Using the experience I have gained, I will do my best to “read” the wood. Meaning I will figure out where I think the main cracks want to come and work around them, so that any cracks that do develop will be hidden. Usually when I sell a carving I will tell the customer what I have done and where to expect the cracks to appear so that there are no surprises.
Slow drying is the key to keeping your carving from developing larger cracks. The best way to do this is to place it in a slightly shaded spot in the garden out of the heat of the sun. It is advisable to do this for at least the first year till the wood has stabalised itself somewhat. If the carving is to be kept indoors the same applies, keep it in a cooler part of the house, away from any dry heat sources.
After finding a suitable shady spot to display your carving, you should now make sure that it doesn’t sit directly onto the bare ground as it will draw up moisture causing the base to rot.This can be avoided by sitting the carving on gravel, little strips of wood, anything really that will allow moisture to drain freely from the base.
4 . Treatment
There are so many wood treatments out there it can get confusing. But the main things you are looking for on the tin are “preservative”, “mould resistant ” and one that will keep the colour that you want. I don’t personally like varnish as they tend to flake and peel after a few years. I prefer the various oils that are out there such as decking oil as these soak right into the wood and have built in mould inhibitors and preservatives. When I sell a carving I will tell you what I have used to treat it and when you should reapply the coating. But as a guide I would say to recoat whenever the carving starts to look dry, or at least twice a year in Spring and Autumn.
5 . Mould
Living in such a damp climate as we do, mould could be an issue. But by keeping your carving off the bare ground and regular recoating of the wood treatment with built in mould inhibitors, then it should stay mould free. If however you do get mould developing then this can be treated with a solution of bleach and water. Scrub the area with the solution and allow to dry before recoating with the oil.
One more option would be to have the whole carving pressure treated. This is the same process that sawmills use to treat fence posts, it will give the piece a 20 year life. I would only do this with woods that are not so naturally durable . The only drawback is that the wood will turn a light green colour, but this can be easily stained over.