For a long time, wood burning was considered a lost craft, but the truth is that the results you can get with this particular endeavor are so satisfying that more people have decided to tackle the craft themselves. With the help of a specific tool and the right piece of wood, you can let your imagination run wild and create amazing designs that turn even the dullest pieces of wood into true masterpieces. But before any of that happens, we’re going to give you some really interesting wood burning tips and techniques, but also touch base on some really important safety instructions.
Woodburning Techniques and Their Uses
There are plenty of different things that you can achieve with a pyrography tip set and the right piece of wood. Here are some tricks and techniques that might help you step up your woodburning game or help you get started if this is your first time meeting with the craft.
One of the techniques that you’ll most have to use in woodburning projects is filling silhouettes. It is also a star technique that’s way easier to master compared to others. As you attempt to fill a certain shape, don’t use as much heat as possible. By doing so, you might get unaesthetic marks all over the carving.
The best way to master this technique and get the very best results is to use your tool (a robotic pen with a Dremel type tip that heats up) on a medium heat setting and apply soft circular movements, working on one area at a time. For a smooth start, you can blow the tip of the pen as it touches the wood for the first time.
A tad more difficult technique, but one that renders amazing results, is the gradient method. As you can imagine, creating gradients is a bit harder than filling an entire shape with black, as you will need to have better control over your pyrography pen when doing so, not to mention that you need more patience overall.
The best way to work on your gradient technique is by using a flat tip (not a circle tip) and a pen that allows you to select the temperature. For gradient woodburning, you will need to start with slow and circular movements and work on a small area at a time.
You will need patience as it takes insisting on a certain spot to see the results. The trickiest part about the gradient technique is having to work over wood grains. These will prevent you from efficiently burning your canvas, so these areas might require a little bit more heat. Because of this, it’s not recommended for calligraphy.
This is a really unique way of doing custom wood burning art. It stems from the natural occurrence of fractal veining or Lichtenberg figures. It’s something that happens when a person is electrocuted and their veins fracture into fern-like patterns. This is replicated in pyrography by using either a stencil and a fine tip, with gunpowder, or with a wire tip.
The texture technique opens up a whole new world of possibilities when it comes to a wood burning hobby. Let’s assume that you’re working on a hair pattern. You can use a flat shading tip and set your pen at a higher heat intensity. Be generous with the direction marks that you leave all around, as this technique doesn’t really require you to be smooth.
You will need, however, to have full control of the pressure, as you might want to experiment with a mixture between softer shades and dark black strokes. If you want to work on fur patterns, a tracing tip might be the best choice. For darker areas, you can use closer strokes and more heat, while lighter areas will require faster strokes with less heat.
Hatching and cross-hatching are two other techniques that will enhance the results of your wood carving projects. They allow you to create shading effects and texture that do not require you to master the gradient technique. These methods will also render better-looking results if you have to work with grainy wood.
The best tip for this technique is the tracing one, which you can use as if you were drawing a regular line. Proceed to hatch in one direction, starting with the edges. By doing so, you can ensure that the edges have a stronger outline because of the more accentuated burn, while the inside of the drawing gets weaker.
The next important technique that you have to master are the background ones. These will be useful in creating the finishing touches on a variety of different projects. We’ll start off with the rust technique, which is a real time saver.
You will literally have to get some rust from old bolts and screws (you can use sandpaper to do that), apply that on the wood, and then spread it on the surface of the wood by using either your fingers or a cotton ball. If you’re working with cheap-looking wood (such as MDF pieces), the rust will cover the area smoothly and can help you create opaque backgrounds with a shiny gradient.
The dotting technique may take you back to some medieval art pieces because it has been around for quite some time. Regardless of how cheap your pyrography pen is, it surely has a large round tip that you can use precisely to master this technique. Once the tip is really hot, proceed to fill the background by creating a dot at a time. Clean the tip whenever you think you might need to, in order to maintain the dot-making accuracy.
By using a heat blower, you can create really interesting backgrounds for your woodburning projects. You can use this to create a vignette effect by turning on the blower and passing it along the edges of your canvas, but make sure that you never linger over a specific area for more than a second. Keep in mind that you want to heat up an entire area as evenly as possible, but you will also have to be patient in order to see some shading results.
Shading or filling are two background techniques that might serve you when the areas you want to fill aren’t that large, like around fancy writing or letters of the alphabet. You need to be really careful with the projects that you choose these techniques for, as it takes a lot of work when you’re working with larger elements and the effort might not even be worth the end result.
Woodburning is the kind of craft that will take a lot of trial and error before you can truly say that you’ve mastered it up to a certain level. But there are tips, like the ones in the following list, which might give you a better idea on how to handle more complicated projects and situations, or how to fix mistakes that are bound to happen at some point:
- Making mistakes is human, so you’re bound to make some as you’re first learning your way through the mysteries and pleasure of the craft. But if you do make a minor mistake that you’d like to correct, you can grab a piece of sandpaper and sand a certain area out. Make note that this won’t always work and it depends on how burned that area actually is.
- When you’re progressing through a wood burning project, make sure that you clean the tip you’re working with. Pyrography pen tips are likely to have a carbon build-up (like inside a chimney) that will make it difficult for you to get the smooth results you’re craving for. Also, the tip might leave carbon accumulations behind that mess up parts of your project. Look at replacement tips if this happens.
- As we’ve mentioned before, working with pieces of wood that have a lot of grain will make your projects a little bit more difficult. And the best tip that we can give you at this point is to learn how to work your design around that. In other words, make sure that you change the position of your carving so that you can follow the grain with your pen as you trace it towards you. Otherwise, it’s really easy to lose control over the pen.
- As with regular drawings, you can start your pyrography projects by first working on the outlines. This way, you don’t get stuck halfway through the project.
- As a beginner wood burning enthusiast, it is always best if you start your projects by first drawing the guidelines that you want to follow. You can print the drawings that you want to transfer on your piece of wood and then use something like an iron or a heat press to transfer them so you’ll have your outlines to work with. You can also use a pencil to draw whatever designs you want to, and then process to the actual wood burning part of the project.
- Never apply too much pressure when you create your designs, especially if you are a beginner. By using lighter strokes, you will find it easier to guide the pen, and you can later insist on areas that you’d want to see a bit darker.
Wood Burning Safety
This is a chapter that shouldn’t be taken lightly because woodburning can be a dangerous activity. If it’s something you’re considering doing, there some things that you have to know about beforehand, all of which we’ll be covering in this chapter.
While it is a fun hobby that can get you creative juices flowing, using a soldering iron is to be taken seriously when it comes to your own safety. The first issue that arises is related to the smoke that you inhale during pyrography.
Different types of wood are more recommended for pyrography than others, as some have more toxic fume releases when being burned. If at all possible, it’s best to ask a pyrography expert about the toxicity level and fumes released by the wood you’re thinking of using for your next project.
When you’re working, it’s best if you do so in a well-ventilated area, with open windows or fans that can keep the air circulating. This will prevent you from sitting there in smoke that eventually ends up in your lungs. But always make sure that you choose to work with wood that has low toxicity levels.
Check Your Wood
It’s also best if you steer clear of pieces of wood that have been molded, treated, stained, or painted. These have chemicals that, once burned, can be inhaled and might pose a threat to your health. For your own safety, make sure that you avoid choosing man-made or altered wood. Some of the two most common examples of such wood that people might now be aware they should avoid are plywood and medium-density fibreboard (MDF, for short). The latter, for instance, contains formaldehyde, a substance that you want to avoid working with when woodburning.
Best Type to Use
The best types of wood for your pyrography projects are fresh-cut pieces. It’s true that people who live in rural areas will find it easier to get their hands on such materials, but if you live in the city and can get in contact with a lumber shop, you can probably negotiate a good deal on fresh cuts for sale. Some lumber yards might give you scraps of wood for free since they no longer have use for them.
Another potential safety hazard is represented by sawdust exposure. There are plenty of people that like to sand the wood before they process with actually burning it, and the sawdust resulting from the process can easily be inhaled. The best solution around this problem is to sand the wood outdoors. Instead of having it circulate around your working space, it will stay outside and you won’t inhale it. Also keep in mind that certain types of wood might irritate your skin, which makes it a good idea to consult with an expert.
Mind the Tip
While some people find this next safety hazard obvious, we feel obliged to remind our readers that pyrography is a hobby/craft that uses hot tools. If you’re at the beginning of your woodburning journey, you might not even be aware of how hot the pyrography pen is, which means that you will always have to be very careful with its placement while you’re working.
Some people tend to make the mistake of leaving their wood-burning tools unsupervised while it’s still plugged or turned on, which is a really bad idea considering that heated tools should be supervised the entire time to avoid any potential fire hazards. Also, make sure that there aren’t any children or pets around you while you’re using your pyrography pen.
You can always purchase some safety gloves that are used by expert pyrographers to make sure they don’t burn their hands by accident. Also, make sure that you choose a quality tool that offers a high degree of insulation, otherwise, your hand will start to feel quite hot really soon.
If you ever notice any sort of problems while you’re woodburning, turn off that tool, put it in a safe place and exit the room immediately. If there is anything about wood burning that might make it difficult for you to breathe, if you feel your eyes, nose, or throat irritated, if you notice a rash on your skin, or you feel that your eyes are burning, contact the doctor as soon as mobile.
Wood Burning is more than just a relaxing craft; it’s something that you could actually make money out of once you’ve mastered a few basic techniques. One of the many things that people love about pyrography isn’t the fact that they can make pretty items to sell and can make their own branding with it, but the fact that they can repurpose multiple old pieces of wood or even leather and add intricate drawings that make them beautiful.
Whether you’re looking to bring an old wooden jewelry box to live, you’ve found on an old dull-looking trunk in the attic that could use a revamp, or go to a lumber yard and pick up discarded wooden canvases, you too can create amazing, decorative designs that will last for ages.