Conserving a Crucifix

Recently a customer dropped of a crucifix for some repair work. It was somewhat small for a wood carving, but beautifully carved. It was carved in Europe from Lime wood, something similar to our bass wood. I can’t tell how old it is. The carved Jesus seems old, with a lot of patina, but the cross looks fairly new. This is how it looked when it came to me.


Jesus had fallen off the cross. The carving was attached to the cross by small wooden pegs where the nails wood have been…through each hand and through the feet. The left arm had come loose from the body, but a peg was still holding it on. The right arm had broken clean off and someone did a horrible job of gluing it back on.


Jesus was also missing half the middle finger of his right hand.


When the carving fell off of the cross someone used wood putty to try and reattach it. The repair didn’t hold.


I started the repair work by removing both arms. The left arm hadn’t been glued so that just needed a little twisting to pull the loosened retaining peg out of the shoulder. The right side needed a heat gun to soften the glue, then I was able to twist the arm off. Here is the right arm with the mess of glue.


And here is a dismembered Jesus with glue cleaned up and ready for repairs.


The first thing I fixed was the broken middle finger. I cut the broken area with a chisel to make it flat and smooth so I could glue a piece of bass wood to it. Here is a photo of the small chunk of wood glued on and ready for carving.


And here it is after the carving.


Under that big gob of wood putty someone put on Jesus’s heel there was a missing piece.


After cleaning and flattening the area, I glued on a new piece of wood.


It looks a little ridiculous, that big piece of wood for the little repair, but I needed something for the clamp to grab hold of while the glue was drying. Here it is after carving.


I reattached the arms with glue and new pegs after sanding both mating surfaces perfectly flat.

All that was left to do is the painting. That’s the hardest part. It’s a process of trial and error, artificial aging, and camouflage. I then reattached Jesus to the cross with new wooden pegs. The repairs are almost invisible, and the old finish and patina are still intact. Here is the restored carving.


And a closeup of the repaired finger.

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John Stacey
6 years ago

What did you use to blend the new wood to the shade of the original wood? Was it a wood stain thinned out? As always I enjoy your blog!

6 years ago

John, I used good ole oil paints. Because they dry so slowly, the colors can be blended and manipulated until you get the look you like.

Barbara & Gary Casaburri
5 years ago

Hi John, You did a BEAUTIFUL, PAINSTAKING JOB of restoring the Crucifix. I sincerely applaud you!!! I see from how you explained your repair of JESUS and his CRUCIFIX that you may very likely be able to help us. I purchased a BEAUTIFUL Stephen Huneck mirror that has several large fish and waves carved around its frame. The frame had a small chip when we purchased her, and now has a break in her frame that occurred recently during her shipment from Los Angeles to MA. I would like to send you a picture or 2 of her damage so that you can determine if you could repair the frame, and then give us an estimate. Would you be interested in doing this?
My husband and I look forward to hearing back from you!

A Denby
4 years ago

Fantastic job! I enjoy doing simple repairs, rescuing history, but love seeing more tricky repairs done so well by skillful people :)