Introduction: Woodburning (Pyrography) With a Soldering Iron

Picture of Woodburning (Pyrography) With a Soldering Iron

My girlfriend and I recently moved to a tiny apartment. As with many tiny apartments, the hallway is... pretty stark.

I wanted to add a personal touch to my ugly door, and more importantly, I wanted to play with my new toy, a Weller P2K catalytic soldering iron. It comes with a set of tips which includes a hot knife.

Why not find out if the hot knife tip can do some wood-burning, and along the way make a nice plaque for the door? Why not indeed.

Step 1: Work the Kinks Out of Your Calligraphy

Picture of Work the Kinks Out of Your Calligraphy

Well, let's say I am not really that great at calligraphy. Sure I find reason to write nicely on something once in awhile, but my writing tends to deteriorate to terrible scribbles quite quickly.

So grab up a paper, find some fonts you like and start scribbling. You could print it out and trace the letters, but ultimately you will need the fine motor skills to guide a very hot pen across the wood, so practicing writing is a good thing. Remember, there is no eraser!

The font I ended up going with on this project was "Fontleroy Brown." Several other fonts also got scribbled on this paper.

All those "A"s are from a totally different Uncial font, but I sure drew a lot of them just to get my hand under control. Look at the total lack of consistency. You will have to do better than that, or your sign will be hell of ugly. I drew a whole page of these as well as covered the other page in scribbles.

I also picked that ampersand ("&") from a site that showed the history of the ampersand. I think it looks damn fine, and is actually really fun to write. As you can see on the second page, I drew a lot of them to make sure I had it down.

Step 2: Layout the Script on the Wood

Picture of Layout the Script on the Wood

I got this wood plaque for a buck at Wal-mart. Who knows what wood it is... but it cost a buck, so it's good to learn on. Secretly, I did a practice run on the back before trying the front... so I got twice the value!

Very lightly, so you don't dent the wood, draw some layout lines at the height you want the letters. I drew mine 1" from the sides. Straight, curved, whatever you want. Just make sure you have something to follow, or you'll probably draw your letters all different sizes.

Now grab up your pencil again and let's draw in the lettering. Remember, draw LIGHTLY. If you mess up, you still have a chance to erase for now! Unless you dented the wood by pressing hard, then it'll be there forever and you gotta make another one.

Damn, I love that ampersand sign. Why not try drawing one right now, just for fun? The first stroke is the curly E thing, starting from the top, and the second stroke is the "T" cross on the right, starting from the inside curl.

Step 3: Fire Up Your Soldering Iron!

Picture of Fire Up Your Soldering Iron!

This iron is great! It comes with everything in the little case here. Except the solder. Tips from the top left (on the iron) are hot knife, inert hot air w/deflector shield, soldering iron, and torch.

I would only attempt this with a pencil iron. Trying to do fine work of any sort with a gun is.. well, almost impossible! I also would think it's abuse to a proper soldering iron tip on a nice soldering station - it will be running dry and almost certainly oxidise to the point where it will no longer wet within about a minute.

I would like to see someone try with their rat shack $10 iron though. Unfortunately, I gave mine away the day after I picked up this puppy. You will probably need to use a 50W iron with a dimmer/PWM to bring the heat down a bit.

I believe purpose-built woodburning pencil irons are pretty cheap as well.

Woodburning takes a little more power than soldering, and it takes about a minute to heat the knife up initially, but I still ran it on a very low setting, probably only 35W. The first little notch on the setting dial at the back. Less than that and I found the tip cools too much during a stroke and starts making uneven burns.

I decided I liked it running at a heat where it burns just barely touching the wood. That way it makes nice dark burn lines without too much spill-over from heating the wood to the sides.

Second pic you can see the fat back edge of the knife with the catalyst glowing. Hot exhaust blows out of that hole. Watch your fingers, and don't put it down anywhere other than on the stand facing *upwards*. I usually turn it off when I'm not actively soldering for more than 30 seconds.

Step 4: Now to the Fire Part

Picture of Now to the Fire Part

Ah yes, the actual burning, the fun part! I did it on my stove with the fan on so as not to set off the alarm. Hold the iron like a pencil, pretty much as if you were soldering.

This was tons of fun. It's like art, but for men! Not that men haven't made plenty of art... but this is more like art for manlier men than the average artist. No "interpretation" required, this just requires good fine motor control and a love for smoke and the smell of charred wood.

There are no erasers, so don't make mistakes! You touch that iron down anywhere you don't want to, you're stuck with it. Well, you can try to cover it up, which is why my A looks so crappy. I hit a hard spot on the wood on the downstroke, wobbled, and had to make the downstroke twice as wide to cover it.

I would recommend warming up with a few practice strokes on the back so that you don't mess up your first letter. I should have.

I also found pulling is MUCH easier than pushing the blade of the knife. Pushing tends to either dig in and burn a spot, or skitter about. If you're careful, you can roll the tip a little in your hand and pull or push it sideways to make a taper (that's how I did the curved bits at the end of the straights, the H came out pretty well I think)

Clean the tip whenever you see char building up on it or if it seems to be burning kind of weak. That char is an insulator and really reduces the heat getting to the wood.

Note that if you are holding the iron for awhile not in contact with the wood it will heat up and try to burn really fast when you first touch it down. I avoided this by gently poking the cleaning sponge after any prolonged delay holding it above the wood to cool the iron down a bit.

The E's were probably the hardest. Straight lines are much easier to burn. Next time I make a sign, it'll be in an Old English kind of font, with lots of straight lines.

Step 5: It's Done

Picture of It's Done

Erase those guide lines and any pencil that you didn't burn over. Stain or varnish would make this cheap wood (pine?) look 10x better, but I don't have any in my apartment here, so that'll have to wait a bit.

For the record, this was my first shot at woodburning of any sort, so you should be able to do at least as well as me!

The sign looks pretty good when you look at it from a few feet away, it's harder to notice some of the wonky lines and blobs.


Nazareth N AliciaN made it! (author)2015-08-20

I have been doing this work this year and it took off. I can draw and do burnings like nothing. It all depends on wood. Some will be hard due to hard wood.

koko33099 made it! (author)2014-09-10

Here is my burning with a soldering iron

thanks for the inspiration!

Do you go to Lynbrook High School?




Kyriosmk (author)2014-04-11

Great guide :) ... and how do you like my burning:

fallingslowly3 (author)2014-03-18

Here's a random comment: I used to make those soldering irons! I was looking for exactly this – engraving with a soldering iron, came across your post, and was pleasantly surprised to see a pic of the soldering irons I used to make in a factory in Ireland one summer! Glad you like it. :)

wenui (author)2010-04-22

I did a support plates..

Rishnai (author)2008-06-18

I tried with a cheap iron, and one one step up from cheap. In fact, most of the irons that I've owned taht were precisely one step up from the bottom rung were the worst, in some cases not even getting hot enough to solder within any kind of human attention span, and then only soldering for a couple of seconds before becoming too cold again. The cheapo iron worked pretty well, but took forever and a day. Not doing that again. My new idea (which I have yet to test) is to use, say, a welding rod and an oxyacetelene or MAPP flame, and heat the rod, begin drawing, and keep the heat on the rod, far enough up from the tip to not burn the wood itself. At the end of the stroke, lift the rod, heat back up red-hot, and repeat. I get a feeling that won't work, but if it does, it will save me a lot of cash.

corey95 (author)Rishnai2009-12-24

you can get a cheap but good 25 watt 120 volt iron at wal-mart for $10 i bought it and am very pleased at how it works it heats up in 30 secs to a minute no more

Father Christmas (author)2008-06-12

"This was tons of fun. It's like art, but for men!" i love that quote!

qwerty90210 (author)2007-12-21

ha. this is funny because i solder with a woodburner

Rokko8652 (author)qwerty902102008-04-30

I woodburn with a solder. Kinda, it has tips for both :D

GorillazMiko (author)2007-11-20

You have a nice soldering iron. How much was it?

Rectifier (author)GorillazMiko2007-11-20

Cost me $90 after tax here in Canada. I believe it goes for $70-80 in the states. Worth every penny to me, because it lets me take the iron to the work, instead of the other way around. I've crawled under the desk with it to fix a cord. And it's oh so nice to be rid of the cord on the iron! It is NOT a proper temperature-controlled station though, for "real work" soldering all day. However, I would consider it better from a hobbyist point of view where you are soldering maybe an hour at a stretch. And it is WAY better than a cheap rat shack iron. It gets very hot, too. You have to be careful to clean the tip regularly and make sure it is wet with solder, or it will oxidize really fast and you have to buy another ($14). I cooked most of the tip that came with it on the first job I did, luckily the point and one side still wets so I can still use it.

GorillazMiko (author)Rectifier2007-11-20

Wow... $90? I barely have $5 haha. But I have a soldering gun from Weller, it's pretty good, I might buy a soldering iron at Radio Shack for $8, my friend has one, it's pretty good.

i bought the solder kit from radio shack (its the same price for a kit and higher wattage soldering iron, idk y lol) and i do got to say it is Very Nice! Plus when ever i am done soldering the tip allows you to grind it down for a new looking tip each time you solder! :-)! cause the tip is made out of.. umm mabe brass-carbon-somthing alloy idk, but it is great!

Ok cool. Is it the one with the blue handle?

its this one.

it has a black handle and a grey rubber grip
... lol fast responce!

Yeah. That's the one my friend has.

ya its nice

w00ty32 (author)!Andrew_Modder!2008-03-25

cool, im gonna buy that one. I was gonna anyway, but now i have someone i relatively know that says it's a good iron. And 8 dollars! ya can't beat that!

!Andrew_Modder! (author)w00ty322008-03-25

ya its great, iv never had a prob w it. and best of all the tip, when your done you can actually just sand off for a fresh tip ! ! :-) iv done it many times and its still working like a charm

w00ty32 (author)!Andrew_Modder!2008-03-25

ya, i figured even if I completely screw up the tip, it's only 8 bucks to replace it. cool, though, that will help with cleaning

!Andrew_Modder! (author)w00ty322008-03-25

ya lol but, honestly just a few swipes of med grit paper does wonders.

w00ty32 (author)!Andrew_Modder!2008-03-25

sweet. and does the stand actually work, or should I make one from one of the many ones that have been made here

!Andrew_Modder! (author)w00ty322008-03-25

u no what. actually it actually works lol i was surprised ! .. the base slides around on like hard, flat surfaces a little, ( best on wood ) . but ya its great!

w00ty32 (author)!Andrew_Modder!2008-03-26

sweet, it looked a little fimsy

!Andrew_Modder! (author)w00ty322008-03-26

no not all, its steel. you'd b surprised lol

w00ty32 (author)!Andrew_Modder!2008-03-26

I knew it was metal, but it looked like cheap, thin metal to me. thanks for answering all m questions, i mad me feel better about buying tat der soderin iron

w00ty32 (author)w00ty322008-03-25

i was thinking about actually buying one of those weller stations that cost about 40 bucks, but i don't have that kind of money for somthing that im just starting in.

Rectifier (author)GorillazMiko2007-11-20

If you consider electronics a serious hobby, $90 is not that much. A proper Weller bench station will set you back at least $150, over $300 for a nice one. Those rat shack irons are functional, but not great. You can do a lot with them, if you have really steady hands. I have soldered SMT parts with one (once) but will never do that again! I admit my "go to" iron for tacking things together, until getting this one, was a rat shack $10 iron thrown in my toolbox, with a Weller soldering station on my bench for fine work. They take a thrashing well. I had that crappy iron since I was like 12.

GorillazMiko (author)Rectifier2007-11-20

I am 13, and electronics is my favorite hobby, even funner than collecting U.S. coins/ paper money and stuff like that. I use my dad's soldering gun from Weller, I use all his solder and he gets mad. My friend has the RadioShack soldering iron (its blue) but I don't like those because the handle is too far from the tip, I want one of those wireless ones, but those are pretty expensive. I'm trying to save up money to do things on this site with LEDs and USB cords and resistors and stuff, but I'm low on money. So do you think the soldering iron from Radio Shack is terrible, and I should get something else before I make a terrible mistake and the world will blow up and I will have to cry people a river.

Rectifier (author)GorillazMiko2007-11-20

Haha, no way man. It's an all right iron. I was judging the cost by the cash people like me, in my 20s, blow on hobbies. Do NOT buy a wireless electrical iron though. They suck! The coldheats are utter crap, and the "regular ones" chew up batteries and don't get very hot. If you want cordless, you have to get a butane like mine. I bought the same thing when I was your age, and it served me well. If you barely have the cash for LEDs, don't waste it on fancy irons, much better to spend it on parts and stuff! By the way, what I used to do to get parts as a poor kid was dig old electronics out of recycle bins and dumpsters, particularly behind computer shops and desolder the parts. Sometimes you even find working stuff, too, or barely broken stuff you can have fun trying to fix with the scrap parts.

GorillazMiko (author)Rectifier2007-11-21

I might go behind some electronic stores like a RadioShack down the street, i just hope I don't get caught looking like a hobo haha. :-)

FrenchCrawler (author)Rectifier2007-11-22

I want to buy this iron, so hopefully I'll have the money needed before the end of the year. Luckily the replacement tips are only $4.95, so I'll probably get like 2 or 3 along with it just to make sure I have them later.

Rectifier (author)FrenchCrawler2007-11-23

Yeah, the tips for electric irons are much cheaper than the gas tips. A bit annoying to me now as a gas iron owner, but tips last a long time anyways if you treat them nice. Reason for the high price is that on the gas iron the flame actually burns inside the tip on a piece of platinum catalyst - thus the extra cost over the electric ones, which are just a piece of metal (with fancy platings of course)

FrenchCrawler (author)Rectifier2007-11-23

I have an Iroda Micro-Therm MJ-600K... it's a wonderful tool to have around. It uses regular disposable lighters as its fuel source or you can use its two refillable lighters (mine came with two and a hard plastic case. The lighters don't have flints installed cause they don't need them). Though I want to upgrade at some point to one of their more powerful and precise tools.

Rectifier (author)FrenchCrawler2007-11-24

I used to have one of those! I used it mainly for starting fires and lighting smokes though :P It was a little big for my pocket though (and it clogged on me), so now for my fire-starting needs I have a Colibri Firebird. Same flame as those guys, but about the same size as a regular lighter, made of anodized aluminum. Got it for $20 from a shop clearing out (they closed the next day), or I never would have bought it. I think it regularly retails for $50 or something, way too much for a lighter! Note that mine clogged (took about a year) because I used the cheapest Ronson fuel. I also clogged my Colibri on the first day with that fuel - luckily I got back to the store before they closed and they told me of the problem and backflushed it with pure butane. Now I run the Colibri fuel in all my torches, including my iron. I had trouble believing it, but I haven't had a problem since. I guess the Ronson gas is pretty crappy!

Rectifier (author)Rectifier2007-11-24

Oops, mine was a little different after all. I just noticed yours is catalytic, whereas mine just had a blue pencil flame. In any case, crappy gas will still poison the catalyst.

FrenchCrawler (author)Rectifier2007-11-24

Yeah, it's a flameless heat gun. But one of these days, I want to get their Solderpro 180 kit or something equal to it just for the cordless operations that come up every once in a while (but otherwise, I'll stick with the corded cause it'll be an unnecessary waste of fuel).

GorillazMiko (author)Rectifier2007-11-24

Yeah, I started small fires with it. I got bored so I burned a little bit of my bed sheet hahaha. Then I burned my blanket and sweat pants a little, it was boring. The soldering iron is perfect for small jobs and stuff. It's awesome. :-)

xxkeanureevesxx (author)2008-01-05

Lol i got a 1,385 Fahrenheit :D

the gizmoman (author)2007-11-28

wish i could have one!!!!

GorillazMiko (author)2007-11-24

Nope. I got a new battery powered soldering iron at Radio Shack. It was on sale, usually it is $20.00 but now it was only $5. Too bad, the sale is over. Also, my dad got me a battery charger and 4 rechargeable batteries, all from Duracell, and the soldering iron uses 4, so when I'm done, I charge the batteries (it only takes 15 minutes) and then I put them back it. I got it yesterday. :-)

GorillazMiko (author)2007-11-24

i tried doing this on my clothes cabenit (it was wood) but since it was standing up it was way to hard. i drew like all these cool things like really cool art, and it looks funny now :(

Rectifier (author)GorillazMiko2007-11-24

Oh no! You probably should have started with a piece of scrap wood... as I said, I even did a practice run on the back of my cheap-ass $1 sign board before I did the front for this instructable. And, as you found out, doing anything involving fine motor control standing up is really hard! You MIGHT be able to sand it out with a belt sander, if you didn't dig too deep while burning. On the side, I take it that you bought your Radio Shack soldering iron then? If you tried this with the gun... well... I specifically said not to try it with a gun :(

sticklady (author)2007-11-20

I started out woodburning 28 years ago using my dad's old soldering iron. If you are looking for a slightly nicer iron for woodburning you could get one of those Walnut Hollow sets at Wal-mart or other craft stores. they range in price from $10 to $25 depending on where you get them. I woodburn professionally now and have a professional woodburning unit with interchangeable pens, but I fondly remember starting out with that old soldering iron! My biggest sellers are walking sticks and hiking staffs, if anyone is interested in seeing my work you can check out my site Great job on the door sign and have fun with that iron!

PKM (author)2007-11-20

Nice work. I appreciate the detail you've gone into about the technique from a beginner's point of view, rather than just "draw the letters with the iron". Certainly in classical calligraphy, pushing the pen is almost a mortal sin; the ballpoint pen has given us bad habits :) What really caught my attention was your statement "No "interpretation" required, this just requires good fine motor control and a love for smoke and the smell of charred wood.". I identify with this and suspect a number of the others on this site would agree with you- calligraphy, photography etc. fall into what I call "technical arts", mostly technical disciplines that let you have a creative output without being quite as open-ended as, say, painting or drawing.

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