The type of wood you choose does make a difference. I’ve burned on several different types of wood and there are a lot of opinions on the subject, so do some research. You will also want to experiment yourself and form your own opinion about which one you like best. I’m going to share my experiences with wood burning to give you a good start on what wood to experiment with. So let’s dive right into the best woods for wood burning.
Basswood is a great wood burning wood. It’s very soft and easy to burn, there are practically no grains. It’s a solid surface of soft burning wood and it’s beautiful. It’s so clean and light, so you can burn in wonderfully light or dark details making it one of the best woods to burn. My only gripe with basswood are the size options. I’ve only been able to find basswood in precut plaque sizes or circular sizes with the live edge in hobby stores or online. You can find the planks online, however they are pricey and why buy higher priced planks of basswood when poplar is less expensive and already in the local store? I do use the basswood plaques because they are easier than gluing up, sanding and cutting the poplar. I usually keep a few of these plaques on hand for quick turn around.
Birch burns much like basswood. The grains are consistently soft and you can find this in the big box stores. I like the birch plywood because Clay can just cut out the sizes I need and frame it out to cover the plywood edges. We don’t use it that often mostly because poplar is our go to choice, but it’s always there as an option if we need it. We also like the poplar over birch since it’s a solid piece of wood and not plywood.
This is a tricky one. Red oak is tough to burn. It’s hard, the grains are uneven and it’s a bit pricey. There is a ton of moisture in this wood too. While I burn it the sap bubbles out and creates a messy edge. It’s not a deal breaker, but it’s something I consider before I burn a portrait onto it. We’ve used oak several times through out our projects because it’s used a lot in making pallets. Clay and I try to repurpose when we can and pallets are primarily made of pine and oak. Use caution when burning pallet woods. It’s not the best wood for wood burning. I’ll go into more detail about it in a separate section below.
Poplar is my absolute favorite and the best wood for wood burning for three reasons: 1. easy to burn, 2. very accessible, 3. customize any size. We use poplar for most of our project. Poplar is readily available at the big box hardware stores at varying sizes and Clay is able to make any size canvas or frame that we need for a customer. The grains are consistently soft throughout the boards which makes an ideal wood burning surface. I’m able to burn in fine details with ease. I should add that it accepts stain evenly and holds true to the stain color. If you are new to wood burning, go buy a smaller board and use it to practice. Poplar is my top recommendation.
Poplar Con The only con for us on poplar is the price. It’s a pricier wood than pine, but it gets a much better result. My perspective is it’s worth the higher price, because it produces a higher quality product. If you are starting out with wood burning or maybe you are building something for the first time, start with pine and upgrade once you’re more confident.
Clay and I recently made a picture frame prototype and we used pine on the initial build and I burned a design into the wood. Because we used the less expensive wood, we didn’t feel so much pressure about perfecting it. It was an opportunity to test out the frame design rather than creating a perfect product. Now we feel more confident about the design and the process, so the next one we make will be poplar or oak.
Yellow Pine. Pine is a common wood in wood burning. It’s inexpensive and you can find nice and neat pieces at hobby stores cutout into shapes, plaques and designs. Yellow pine is hard for me to burn because the grains are so different. The lighter grain is very soft while the darker grain is hard to burn. So when I’m burning a portrait it’s difficult to get a detailed or consistent pattern. Pine is better for letters or signs that will be burnt solid and not shaded. Yellow pine is my least favorite not one of the best woods for wood burning. It makes a lower quality burn and finished product.
White pine. White pine is better to burn. I’ve used white pine several times and it has a cleaner smoother burn. It’s soft and the wood gives into the tips very well.
Wood burning on pallet wood is something to be very careful with. It’s impossible to know where it’s been. It may be chemically treated wood or it may have been used to transport chemicals. Those chemicals could have leaked onto the wood making it unsafe to burn and breathe. I have burned pallet wood before, but I use many safety precautions when doing so.
First – use a mask. I use a face mask when burning repurposed wood of any kind. Not the flimsy small paper masks either. Use the masks with the filters and a good one.
Second – use a fan. A fan should be used when wood burning any type of wood. It isn’t safe for someone to breathe in smoke especially if you are going to be burning for hours. I use a small battery operated fan that is portable and I can place it very close to my burning area and it sucks the smoke right in and away from my face. When I first start burning I wasn’t using one. Clay noticed all of the smoke going right into my eyes and he suggested setting up a little fan. I still use it when I burn and I’ve seen other pyrographers mention that they use a fan as well, so it’s a common practice in pyrography.
Third – burn in a well ventilated area. I typically burn in my office since it has two huge windows that basically cover one wall. I open those up and put another fan in the window to suck the smoke outside.The airflow keeps the room clear and keeps me from sitting in a smoke filled room for hours on end.
Conclusion – Best Woods for Wood Burning
In my experience, those are the best woods for wood burning. If you know of other woods that are great for wood burning or bad for wood burning, feel free to let us know in the comments. We would love you hear from you.
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