Updated: September 29th, 2021
The best woods for wood burning will vary for a lot of people. It will come down to personal preference, types of pyrography art and what is available in your area. Here’s a list of my favorites.
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 the best wood for wood burning in my opinion. 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. The grains are 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 or pre-made canvases online. I love the birch canvases from Arteza. They come in a few different sizes and are inexpensive. You can get a pack of 5 – 8×10 canvases on amazon for $31. Not a bad deal
The large sheets from the big box stores are great because you can shape them into any shape or size you want if you have the right saw. I don’t use it that often mostly because poplar is my go to choice from the big box stores, but it’s always there as an option if I need it.
Keep in mind that while plywoods can be used for pyrography, there are some risks, so do your research about any chemicals use in the plywood you purchase. Also, wear your respirator with filters and burn in a well ventilated area.
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 burning any artwork with shading and details.
We’ve used oak several times through out our projects. It’s not the best wood for wood burning, but it’s an attractive option for a lot of people because it’s highly available in a lot of areas. 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:
- Easy to Burn – the grains are perfect for pyrography; soft and consistent
- Very Accessible – available in big box stores and online
- Customize Any Size – cut and glue up any canvas size you want with the right tools
I use poplar for a LOT of my projects. Poplar is readily available at the big box hardware stores and online at varying sizes and I’m able to make any size canvas or frame that I need for a project.
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 on of my top recommendations.
The only con for us on poplar is the price. It’s a pricier wood, but it gets such a beautiful 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 a more affordable option for practice and upgrade once you’re more confident.
Pine is a common wood in wood burning. It’s inexpensive and you can find nice and neat pieces at hobby stores and online cutout into shapes, plaques and designs.
However, pine can be challenging because of the inconsistent grain patterns. 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. It can also leave bumps and hot spots in your burned designs.
Pine works better for letters or signs that will be burnt solid and not shaded. Yellow pine is one of my least favorite and not one of the best woods for wood burning. It makes a lower quality burn and finished product.
Pine can be used for practice because it’s more affordable. Then once you master burning clean lines, it will be a good go-to wood choice.
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.
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 shop with an exhaust, so the smoke is pulled away from my face and out of the room. The airflow keeps the room clear and keeps me from sitting in a smoke filled space for hours on end.
At some point in your pyrography journey, you’ll come across more exotic woods that aren’t easily found. The short answer is, you can burn any woods, but some aren’t great at receiving heat. It really depends on what you want to do with the wood and the artwork that will help you determine if the wood is a best wood for wood burning.
Hardwoods typically aren’t great for burning art that has a lot of shading and details. Walnuts, maple, cherry, etc. It’s also difficult to experiment with these woods because they are always pricey.
Here’s my two cents, but my opinions aren’t set it stone, so do what you feel is right.
Use these woods for projects with a touch of wood burning as an accent. For example, a cutting board, charcuterie board, shelves, etc. These woods are great for aesthetic projects that will be displayed for the wood itself. Then you can add a simple burn like family initials into a cutting board. Or a funny quote into the charcuterie board.
Keep the burn small and simple and let the wood be the star of the show.
KJP Select Hardwoods in Canada is a great online retailer for woods. They have a great selection at a great price. They wood choice they have are perfect for projects just like this.
Conclusion – Best Woods for Wood Burning
In my experience, these are the best woods for wood burning. There are tons and tons of options out there that I’ve never tried, so if you want to add to the conversation about 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.
Here’s a great site for wood toxicity research.
FREE PYRO PACK
This FREE (and highly detailed) digital packet is overflowing with information for getting started in pyrography.
- 14 tools supply list – the best tools in pyrography
- 5 pyrography patterns to use in burning
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I put together a digital download packet that highlights wood burning tools and projects perfect for pyro beginners.
“what burner should I use?”
“what’s the best wood to burn?”
“what are my safety options?”
“where can I get these tools?”
“where can I get pyrography patterns?”
“what should I burn?”