for 2 days.
This is a general reference for working with wet wood. In the northwest most of the wood we find is wet, so you will decide what works best for your particular piece. Whatever method you choose, you will have great fun.