Converting Your Old Soldering Iron Into a Pyrography Tool (Wood Burning Tool)




Introduction: Converting Your Old Soldering Iron Into a Pyrography Tool (Wood Burning Tool)

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Have you ever wanted to permanently imprint a stylish design or pattern onto your favorite wood working project? Do you have a old unused soldering iron lying about? Well you're in luck :) With this Instructable we'll go over the simple steps to convert a normal nail into versatile pyrography tool tips which are easily inter-changeable and easy to use. This is also great project for those of you who want to start wood-burning but don't yet want layout money until you've decided if this is something you would enjoy.

Above is our old soldering iron with the old tip still attached. We will use the old tip as our template for the thickness of the new pyrography tips but we will reduce the length of the tip slightly to try to cut down the heat up time.

Step 1: Tools Required

Before we start to layout all the steps required to make our new wood burning tips, we should first go over all the tools and safety equipment required.

Once you have all the necessary tools assembled, this project should take you approximately two and a half hours to complete. Please remember to always use the necessary safety equipment where required and no children should attempt this project without proper adult supervision.

Step 2: Measuring the Old Soldering Iron Tip and Cutting the Nail to Size

When selecting your nail its important that you ensure it is larger in diameter and length to your old soldering tip so that you have space to grind it down to the correct size and create a functional head/tip.

Before we get to the tedious task of grinding the nail down to size we first have to get to the approx length of our final wood-burning tip. (it also means less nail to grind :) ) First we use the old Soldering Iron Tip to do a rough mark of the approximate length using the permanent marker or scribe.(its always a better idea to go slighter longer than needed as you can always cut the piece back) Then we secure the nail in the vice grip and use the hacksaw to cut back the nail (also remembering to be careful when removing the nail from the vice grip as it may have heated up from the sawing process)

Step 3: Grinding to Correct Thickness

Next, as the title implies, it is time to grind the nail down to the correct thickness using the steel file. But before we can start grinding we have to check the current size of the nail and measure the desired thickness on the old soldering tip. First we measure the old soldering tip (which in this case is 3.78mm thick) and then check the current thickness of the nail (which is currently 4.97mm thick) Then its time to start grinding.

Method One - (Can do without a Corded Drill)

There are two ways to approach this section, the first (and more time consuming) way is simply to secure the nail horizontally into the vice grip. Then with the 20mm flat Steel file use an even and steady backwards and forwards motion, while level on the nail, to slowly grind down along its length (remember to not apply to much downward pressure when grinding and allow the backward and forward motion to gradually wear the material down) . It is also important to remember to rotate the nail regularly to ensure to keep the tool tip as evenly shaped/sized as possible. Then check the thickness of the nail continuously to ensure you don't file down too far. Repeat this process along the entire length of the nail until you have a perfectly round piece at 3.78mm thick. (If you do decide to use this method, the entire project will take longer than the initially estimated two and a half hours.)

Method Two - (With the Corded Drill)

!!!!!- Proper Safety Equipment MUST be used during this step -!!!!!

The second (and quicker) method uses the Corded Drill almost as a lathe to secure the piece, as you would a drill-bit, into the chuck to rotate the nail hence making it quicker and easier to grind/file down evenly. It must be said though this method can be a bit more dangerous if the proper safety measures are not followed correctly. To start we tightly secure the Corded Drill into the Vice grip (as displayed in the picture above) horizontally at a flat level. (ensuring not to over-tighten and break the drill but you must also check that the drill is stable when applying force to the front and back) Then we secure the nail into the drill-bit chuck, ensuring the nail goes in as far as a regular drill-bit would.(there must be at least 25mm of material in the drill-bit chuck at all times) Before starting to grind the nail down i recommend doing a 30 second dry run, where you turn the drill on to top speed to run for approximately 30 seconds with the nail inserted, then turn off and check that the nail and the drill have not moved/shifted from the turning process/vibration. (i also recommend you continue to stop regularly throughout the grinding process to check the drill and nail are still properly secured) Once you are satisfied that the nail and drill are secure, then we can start grinding using the flat Steel File, by gently applying force evenly across the length and allowing the drill to do the work for us. Try to keep the Steel File as level as possible on the surface of the nail to keep the thickness even as you file down. You should also remember to stop regularly to check the thickness of the nail to ensure you don't grind down to far. Once you have your one end filed down to the correct thickness then its time to turn the nail around and repeat the process (remember when turning the nail around that there is still a minimum of 25mm of material secured in the Drill-bit chuck) When filing down the other side you can leave a small section at the end (which will stick out of soldering iron) thicker to allow for more material to shape into your desired wood burning tip design.

Step 4: Shaping the Tool Tip Head

Once you have your nail filed down to the correct thickness, now comes the fun part - the shaping.

Now this process does depend on the type of head design you are attempting to create, so I have depicted 3 fairly standard designs which I am certain you can apply to a multitude of other shapes.

!!!!!- Proper Safety Equipment MUST be used throughout this step -!!!!!

Design 1 - Cylindrical Point / Cone Point

This is probably the easiest design to make and is one of the most versatile as it resembles a normal pencil or pen tip. Again there are two methods to make this particular design. Method one (no Corded Drill needed) - First you secure the nail in the Vice Grip horizontally at 90 degrees, allowing the one end to protrude from the Vice grip. (the same length that you want to stick out the soldering iron - if you are not certain insert the nail into the soldering iron to check the depth) Then use the 20mm Steel File to grind down the one end using smooth, soft backwards and forwards strokes at a slight angle to start to round the nail down to a point at the one end. Remembering the rotate the nail to ensure you maintain the round shape all the way to the tip. When rotating remember to maintain the same angle all the way round so that the tip of the pencil type point remains in the center of the nail. Method Two (with Corded Drill) - This method is a lot easier and quicker. We start again by securing the Corded Drill into the Vice Grip horizontally, (again not over tighten while still ensuring the clamp is tight enough to hold the drill securely while grinding) then we tightly secure the nail into the Drill, allowing at least 25mm of material to be secured into the drill-bit chuck. I again recommend you do a dry run of the set up to check that all the parts are tightly secured. Then once you are happy everything is safely in place, take the 20mm flat Steel File and gentle apply pressure onto the one exposed end of the nail at a slight angle to grind the end down to a cylindrical point. Do not try to apply to much force when filing down to the point, allow the rotation of the drill to do the work.

Design 2 - Universal Point

Again there are two methods to create this simple point and as the name suggest this is an essential wood-burning tip whether you're just starting out or an experienced pro. Method one (no Corded Drill or Grinding Tip needed) - Secure the nail into the Vice Grip with the one end exposed, then mark out a V-shaped point on the end. Then with the Flat Steel File grind down, using the marked V as a guide (you want to file off any material outside the V and only leave the material inside the V) grind down until you have sharp point at the end of the V and flat surfaces on the either side. Then with the steel file slightly round off the point of the V, so that the tip wont cut through the wood. Method two (with Corded Drill and Grinding Tip) - This method is a lot quicker than the first method but follows a similar process. First you once again secure the Drill into the Vice Grip (going through all the safety steps again) and secure the Grinding Stone Tip into the drill-bit chuck tightly. Once again you would need to mark a small V shape into the one end of the nail, aiming to grind off all the material outside the V. Then, after checking the components are all secure, gently apply the nail to the spinning grinding stone with the outside of the V lightly pressed down against the stone. Then repeat on the other side of the V shape aiming to grind down to the point of the V, creating two evenly angle slopes to the point. Then softly grind off the sharp edge on the tip of the V so that the point doesn't cut through the wood.

Design 3 -Shading Point

This is a useful point if you are planning on burning any complicated images that require various shades. First we will flatten the one end hence widening the point to allow us to get a wide flat tip. Grip the nail with the pliers or locking pliers then using the Anvil on the Vice grip (or as depicted, the side of a 4lb hammer) to hammer down the end of the nail, attempting to flatten it and add a slight curve at the base of the flattened area. Once you have reduced the thickness of the nail to approx 1.5 / 2mm then it is time to shape the head. Secure the nail into the Vice Grip with the bent flattened area exposed, then with the flat steel file grind down the outer edges creating a rounded point to the tip of the nail. If required, file down the bottom and top of the flattened end to create a smooth surface, so that when the tip slides over the wood there are no blemishes to catch on the burning area. To finish, round off all the remaining sharp edges.

Step 5: Final Testing

Now that we have the tips sized and shaped, its time to do some testing. The first time you insert the tips into the Soldering iron and begin heating up, i recommend leaving the iron in a well ventilated area with no one around to allow any hazardous chemicals to burn off the tip harmlessly. (you should only need to do this during the first heating process) I have noticed it does take slightly longer to heat up compared to the old soldering tip but once heated, they work like a charm. Here above we have a few pictures of our new tips, and the burns they can make. (just on a scrap piece of wood)

Please remember when using the iron as a pyrography tool it is important to always be in a well ventilated area and you must always wear all the necessary safety equipment (Protective Goggles, Face Mask, and safety gloves)

This was quite a fun project to attempt (which was proven by the fact that i was originally only going to make one tip and ended up with 3) and now I can practice my wood-burning techniques without having to layout any cash at all :)

I hope you enjoyed this Instructable and stay tuned for more fun, easy to do projects using mainly recycled/reclaimed materials. And of course, Good Luck & Happy Crafting!!



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    19 Discussions

    Can you please show how to turn an old soldering gun like this used and turn into a two pronged pyrographic pen, thanks,( I have took mine apart and I know it can be done but it will need the metal electric blocks to put the prong onto but I’m not 100% on were they would go and things like that,) if you can do this it would help me out so much as there very expensive to buy. I know they got them yellow ones from China were it’s an normal burning soldering iron and 1 with the end missing and 2 prongs to make the perfect pyrograhic pen,??? I hope you can help thanks.

    It appears that the tips are removable, so I wonder, are you still able to use the tool for soldering if desired? That is, can you switch between Pyrography and Soldering as needed?

    Could you please make another Instructable showing how to convert a pyrographer into a soldering iron?

    1 reply

    Hi, first of all, thanks for this Ible, years ago I got a pyrograph tool and enjoy a lot "the art of wood burning" but in a house move, I lost it.

    Well, lots of times I wonder to do as you had done in this ible' and like as @Razanur has said, I'm stuck in how to augment the burning temperature... I' didn't do it yet, but I'm thinking on to change the soldering tool's inner resistors or to try to use different metals for the burning tip. Steel need more power to reach the same temperature than brass or other alloys, and maybe using a brass tip can be a good option... Have you tried another material than steel, maybe iron, brass or copper? I really don't know (now) the melting temperature of these materials, but I'm sure about they melt at higher temp than 250ºC...

    1 reply

    Hi mikolynn, i haven't tried any other materials but i am going to test copper tips soon. I do, however, know the temperature varies at the tip between the different points (The Universal point gets a lot hotter than the Shading Point - i only tested this to try and answer these comments more accurately :) ) So hopefully a Copper Point will reach a temperature high enough to burn the wood quicker/easier. but it is very much trial and error. I will post a clip of me burning with these steel tips and then with the copper ones to compare

    thank you for the 'ible! My girlfriend is into artful wood burning, I'm into soldering. When she was considering to buy a wood-burning device I suggested to use an old soldering iron I still had around. But I noticed that typical temperatures are way lower for soldering (250-400°C) than for wood burning (500°C and up) [ also discussed here: [ ]. Have you directly compared the results between a proper wood burning iron and this self-styled one?

    2 replies

    Hi Razanur, from my very brief experience, i would see this project as a tester to see if she enjoys wood-burning (If your girlfriend has already started her artful wood burning then she should definitely buy a pyrography tool.... i do wanna try it with Copper points /tips though to see how it effects the temperature) Basically these tool tips will burn wood effectively but it definitely does so at a slower rate (in other words, your pen strokes will have to be slower than if you were using a store bought Pyrography tool, which can be painful if you're sketching the Mona Lisa :)) And to answer your question, No, I have not yet been able to directly test against a proper wood burning tool. (I used one at a tool expo and loved it, so using these tips to practice for now and if i still love it in a month or two's time, i will buy a pyrography tool and can update this question accordingly) Hope this helps :)

    thank you for the verbose reply! Yes, that was pretty much what I expected. She lent one for a couple of weeks and loved it quite a bit, so I guess I'll still get her a wood burning tool at the next occasion (birthday or such).


    10 months ago

    The large item in the photograph is a vise. A pair of 'vice-grips' are a pliers like device with locking jaws also a brand name. You grip IN a VICE and WITH a pair of VICE-GRIP PLIERS.

    1 reply

    A while back on company dims were English, the other was metric.

    Well we planted a satilite real deep on desent , way deep. Thats why some machinest say , a nat ass away, smiggen, rch. Damn its its to small now.


    10 months ago

    Hi. I dunno it this is a "American" verses "British" English thing : I am South African so my English is British-flavoured :) ...

    A "vice-grip" to me is a pair of locking pliers (like this:

    A plain "vice" is the heavy iron clamp-thingy you bolt to your workshop table to hold things while you work on them.

    YMMY :)

    2 replies

    Hey DeanS2, This is even more confusing because i am also South African :) i used the term "Vice Grip" simply to match the wording used by Amazon (there is a link to their page and I thought it might get confusing with different wording, oh well so much for that :) ) If i was talking to you on the street, i would have also called it a vice. which is correct.... I have no idea

    Did you hear the one about the two South Africans arguing over American English ? Haha


    10 months ago

    Friendly advice:

    Tips from copper wire would much better,

    1. Copper tips are easier to handle.

    2. Copper conducts heat better than iron. )))

    1 reply

    Thank you, I always appreciate friendly advice :) You are absolutely right, I was trying to use materials I had readily available but if you are looking at using this tool in the long term, definitely try to find copper material instead. Thanks again garg11