Sculpture Care and Repair

After many years working closely with Zimbabwean artists, we are experts in the care and repair of Zimbabwean sculpture…

Looking after your sculpture

Every sculpture we sell is absolutely pristine, without a scratch or chip and with a perfect shine.

This guide to sculpture care and repair details the stages involved in repairing a damaged sculpture and rejuvenating a tired finish.


Don’t use spray polish on the sculpture as it ruins the wax coating and will quickly leave the sculpture needing a repolish. Sculpture kept indoors should only ever need a dust – and the more often you stroke it, the less often you’ll need to dust it!

Sculpture displayed outdoors will gradually lose its shine. The elements affect the stone at a ‘geological’ rate, but the UV rays in sunshine act more swiftly on the wax finish.


To rejuvenate a dulled finish, you need to apply a new coat of wax and polish it up. We use the same clear wax as the Zimbabwean artists do, but you can substitute it with beeswax or clear furniture wax. On a hot sunny day, put the sculpture in the sunshine so that it heats up – and put the wax in the sun too so that it’s not completely hard. Use a clean rag and rub a small amount of wax onto the surface of the sculpture. Then get a clean, soft cloth and rub the waxed area vigorously until it buffs up. The trick here is to avoid the wax drying up before you have buffed it, resulting in a streaky finish. TIP Wax and polish up a small area at a time, rather than the whole sculpture.

Repairing scratches and chips

If your sculpture is scratched, more radical treatment is required. You need to use wet and dry sandpaper to remove a scratch. Use a fairly coarse grade first, followed by a less coarse one, and finish with a very fine grade. We use 320, 600 and 1200, but some Zimbabwean artists go as far as 3000; some British sculptors are content with just 320! Dip the sandpaper in water, and then use a circular action, pressing gently. Remove the mark with 320, and remove the scratches from the 320 with the 600, and get a smooth finish with the 1200. TIP Wash the sculpture well and let it dry between each grade so that you can see more clearly the progress and if you’ve missed anywhere.

If the sculpture is chipped, there are various options. Deep chips can only be removed with a file or rasp; lighter ones can be remedied with sandpaper as per guidance for removing scratches above. The decision mainly depends on where the damage is, i.e. whether it allows access for the file, and how severe it is.

If there is a deep chip that can’t be sanded out, then a rasp is the best tool. Use the flat surface and stroke the sculpture in with a slow sweeping motion, so that the area around the damage is reshaped as well as the damaged part. Try to maintain the existing surfaces and lines, and where a line has been interrupted by damage the repair needs to re-establish the unbroken line. Once you’re happy with the new shape, sand as above.

Major damage will often necessitate major repairs. Taking a rasp or chisel to a sculpture feels like a serious undertaking! For a sympathetic repair, our best advice, if this is necessary, is to reshape the sculpture so that the new lines are coherent and the damaged area becomes a part of a whole new sculpture.

Hot waxing

Once the marks have been sanded away and the sculpture feels smooth, you need to apply a fresh coat of wax. This must be done when the stone is hot. There are a variety of methods of heating the stone, and it depends on the size of the sculpture and the type of stone as well as what you have to hand. You can put a small sculpture in the oven, but this is only advisable if you need to rewax the whole piece. If you have only repaired a small area, you are probably better off using our favoured method – using a hot air gun or a blowtorch. These enable you to heat a specific area.

Heat the stone until it is hot. How hot depends on the type of stone, but generally a hard serpentine e.g. springstone should be heated more than a soft one e.g. opal stone. Use a clean rag and rub clear wax onto the surface of the sculpture. Leave it to cool. Once it is cool, but before it is cold, use a clean soft cloth to buff it to a deep shine. The danger here is that some stones need more heat than others, some need more wax than others, and some shine up better when polished when cold whilst others become virtually impossible to polish once the wax has been left too long. However, don’t fret, because it is easy to reheat the wax a little if it has cooled too much. Trial and error will help you find the right approach for your particular sculpture.

Good luck!

This text is copyright and is the intellectual property of the Shona Sculpture Gallery (please see statement on our homepage).

Related links:

Shona sculpture movement – Zimbabwe’s art history

Sculpture process – stages in the process from raw stone to sculpture

Types of stone commonly used by the best Zimbabwean artists

Common themes in Zimbabwean sculpture

Shona spirit beliefs and how they inspire Zimbabwean sculpture

Life as a sculptor – comments and insight from Zimbabwean artists