Updated: Jul 27, 2021
Let's dive into the ancient art of pyrography (wood burning). I will share some tips for beginners on how to create your own artwork and the different tools and products used for this hobby. I am a beginner to pyrography myself, so if you are looking for expert tips, this may not be the blog for you. However, I can provide an introduction into this hobby by showing you the basics to get you on your way to creating something cool.
Pyrography, or as I call it, wood burning, is an art method that has been around for thousands of years. Basically, it is the method of burning an image onto wood. However, it is not limited to wood, images can be burned onto gourds, cork, leather, paper, and more. In my neck of the woods, this type of artwork can be found at local festivals where artists set-up booths to sell their beautiful pieces.
Time Honored Tradition
A simple gift idea for an older child has traditionally been a basic wood burning pen. Somehow, through magic, these youngsters have grown up to create some extraordinary artwork. Ok, I am not that kid. Yes, I received a wood burning pen as a gift early on. For some reason though, I never used it until recently. Mainly because I didn't have access to wood and too, I was more interested in my guitar and other things, ok, boys. It sat dormant in the bottom of my closet for the longest time, waiting for me. Sometimes all we need is a little inspiration. Being back on the farm and having ready access to a pile of scrap wood that my brother is threatening to toss has been enough to inspire me to put my burner to use and re-visit this art method.
"Have you seen the endless burners available?"
The type of burner you decide to use can make or break this experience for you. If it's a passive hobby, you can save money by going with a cheap burner. However, if you are serious about sticking with it, definitely put up the money for a quality tool. Don't 'hem/haw' about it. If you want to 'get your feet wet' and see how it goes, a crappy burner might very well turn you off to it. To put it simply; all you need to do is decide two things 1) Whether you want a solid-tip burner or a wire-tip burner. 2) Whether this a hobby you are serious about or a passing phase. That will make or break this experience for you. As far as solid-tips or wire-tips, that all depends on which you prefer. An excellent artist masters their tool. I have seen excellent work by artists using the cheapest of burners, so fancy bells and whistles doesn't necessarily mean your work will be. Bells and whistles are, in my opinion, great for those of us who may need extra help to make life easier.
My kit, the blue burner came with this kit.
I have three solid-tip burners. Really, they are a dime-a-dozen and very affordable. Can't really go wrong with which ever one you go with. I like one that doubles as a soldering iron with a temperature control. They are great for outlining and solid designs. Drawbacks are having to wait for it to cool down before changing tips. However, I only use one tip with my solid-tip burner, so no biggie. My only advice here is to get one that is not too thick, you want to be able to hold it comfortably, like a pen/pencil. You can find kits that include; multiple tips, stencils, burner, and a case in the $20 range, certainly less than $40. Look for a sale. Most are made to last and even so, easily replaceable without breaking the bank.
My Burnmaster Eagle Pro 2
When you begin to look into wire tip burners you will find several choices and everyone seems to have their die-hard fan base. As far as the work you create, either one will suffice. In my opinion, that depends on the skill of the artist. Where burners are concerned, here are my thoughts. Basically, if you are serious about this hobby, invest in a quality machine because you can end up spending more money going through cheaper burners. The Walnut Hollow is readily available and affordable (around $60 or less), if you want to get your feet wet without putting up a lot of dough. Many users love it but I have heard many say that they wear out quickly and don't bring the heat. I researched extensively before making my choice, I advise you to do the same. You can't go wrong with the following; Colwood, Razertip, Optima, Peter Child, or Burnmaster. They are all high-quality machines. I won't waste time going into each one but I will tell you why I chose the Burnmaster over the others even though it was pricier. Available at https://www.woodcarverssupply.com/BURNMASTER-EAGLE-2-PENS15-TIPS-BAG/productinfo/499203/ and again; I receive no compensation in any way, shape, or form for sharing which products I use or prefer.
I wanted a machine built to last. This one does just that. It is American made with high quality materials. It has an amazing 130 watts of power with a 10-range temperature setting. It comes with a 3-year warranty, which other burners may not offer. Burnmaster has a long-standing reputation for quality and customer service.
It comes with 15 wire tips and a sturdy case for storage. Other burners only offer 1 or 2 starting tips and you have to buy others separately and they aren't cheap. With this unit, you can even make your own tips!
I also like that it comes with 2 pens. This means I can have a tip ready to go on each one and switch back and forth from pen to pen without having to change out tips often. These tips aren't permanently attached to the pens. Other burners have tips that are permanently attached, so you have to buy extra pens in order to use different tips.
It readily excepts pens/tips from other burners like Colwood, Razertip, and Optima. Which means I have the best of all worlds. Other burners are made to only use the tips/pens made by their brands.
It gets hot very fast and it cools very fast. I love not having to wait.
All in all, this was the burner for me. When you consider everything, it can do and all it comes with, it's a no-brainer. The way I figure it; I could spend less money on another machine, sure, but then by the time I purchase a case, extra pens, extra tips, I will have the same amount of money (more probably) then if I buy this unit. Plus, I can use tips from other brands which is not an option if I went with something else. No regrets, it's an absolute awesome machine. I am very happy with it. Now, if I can just get my skills to measure up to what the machine is capable of, I'll have it made.
I have tough hands so I don't use gloves. Some people do, you may want to consider it.
Know the wood you are using. Meaning, don't burn on anything that has been treated or painted. It could create toxic fumes.
Take breaks often. It gives your pen a break, it may get too hot over extended use. You too, need a break to stretch your muscles and get some fresh air.
Always burn in a location that is well ventilated. I don't use a mask, but certainly wear one if the odor bothers you. I burn at my kitchen table next to an open window. I also found a small fan and set it near my work and I position it to blow the air away from me. It sucks the air in and blows it outward. This one I found for under $6 on Amazon.
Let's make something
You'll need some wood. I don't know all the different kinds and which works best. Plywood is more difficult, I've heard. Basswood is the easiest to burn on. At my place, I don't have anything fancy, just old barn wood. Which requires cutting to size and sanding down to make it nice and smooth. I used my sander for the most part and a small piece of sandpaper to 'fine-tune' some needed areas. Personally, I don't mind marks on the wood or holes, it adds character.
Creating a design
Now you need a design. You can use an original drawing you make yourself or any image you desire to use. *Please note and adhere to copywrite laws if your intention is to make something to sell. I am making something for my own personal us, and for this project, I wanted to transfer a drawing I made of our old family church.
The church from my childhood that my great grandfather helped to build. I had drawn the church free-hand from 3-4 photos my cousin, who lives near the church, sent to me. With my eye and pencil, I had to remove some things as I drew it. She was in some of the photos, and also the picnic shelter that was built later-on. I didn't want to include those things; I desired the church to look like it did in my youth. Even so, my drawing wasn't quite large enough for the space on the wood. I had also neglected to include the outhouse, which is an iconic memory of visiting this church as a child. My paper didn't have enough space for it so I opted to just transfer it directly without drawing it. I contacted my cousin again to take a photo of it. Then I scanned it into the computer, converted it to black and white, re-sized it to fit, and printed it. I also scanned my drawing and printed it because I wanted to preserve the original.
Transferring the image
It is possible to draw straight onto the wood but I don't prefer it. Wood is bumpy and unforgiving if mistakes are made. You can erase but it is kind of messy, leaving blemishes in some cases. Much easier to draw it on paper and transfer it. There are many ways to transfer an image. Some folks use a projector, or an inkjet printer that you can just print the image in reverse and press it on while its still wet. I use an easy method of carbon paper. You simply place it carbon-side down and place your image or drawing on top and use painter's tape to secure it and just trace over it. Press firmly with a pen or stylus. I like to use a pen so I know what I have completed. Press firm enough but not so hard that you indent the wood. You don't have to force it, the carbon paper will do its work. You may want to do a 'test-run' before doing the actual image to get the feel of it.
Here you see the before and after transfer of the drawing and image
Now, let's burn this baby
When it comes to wood burning, the main tip I can offer is to go low and slow. Low meaning temperature and slowly burn it on. This is my first landscape wood burning attempt and I haven't mastered shading with my burner. So, don't grade me too harshly. It's all about fun. After all, this won't be hanging in an art gallery.
I set-up my pens with a small, ball-tip and one that has a straight edge, I can't think of the proper name. The temperature I set to about 3. I started with the basic outline, going slow but steady. You don't want to hold the pen in place when outlining as it will 'bleed'. Meaning, it will burn a spot where you want a line. Just keep moving and go over it again to however dark you want it. Increase or lower heat as needed. Again, it's a good idea to do a few test burns on some scrap wood using different tips and heat settings.
After I had the church and outhouse outlined, I switched the ball-tip to a spoon tip and pressed in some gravel and put a medium ball-tip in. I used the straight-edged tip to make some grass and used the ball-tip for the trees. Most of the trees and landscape in the background, I drew free-hand with the burner pen. In real life, the actual church has a lot of really thick overgrowth behind it. If I attempted to make look 'authentic', it would be so black you couldn't make anything out. I tried to lighten it up a little by just doing a hillside with some trees. In hindsight, I would have left it there. In my inexperience with burning landscaping and shading, I went a little 'hog wild' by trying to do the grass, it still turned out a little darker than I desired. It's all trial and error, find what works and learn from your mistakes. That's all any of us can do.
The finished project
Yeah, if I could change anything it would be the grass. Halfway in, I realized my error but I had to finish it out at that point. Next time, I'll know to tone it down so the grass doesn't over power my trees. All in all, not too bad for a first try with wire tips.
Protecting your work
After finishing you will need to seal your work to protect it. There are various ways to accomplish this. Different products also work better with different wood. I haven't tried many of them. *Please note - Use products that are 'food safe' if burning spoons, cutting boards, or something to be used for food. After looking into what other artists use, I decided to go with 100% Tung oil and a clear paste wax. These will last for several projects. The bottle of Tung oil is 'squished' because once you open it, you have to squeeze the liquid up to the top when screwing on the lid. You don't want any air in the bottle.
What you do is, after your artwork is complete, take a soft cloth and apply a little Tung oil and rub it all over. Then let it cure for a day. If you want it darker, you may want to apply a second coat. I used one coat. After it cures, take a brush like one you would use for shaving cream or to apply shoe polish, and brush on the past wax. Let it set a while and then buff it out. After it cures you are all done. Don't worry if it appears too dark, it will lighten up after a few days.
Just do it, at least once
This is a fun hobby, if you love art, give it a try. It's easy, fun and is very relaxing. I also love the smell of the wood burning as I create an image onto it. Something you don't get to experience with pen and paper. It's not great for my asthma but it does smell nice. Don't forget to take those breaks, and ventilate. I still love my pen and pencil but there is room in the world for all sorts of art styles. You have to do something different now and then. Keep things fun and interesting.
I hope you find this blog interesting and pick up some tips. Thank you for reading and have the blessed of days.
Till next time, take care.