Wood Burning Basics: A Beginner’s Guide to Pyrography

Wood Burning Basics

Would you like to start a fun hobby that can provide hours of interest and satisfaction with just some basic skills and a few supplies that are easy to procure?  It’s easy with Wood Burning Basics.

This is an overview of the basic steps for wood burning. More detailed instruction on the specific techniques will be found in future blog posts. In the meantime, check out the links provided that will take you to some great websites for further information.

You can also contact me with questions. I am always happy to hear from you!

Here are Wood Burning Basic supplies you should have on hand before starting:

  • Wood burning Tool
  • Wood
  • Pencil/Pen
  • Scrap Wood for Practice
  • Sand Paper (100/220 grit)
  • Masking Tape
  • Graphite Paper
  • Eraser/Sand Eraser

All of these items are included in my Wood Burning Starter Kit

If you do not already have your tool, you can learn more about choosing a tool here: Which Pyrography Tool Should I Choose?

Before you Begin: Set up a safe work area

Plan ahead to make sure you have the space you need to work:  A Word About  Wood Burning Safety.

Plug in your tool to a nearby outlet. If you can, it’s nice to plug in directly behind your desk or table

Provide a safe place to rest your tool. Make sure your tool stand is secure, perhaps by taping it to your work table with masking tape.

Keep kids and pets away from your work area. The wood burning pen can easily fall off its stand and potentially burn someone.

Work in a well-ventilated area, wear a mask, or use a fan close to and directed away from your work area. Breathing in smoke fumes over long periods of time can cause some lung damage.

Step 1: Choose and prep your Wood

For your early projects, and wood burning basics, I suggest you start with light colored wood with subtle or invisible grain lines.

Here’s a list of my easy-to-burn favorites: 

  • Aspen
  • Birch
  • Basswood
  • Poplar 

All of these woods are included in the Wood Burning Starter Kit

You can also use found wood or alternative materials like:

  • Cork
  • Leather
  • Paper
  • Canvas
  • Bone
  • Antler
  • Tree Bark
  • Gourds

Just make sure it’s dry and doesn’t have any treatment or finish like oils or wood stains.

Wood rounds for wood burning basics

Make sure the wood is unfinished, clean and dry.


Prep your wood

Give your wood piece a thorough sanding. I can’t stress this enough. It will make your wood burning so much easier; I promise.  I start with a good solid sanding using 100 grit sandpaper, then I use 220 or 320 grit as a final sand until the wood is silky smooth.

 

Step 2: Create or choose the design you want to use.

Choose something simple for your first few burns like these free printable designs.

You can also draw the design yourself right onto the wood, or draw on paper and transfer with graphite paper.

Print your design and transfer by tracing over graphite paper

I like using graphite paper because it’s easy to obtain, and simple to use. Graphite paper is 

included in the Wood Burning Starter Kit.

Another method is using a laser print and transfer with heat (reverse your image) – Check out this tutorial by Rachel Strauss at Wood Burn Corner.

You can find numerous designs online for free. Do an image search for open-source images. Make sure to get/have permission to use a design. When in doubt just ask the creator.

Here’s a tip: If an online design doesn’t fit on your wood piece, copy the image into a word processor document, then use the rulers to size it exactly how you want.

Many beautiful designs, just for wood burners can be found in this book where a few of my designs are featured: The Wood Burn Community Book of Templates

Or these other amazing books:

Creative Woodburning by Bee Locke

Drawing with Fire by Aney Carver

Pyrography Basics by Lora S. Irish

Step 3: Transfer your design

Cut out your chosen design, leaving a “tab” so you can tape to your wood without covering any of the pattern, then place it exactly where you want it and tape to the wood.

Place your graphite paper shiny side down under the printed design. Start to trace your design gently with a pen, pencil, or embossing tool.

Here’s a tip: use a colored pen so you can easily see where you’ve been.

Lift the graphite paper occasionally to peek underneath, and make sure your tracing is showing up. You don’t want the lines to be too dark though. Adjust your pressure to keep your lines just a light gray color so you can see them, but not black dark.

Once your design is transferred, it’s time to burn!

Step 4: Burn your design

Before you start burning on your wood, use a scrap piece of wood to practice first. Every wood burning tool acts differently and is heated at different temperatures; by practicing you won’t be surprised by how the wood burning tool draws. Just make marks, lines, dots, curves to get a feel for the tool.

Figure out which tip you are most comfortable with; everyone has their own preference. Mine is the universal tip, but others really like the flow tips.

Go slow, use a light touch and let the burner do the work. You’re going for a feeling of gliding over the surface of the wood.

Rotate the wood as you go, so you are pulling the burner down toward you. This helps maintain an even burn.

Work in small sections using short strokes, lifting your burner often. The longer the tool stays in contact with the wood, the more it cools down. Lifting your tool often allows the tool to maintain its heat for a more even burn.

As you gain confidence your strokes will get longer and smoother

Step 5: Remove graphite marks and clean up your piece

Use a sand eraser or fine grit sandpaper (like 220 or 320) to remove stray graphite marks.  I use a Tombow Sand Eraser. One is included in the Wood Burning Starter Kit.

Remember to have fun and be kind to yourself


Some Final Thoughts

Have fun with color using paint, markers, colored pencil, and more

Here’s a fun relaxing video of painting a galaxy sky:

How to finish and protect your final piece is a question I get asked often. 

There is a lot to be said for protecting your art, but many finishes will darken or change the color of your wood. Sometimes this is a desirable effect, like how rubbing with oil brings out the beauty and grain of the wood in these pendants. It all depends on the vision you have.

My Friend Rachel Strauss provides a fantastic guide to finishes in her book: The Wood Burn Book by Rachel Strauss

The Wood Burn Book: An Essential Guide to the Art of Pyrography: Strauss,  Rachel: 9781631598920: Amazon.com: Books

When I do add a finish to my work, these are what I use most:

Oil – mineral oil with beeswax works well for cutting boards

Spray lacquer – will darken the wood a little, but really makes the colors pop


Changing Your Tips

Though this is not recommended while the tool is hot, many people do not have the patience to wait for the tool to cool down. You can change a solid brass tip by holding the tool in your dominant hand while you use pliers to hold the tip. Then twist the tool (lefty loosey), while you hold the tip steady in the grip of the pliers. Do not twist or move the pliers. Watch this video to see how it’s done:

Remember, the solid brass tips are fragile when hot, so are easy to break or get cross threaded. I explain in detail how to repair a broken wood burning tool here.

For more Wood Burning Basics resources, check out my Learn to Burn page with live and online class schedules, wood burning video tutorials, Burn Boxes, and more!

Have Fun Wood Burning!

 

2 thoughts on “Wood Burning Basics: A Beginner’s Guide to Pyrography

  1. dynielle j brendmoen says:

    Hi Mosstangle Arts,
    Not only was your article informative, but as a new wood Buring enthusiast you really pointed out areas that i can improve my skills for an overall product. Question i use a screw in tip burner, and it seems to go through tips quite fast, it there a better product I should be looking for, or trick to preserve the tips?

    • Mosstangle Arts says:

      Thank you for commenting! I love that you got something useful from this post. what brand of wood burner are you using? The solid brass tips should not wear out quickly. Are the tips breaking off? I don’t know what might be happening to your tips, but you could try a few things. First, make sure you are not leaving your burner on when it is not in use. Minimize changing the tips while they are hot, and only use very fine steel wool, or emory cloth to clean your tips. If you want to send me an email with more details and perhaps a photo, I might be able to provide more specific advice. crystal@mosstangle.com

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