Wood burning (or pyrography) is a cheap and easy way to introduce yourself into the world of woodworking. At first glance wood burning can appear to be a higher skill driven craft. But looks can be deceiving. There are a number of ways to turn this into a simple craft for beginners! All of the above images were made using a starter's wood burner that costs less than twenty dollars from the craft store. In this tutorial, I will discuss the basics of wood burning and show you how I made the small Pokeball plaque shown in the images above. The project, once started, should take you no longer than 30 minutes to complete.
Step 1: Some Safety Tips Before We Start
While wood burning is indeed a simple craft, it does not come without safety hazards. I've created a few lists below that cover the basic safety and health warnings.
Even the cheap wood burners that I'm recommending can reach upwards to 950 degrees Fahrenheit. So never touch the tip of the wood burner once you have plugged it in and turned it on! It's also important that you never leave the wood burner alone, as this could make it a possible fire hazard.
If at any time you are burned while using the wood burner, please reference this guide on how to care for your burn (warning - image of third degree burn may be considered graphic to some viewers):
If you have any type of allergy to wood, I do not recommend wood burning.
Anyone with sensitive eyes should know that wood burning does indeed cause smoke which can irritate the eyes.
Also, anyone with arthritis in the hands, joint issues in the hands, or any medical issue similar to carpal tunnel should be wary of wood burning. While I myself have issues with carpal tunnel, I have noticed that the strain of using the starter’s wood burner, especially with grainy wood, can cause it to act up.
When you are working, be in an area where the power chord will not become a tripping hazard. And, if the smoke or smell of burning wood (you will indeed smell like a fireplace) bothers you, make sure you are in a well ventilated place. Remember to always turn off and unplug your wood burner once you have finished working on it.
Finally it is not recommending that anyone under the age of 14 operate a wood burner without adult supervision.
If you have any other health/medical concerns, please consult your doctor before attempting to use a wood burner.
Step 2: Gather Materials
Here are the materials you'll need to gather before you can begin wood burning:
- small piece of decorative wood (can be bought at craft store for around $1)
- eraser (the one on the pencil works fine - though I did end up grabbing a larger eraser later on while working)
- beginners wood burner (If you want to save some money, I would recommend saving a coupon for your local craft store if you need/want to save some money)
- simple printed image
- wood stain
- wood varnish
- acrylic paints
NOTE: In this guide I do not use the optional materials. However, I do give a few tips on how to get the best results with them
Step 3: Design
Before you begin designing, keep in mind the grain of the wood. If your piece of wood has a lot of grain to it, the wood burner can jump slightly and cause a jagged line to be made. I recommend going against the grain. While this may cause the burner to still jump slightly, if you go with the grain the burner will may and follow into the grain of the wood and you'll end up making lines you didn't want to make.
Now there are a few ways you can actually create your design.
Way 1: If you're confident in your drawing abilities, you can always freehand sketch on the wood. However, I wouldn't recommend creating a design with a lot of detail for your first time wood burning. You'll need time and practice to get used to how your machine works and how it acts on the wood.
Way 2: Use a stencil. Simply tape the stencil down onto your piece of wood and trace the design with your pencil.
Way 3: The transfer method. This is the one I will teach you how to do for this project.
- First print out the design you want.
- From there, turn the paper over and use your pencil to scribble all over the back, making sure the entire area of where the design is covered.
- Now turn the paper back over and position it where you want it on the piece of wood.
- Finally, trace over the design with the pencil.
The carbon on the back of the paper will then transfer onto the wood, giving you a design to follow while you use the wood burner. If it comes out too light, simply go back over the design with your pencil to make following the lines easier.
Step 4: Burn That Wood!
Now it's time to use your wood burner! Make sure your work place is clear and plug your burner in.
NOTE: It's important to keep in mind that some wood burners come with different head attach-ments. Make sure your burner tip is tightly screwed in before you start burning.
- Once you've turned on the wood burner, it can take it a little while (a few minutes) for it to warm up completely. However, you should never leave it unattended.
- You can see how hot the burner has gotten by making test spots on the back of the wood
- You'll know when the burner is at its highest temperature when the marks you're making are a deep, dark brown color - it should look like a dark stained wood.
- You can make lighter marks by pressing lighter on the wood as well.
Remember: your wood will start to smoke, especially if it still has some sap in it. Don't let this startle you! If you enjoy the smell of a fireplace, you'll enjoy this.
NOTE: if you are using a very thin piece of wood, you don't want to press very hard with the wood burner. If you do, it will burn a hole in the wood and not only ruin your project, but also the surface you're working on.
Step 5: Once You've Finished Using the Wood Burner
Once you've finished, make sure you turn off your wood burner and unplug it.
Give it awhile to cool down completely before packing it away. Again, do not leave it unattended while it is still hot.
You can then grab your eraser and erase the left over pencil marks that remain on your design if you choose to.
Optionally: you can use a fine grain sandpaper to gently go over the design if the wood burning process left any rough marks or edges on your project.
Step 6: The Optional Steps
Once you've completed burning out your design you can stop here and be done.
However, there are a few optional steps you can take to make your piece even better.
Your first option is to stain your piece:
- Pick whatever color wood stain you want and just cover the whole piece.
- Don't worry - it won't mess up your design.
- If you want some areas of wood to remain lighter, just avoid them as you stain.
You can also use acrylic paints to add a pop of color:
- While you're painting, you do want to be a bit more careful with the paint than you would be with the stain.
- If you get paint into the grooves of your design, it can cover them up and you'll have to try and clean them out.
Once the stain or paint has dried, you can then add a coat of wood varnish to give it some shine and protection!
Step 7: That's It - You're Done!
Congratulations on completing your first piece of pyrography and keep at it. You'll only get better from here! :)