Surface Decoration Techniques for Wood Turning

Updated November 21, 2016

Surface decorating techniques are a great way to liven up dull types of wood that have little grain. Even though wood grain can be brought out with a clear coat finish, some items just need a bit more. Items such a lamps, bowls and pens can be made more interesting with some colour, texture or carved detail.


Spirit dyes are used to change the surface colour of the wood after it has been turned and sanded. Dyes will highlight any flaws or rough areas so sanding to a minimum of 600-grit is required.The dyes can be mixed to create any colour imaginable and easily applied using a brush, cloth rag, paper towel, dipping or airbrush. Finish with a clear-coat epoxy to make your finished item shine.


A wood burning tool is used to apply a wide variety of textures to turned wood surfaces. With over 500 pre-made tips available for purchase, the possibilities are endless. It is a good idea to practice on scrap wood if you are not familiar with the various techniques of wood burning. Different types and hardness of wood will require different temperatures.

Metal Leafing

Thin composite metal alloy sheets are not as expensive as the real thing, but it is hard to tell a difference. Gold, silver, platinum and variegated metal leaf is often used in conjunction with burning and spirit dyes. Do not use on turned pieces that will be used for food. Metal leaf is applied with an adhesive called sizing. Use a burnishing cloth to flatten the extremely fragile metal. Once the application is dry, a sealer should be applied.


Relief carving is also called panel carving method where the background is carved away with a chisel, making the main object stand out. This is the same technique used for making rubber stamps. The simple form of this technique results in a two-dimensional design, but more advanced techniques actually result in a design that appears to be three-dimensional. Chip carving is accomplished with three tools; a quarter-inch chisel, a parting tool and a veining tool. After transferring your design to the turned wood piece or drawing it on, use the parting tool to carve out the heavy lines and the veining tool to carve along the lighter lines. The chisel is used to carve sharp corners and to clean up the carving where needed.

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