My goal was to make a woodburning of the Haida killer whale. And as you can see in the picture, I did. But I had never done any woodburning before, so to give myself something easier to practice with, I drew up a compass rose on the computer. This turned out to be a great practice piece, with lots of straight lines and areas to fill in, plus a few curves, so I included the design for you here to download.
You can watch the video or read the steps here, whatever you prefer.
What you'll need:
- Woodburning tool
- Untreated piece of wood
- Carbon paper or a soft pencil
Step 1: Transfer the Image
Print the image you want to use in a size that matches your piece of wood.
The first step is to transfer your image to the wood. Carbon paper works great for this, but I didn’t have any and the shops were closed. So I improvised. I took a soft pencil and covered the entire back of the image. Then I placed the image on the wood with some tape and traced all the lines with a pen, pressing down pretty hard. This method worked, but the lines were a bit faint. So once I was done I made them clearer with a pencil.
Step 2: Set Up Your Tool
You’ll need a wood burning tool, which looks something like the one in the picture. They usually come with different tips that you can screw onto the end. I started with the thin tip, because it looked the easiest to me, but tried a few others along the way as well. Plug it in and give it a good 5 to 10 minutes to heat up. In the meantime, open up a window or two to get some ventilation going.
To check if the tool is hot enough and to get a bit of a feel for it, you can make some practice lines on the back of the wood.
Step 3: Burn the Design
I found it worked best to rotate the work piece to align it with your hand instead of the other way around. Take it nice and slow. If you go too fast, the tool cools down too much and it won’t leave a nice line. But you can easily come back later and fix it up.
You don’t need to push it into the wood very much, a light touch is enough. It actually becomes harder the more you push, because the grain of the wood gets in your way. If you’re getting sidetracked by the grain, just lift up the tool and put it down where your line needs to be, making little dots or dashes. Once you get a first line down, you can go over it again more easily.
Dragging the tool definitely works better than pushing it along the surface. Keep turning your work to match your hand position.
The thin tip bends pretty quickly when it’s hot, so I just rotated the tool every now and then to keep it sort of straight. Carbon will also build up on the tip, making it less effective at burning, and the rotating helps with that as well.
As expected, the curves were a bit trickier than the lines. They came out a bit wonky here and there, but not bad for a first try.
I let the tool cool down and then switched to a wider tip to fill in the areas in between the lines. This worked really well. The color is much more even and smooth than with the thin tip.
And of course, once I got the hang of it I stopped paying attention and filled in one of the wrong areas. Aargh… That sucks for me, but I guess it’s good for you, because it gives me a reason to try out a way of fixing mistakes that I heard about. I finished up the rest of the design while the tool was still hot, hoping I would be able to fix my mistake later.
Step 4: Fix Mistakes
To fix any mistakes, you basically just sand away the black area with sandpaper. I only want to sand away the part that’s wrong, so I grabbed a paper nail file, which gives me much more control than sandpaper. For the really tight corners, I folded some sandpaper around the nail file.
This method worked out pretty well. The only downside is that it leaves a bit of a dent in the wood, since the burning goes pretty deep. And I got some color difference with my wood as well. But all in all, it’s a decent fix!
I came back with the burning tool to redraw some of the lines, and that’s that.
Step 5: Make More!
After getting some good practice in with the compass design, I now felt ready to make the piece I actually wanted to make, which is a Haida killer whale. I love the Haida artstyle and to me it has always reminded me of the patterns that form on the logs in a fire. So to me it seems a perfect fit for a wood burning design.
I followed the same steps I just showed you for the compass piece. The many curves on this design are a bit trickier, so I’m glad I got that practice in. But it still wasn’t too difficult. You just need to take your time and enjoy the process.
If wood burning is something you’re interested in, I’d definitely encourage you to give it a try!