Working with Holes, Cracks or Breaks

The beauty and flow of your sculpture is the most desired aspect of the driftwood artist. Cracks, holes or breaks in your wood are very distracting, unattractive features that take away from the natural flow and shape which the eye follows. In addition, below the surface of these cracks and holes, decaying or rotten wood could be hiding. This must be dealt with diligently so that your final sculpture will endure for years to come.

Remove it – Enhance it – Or fill it! These are the most constructive ways to deal with these challenging issues. Every hole, crack or break is different in every piece of wood and wood type. You must determine when picking up a piece whether you can deal with the challenges that face you. Especially for new driftwood workers, this is very important. Your “seeing eye” is not only to discover shapes and beauty in the wood you have found, but to discern the problem areas to be faced. You must be able to face these areas with willingness and commitment or your sculpture will suffer in the end. there is nothing more discouraging than to have worked and worked on a piece only to discover there is an “issue” of rot under a crack or distracting sharp edges or unfinished holes that have been noticed by your teacher or juror in a show.

Holes: No matter the size and depth of the individual hole it must be thoroughly cleaned of old, rotted, or soft wood. A good sharp probe can help you to determine the depth you might have to go. All rotten wood must be removed. Rot will continue to rot! Scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape. If the hole is deep it can sometimes be filled with a mixture of glue and sawdust applied in layers . . . . filling with a small amount . . . letting it dry completely (24-48 hours) and doing another layer continuing until the desired look or depth is obtained. Be sure that the sides of the hole are scraped, smoothed and sanded well so that when your eyes look at the hole, it seems finished. Sometimes the bottom of the hole goes so deep that you may want to torch it to darken it. This will camouflage any imperfections and takes the eye away from “looking down there.” Smaller holes can be dealt with easier. Scraping, sanding and even dremeling. You want the end result to look finished. Sometimes you may even have to widen the hole or open it up more to achieve a look that is natural.
Cracks: Cracks must be enhanced, featured or filled. You cannot just ignore a crack. Rotten wood is probably lurking underneath. Using a probe, mini scraper, or even a small wire bristled brush, clean the inside of the crack to get out dead or rotten wood. Determine whether you want to feature and enhance or fill it. Enhancing or featuring a larger crack is more desirable. Opening up the crack and rounding out the edges softens the lines. This is more pleasing to the eye. Consider the flow of your piece. Does the crack distract from the flow? You may need to even lengthen or enlarge a crack to enhance the overall appearance of your sculpture. Be sure to scrape, sand, burnish and finish each crack well. The overall look of your finished sculpture will benefit from the care you take.

If you have determined that you want to fill a crack, you can do so by using a mixture of wood glue and water. Also, fine wood debris from your piece mixed with wood glue to fill the crack. Wet the cleaned crack with water using a small craft type paint brush and apply a mixture of wood glue and water (about 50/50). You may want to use a dental pick to push the glue mixture into the crack to make sure that it penetrates. then you can sand over the crack and push the sanded particles into the crack. It is best to use a rubber band or clamp to hold the crack together if at all possible.

Breaks: Breaks can be a tricky problem. Some deep cracks in wood can actually have the potential of breaking away from your piece. You must first determine whether you want the piece attached. Look at the flow of your wood. If the crack was broken off would the overall look you want be affected? “How bad is it, how deep does the break go and what is the best course of action” are questions you need to ask yourself. Don’t break away anything until you have worked with your piece to get a feel of what you want. Reattaching a piece can be done but with difficulty. Sometimes you can steam a break so that it becomes more pliable, glue it and clamp it together. This must be left to dry for several days. Needless to say . . . all areas of the crack or break have been cleaned thoroughly before glueing! Pegs can also be put in to hold a cracked section together.

If you want to reattach a piece that has broken off be sure to thoroughly clean both the broken off piece and the sculpture edges to get all dead or rotted fragments out of the area. If you glue the piece back on, wet the wood on both pieces first, then paint on glue and finally band or clamp the piece together. Leave alone to let dry naturally. Do not attempt to use a heater or hair dryer to dry the fracture. Be sure that you wipe all wet glue off your sculpture to avoid extra sanding.

If you determine the break needs to be taken away, do so carefully so as not to break off more than you intend. You can use a vise to hold the piece steady, and then use a coping saw to take away the break. This way one can follow the curve of the crack and can be sure to only take away what one wants.

Arline De Palma