This week I want to talk about woodburning – also known as pyrography. Woodburning is a great affordable alternative to laser engraving, and you might find it even more fun. With a woodburning pen, the quality of results rely on the artist’s own hand. So let’s talk about some basics.
You can use any kind of wood for woodburning, but light colored woods are the best. You can buy small pieces of clear, sanded pine at craft stores like Michaels. I’m using some 1/4” plywood here. I don’t recommend using open-grain woods, such as oak.
Make sure to sand the wood as smooth as possible to let the pen move easier. 320 grit paper will do the trick.
If you are very talented, you can just burn freehand, like sketching. But most of us will probably need to follow a design or drawing.
One way is to print out an image you like and transfer it to your workpiece with carbon paper or with pencil graphite. This is a very time consuming and tedious method because it requires tracing the design by hand. I would only use this for the simplest line drawings.
If you have a laser printer, you can do a heat transfer. Tape the image in place and use a transfer tool to iron it in on. Just make sure you reverse print your image if it has any text on it. Again, this won’t work on inkjet prints. This is better for simple drawings, as the fine details don’t transfer well.
My favorite method is to use the inkjet transfer method. Print out your image on the backer sheet for labels. This is what I used for my Ouija board project last week. The main thing to avoid is moving the paper and smudging your design.
You can get a professional woodburning kit for a couple hundred dollars. But I use an entry level pen which comes with a bunch of different tips for around $30. It has a temperature control you can adjust depending on what type of material you are burning. For burning wood, I just max it out. So basically this is just a soldering iron that comes with all kinds of pattern tips to screw onto the pen. Mostly I use the universal tip. You can use it as a fine point to make lines, or use it for shading, kind of like a marker.
Using the pen with the universal tip is kind of like using a marker. You can make fine lines or thick lines. And like ink, the longer you hold it in place the more it will bleed, or burn deeper. Mostly, this is all just a matter of experimenting and practicing with the pen. It’s actually pretty amazing how much detail and realism is possible.
You’ll get better results if you pull the pen rather than push it, and keep turning the workpiece. When you have areas to fill in or shade, brushing in the same direction as the grain works best.
Your pen tips will get gummed up with carbon which will prevent them from burning properly. Clean them up with some 320 grit fine sandpaper. A few strokes will do it.
When you’re finished with your artwork, you can apply any kind of clear topcoat you like. My favorite is spray lacquer.
Pyrography is great for non-woodworkers, and a super affordable hobby. As woodworkers, we can incorporate woodburning into our bigger projects, such as adding designs to drawer fronts or box lids. The possibilities are endless!