An Introduction to Wood Burning and Pyrography Crafts

The art of woodburning, also known as Pyrography, is simple but super effective! It can be used to make anything from rustic place settings for a wedding, to detailed Christmas tree decorations, or gift boxes, and even household signs.

In this blog post we are going to look at the basics of Pyrography to get you started including what tools and equipment you’ll need, what techniques you can use, and how to get the most out of your crafting.

Woodburning Tools - The Options

There are two main types of wood burning tools that you can buy. They have their pros and cons so ultimately it depends on what you're after and how much you're willing to spend. The abilities and price ranges are tiered though, so if you shop around there might be something middle of the road that suits your needs better.

Option 1 - The Entry Level Woodburning Pen

These tools price in at around £20-50 and are great if you’re just getting started and want to explore the craft without committing £100+ straight from the off. You usually get a range of different tips that you can try. The tip are generally made from a solid piece of metal in various shapes, sizes and thicknesses.

The above kit costs just under £20 and is the one I purchased from Amazon to get started.

These pens can be a little trickier to use than the more expensive soldering iron models as the solid tip is quite solid and can scratch into the wood if too much pressure is used. However, once you’ve had a play and mastered the various strokes, the effect of applying different amounts of pressure and temperature options with each of the different tips, they’re great to work with.

All the outputs shown in this posts were created with the above kit!

Option Two - The Soldering Iron

These options are generally priced between £80-£150 so the initial outlay is much bigger. The above model is available on Amazon for £121 at the time of writing this post.

Soldering irons usually have a pen which is connected to a control box, where the temperature can be adjusted. The other key difference to the first option is that the end tips on the soldering iron are usually made from a finely looped piece of wire in various shapes rather than a solid metal tip. They remind me of the tool you hold in those games which test how steady your hand is as you try to move around a shaped wire without touching it.

For larger crafts or those which are very detailed, the soldering iron option tends to be the better choice. They give better control, more precise strokes and are generally much easier and more comfortable to use.

It goes without saying that the big con for this is the price tag. If you’re new to wood burning and not sure yet whether it's the craft for you or if you’re only going to use your tool a handful of times, for example to make your wedding place settings, then the cheaper option above is potentially more appealing.

Getting Started

Whichever option you choose, when you first get your burner it’s worth taking some time to try out the different end pieces, different temperature settings and different results you can create by using different amounts of pressure or strokes. This will give you a good feel for how your particular tool works, how it moves around on the wood and what you need to do to achieve the outcome you’re after.

To do this, I made a 'tester board' from three old pine floor board off-cuts which I glued together. It’s also a good base to rest your wood on when you’re working on a real project!

Practice board

I began by working through the temperature range and making small shaded squares with each temperature setting. I often refer back to this when I’m working on a project to help me figure out what temperature I’m aiming for to produce a certain shade.

Next I experimented with lines, shading, strokes, curves, and stipples. As wood burning crafts and images are made from various shades of brown, the textures you use can make all the difference to a piece. Try experimenting with short and longer strokes, curves (harder than you think when wood grains are involved!) and stipples and dots.

You can also try holding the pen down for varying lengths of time to see the differences you get. When I work with my woodburning pen I actually use relatively little pressure. I use the tool much like a pencil but instead of pressing harder for the detailed shading I just turn up the temperature slightly. That being said, there may be times when you want to hold your burner in one place for slightly longer to create a deeper burn.

Note: When it starts to smoke you’ve probably left it on a bit too long!

If possible, I’d recommend using a wood which has quite defined grain for your test piece. One thing I noticed was that the results I got from on top of a grain were markedly different to the rest of the wood. This is because the wood grain is much harder than the other parts of the wood, and so I found I could leave the pen on a grained part of the wood for significantly longer without it burning. This difference in textures can be a source of frustration if you’re trying to evenly fill in part of an image so it’s definitely worth practicing a little first.

Burnt colour varies
Example of how the burnt colour varies as the burn passes through the wood grain

I also found that I was sometimes thrown off my stroke if I was trying to cross from soft wood to the harder grain. Through practice, I learnt to vary my pressure between the two sections to avoid these issues. You can also try undertaking much shorter strokes where one style finishes at the boundary to the grain and then a different technique begins on the new texture.

Choosing your Wood

This is really personal choice but a couple of things to bear in mind when you're choosing the wood for your projects.

Softer woods will burn and colour much more easily than harder options. For example pine is a very soft wood and will burn almost immediately. For projects on pine wood you'll need to work with less pressure and at a lower temperature. Comparatively, oak is a much harder wood and so projects are likely to require a little more effort and/or heat to produce the same effect.

Although not always practical, if it is possible I’d recommend carrying out your test burning on the wood which you’ll be using for your crafts. You may need to adapt your technique to suit and it's better to realise this on a tester than the real thing!

Don't Burn on MDF!

You should never use artificially produced woods, such as MDF, with your wood burning pen/iron. These materials are made from wood scraps/dust combined with chemicals and glues to produce a wood-like product. Many of these chemicals are carcinogenic and if burned they can release gases which may be harmful if breathed in.

Ready to Craft!

When you’ve finished experimenting on your test board and you’re ready to begin a real project you might be feeling slightly daunted. I certainly was! Not just because of the obvious 'what if I mess it up?' but also because large pieces of natural wood, or natural wood made products, are expensive!

If you can relate to this feeling, why not begin with a few smaller projects before something really big?

I started with these wooden log slice decorations. They’re fairly inexpensive - 50 for £12.99 on Amazon! Yet they’re natural wood and with lots of growth rings to help you perfect your technique moving across the wood grain.

I printed some simple designs on to paper and traced the outline onto the wood. I then began by carefully tracing over the pencil outline with a low temperature setting using my wood burning pen. Once I was happy with that I then began to work on the detail.

Burning progress

Finally, my key piece of advice would be to take your time. Smaller strokes which slowly build up the piece may take longer but you’ll end up with a much better piece at the end.

Examples of my wood burning crafts!

Wood burning examples
Wood burning sign

Happy Burning!

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