Wood Burning Basics

life burning

I have a small wood burning business on Etsy. I do a variety of things, though my biggest sellers are wine boxes with a bride & groom’s wedding invitation design burned on to them. I have a family member that gives them as gifts (with a lovely bottle of wine inside) at just about every wedding she attends. It’s a lovely personalized gift, and she truly enjoys giving them. I say all of this not to push my business, but to explain the background for the rest of the post.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a message via my Facebook business page. It was from a lady who was trying to do a Pinterest-type project that entailed wood burning. Unfortunately, she was seriously bummed when it didn’t work out to her expectations (which is also why you can Google “Pinterest Fail” and laugh for hours…). She was contacting me to see if I had any suggestions for her. Knowing that the holiday gift-giving season is upon us, and that many will be attempting the Pinterest pins in the hopes of giving them as gifts, I thought I would share some basic hints and tips to remember when going for that gift-worthy burn.

Not All Wood Is Created Equal. When this lady contacted me, the thing I noticed immediately is that she was trying to burn on bamboo. Folks, kitchen stores sell bamboo cutting boards for one reason – their hardness factor. Wal-Mart doesn’t give a flying fig about “environmental awareness” – they just want something that is cheap and hard. Unfortunately, that hardness does not always translate well into burning, particularly for someone new and using a basic “I bought it at Michael’s” wood burning kit. A quick lesson: all woods have different hardness levels, and yes, they have been ranked. Your best bet, particularly for beginners, are the wood items in Michael’s wood burning area – they are generally untreated with anything (good since you’re inhaling the smoke), and they burn easily (generally they are pine).

Hardness Scale

Hardness Scale

And Some Wood Screams. Ok, maybe “screams” is a little drastic, but…if you hear your wood emitting a quiet screaming noise, then you’ve more than likely got your burner up too high. Heat is good AND bad in pyrography – you have to have it in order to create the design, but too much of it will darken the wood around where you’re burning, burn too deep and lumpy, and generally give you a contact-high headache from the smoke. Your goal is NOT to start a fire (Remember Smoky Bear?) – it is to carve a design into the wood without leaving other signs of scorching. In the image below¬†(one of my wedding boxes), the entire thing was burned with varying levels of heat in order to get the different levels of shading. Oh, and a hint: DO NOT keep a fan running on you while you’re burning. Even if you’re not fond of the smoke, the fan will cool the nib down and you won’t get a very good burn.

Different heat levels

Different heat levels

Which Burner Is Best? For a beginner, the one from Michael’s (or any other craft-type store) will be fine. It’s a great tool to learn the basics. HOWEVER. Practice (as my daughter says) makes permanent. Take a little bit of time to learn about it BEFORE you start your one-of-a-kind project. Learn the temperature variances and what works better on the wood you’re using. Practice with the different nibs (tips) that come with the burner to see what the burning looks like, how it feels, and which you might prefer. I totally have a preference in my nibs, and I think most people do. Add to that, the nibs sometimes react to heat levels differently. IF you really get into wood burning, then there are other, better options out there that will take your burning to a whole new level. However, they are not cheap, and the nibs are all purchased separately. They aren’t cheap either. So make sure it’s a worthwhile expenditure before you commit to the cost. Plus, the image above, of the wedding box, I burned using a Michael’s burner – if you practice enough, you can still do beautiful work.

Practice Board

Practice Board

Don’t Forget The Color. Remember – you can use color in wood burning as well! Depending on the item and the burning, color can actually accentuate the burning and make it pop even more. You can use paint, colored pencils…just be careful with watercolor paint because you don’t want the wood to get really damp and have issues. I use oil pencils, both for their pigmentation and their staying power. I don’t use color on everything, but I do let the design dictate whether to use it and how much to use.

Cherry Blossom Box

Cherry Blossom Box

So there you have it. Some basic of wood burning, just in time for holiday gifting. Wood burning can be an amazing hobby – it’s fun to watch the design emerge from beneath your pen, and for me, mixing the colors adds a new level of complexity that keeps me on my toes. Burning isn’t necessarily for everyone, but it is both easier and more complex than many people realize. However, the sense of pride when your project turns out like you had hoped, and the joy when you are able to give a completely personalized gift to a loved one make it all worth while!

Let me know if you found this basic tutorial helpful, and I’d love to see any pieces you’ve made!


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    • biblioholicbethsays: Reply

      Thank you!

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