One of the things I really like about carving found wood is that I don't have to paint it. I don't much like painting, and I've found that wood grain makes a much more interesting look than anything I've ever been able to do with paint. Carvers all have their favorite types of finishes. Here's what I do.
When I'm done whittling, I give my knife a good stropping and then give the figure a once-over, removing any "fuzzies." If I have sandpaper available (220 grit or higher), I might lightly sand the cuts that separate the head from the body, and the cuts that form the rear legs, and any other places where fuzzies might exist. You can do the same kind of thing with a diamond file.
I also sand the bottom by placing a piece of 150 or 220 grit sandpaper on the bench and rubbing the base of the dog over it. This creates a nice flat base, and also makes it easier to sign my name on the bottom.
I'll write my name and the date (usually just the year) on the bottom of the carving with a ball point pen. I've used felt tip markers, but they tend to bleed over time and what I wrote blurs. It's hard enough to read my writing without having the ink blur it.
When I'm satisfied that carving and sanding are complete, I take the figure to the sink and scrub it with an old toothbrush and a little bit of hand soap. I prefer the liquid soap, but I've also used a bar of Ivory. Scrubbing with the toothbrush and soap will remove pencil marks, dirt, and oils from your hands. After I've rinsed all the soap, I blot the figure dry and then let is sit for a couple of hours to fully dry out.
I generally don't paint my Whittle Pups. I used to paint the nose black, the tongue red, and the inside of the ears pink, but that got to be too much trouble. Now, I just make a couple a dot inside each eye (usually with a pencil or a felt tip pen), and then apply Howard Feed 'N Wax to the entire carving, including the base. Feed 'N Wax is a mixture of orange oil and beeswax. I've also used Howard Butcher Block Conditioner, which is a mixture of mineral oil and beeswax. Or, you can just use straight mineral oil.
I've found that the Feed 'N Wax darkens the wood slightly, and somehow causes the details to stand out a little bit. If the wood is especially dry, I'll apply a coat of mineral oil, let it soak in for a half hour or so, and then apply a good coat of Feed 'N Wax. I usually let that sit overnight, and the next morning I buff the figure with a shoe brush that I've dedicated to my wood carving.
Many other finishes are possible. Some people like sprays like Deft or Krylon. If I use the sprays, I use a satin or matte finish because I don't like my Whittle Pups to have that shiny look.
Understand, nothing says you have to apply any kind of finish to the Whittle Pup. You can keep it all natural if you like, although I wouldn't recommend it.
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