You want to learn how to wood burn and I can show you how it 10 easy steps. These are the basics of wood burning to get you started in the right direction. If you want to go deeper into the world of wood burning, you can follow my blog, subscribe to my YouTube channel or try out my online courses. Here we go.
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STEP ONE – FIND WOOD
First things first, wood. You’re going to start with a wood canvas. People ask me all the time, “what type of wood should I burn?”. Really and truly, you can burn any type of raw wood, but some are better than others. And when you are a beginner, it’s better to start with woods that are readily available. Once you become a master burner, you can branch out to other woods and experiment, but in the beginning start with woods you can get from arts and craft stores or online.
Pine is a popular choice because it’s cheap and everywhere. If you go to Hobby Lobby or Michaels, you’ll see pine everywhere. It’s tricky because while it’s good to practice with, the grain variations in pine can make it difficult to achieve a nice piece of art.
The grains create a bumpy edge and make it difficult to shade. So, set your expectations low with pine. Try it out to get a feel for your wood burner and how it reacts to the wood, but save your best work for the next wood option, basswood.
Where to find it:
- Amazon in a variety of sizes
- Arts and craft stores like Hobby Lobby or Michaels
- Big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes
This is my favorite wood to burn for just about any small project. The grain is dry, light, and has a consistent pattern throughout. It’s a wood burners dream. However, it’s not cheap; so I wouldn’t use this wood for practice or experimentation.
Basswood is also limited in size. If you want to burn really large pieces of artwork, you’ll have to make your own canvases, but if you stick with small projects, it’s the perfect choice. It comes in a live edge with bark and a smooth routed edge in a variety of sizes.
Where to find it:
- Walnut Hollow
- Rustic Wood Supply
- Arts and craft stores like Hobby Lobby or Michaels
Another great beginner option when you want to learn how to wood burn. Birch is a bit harder than basswood. The wood itself is more dense and therefore your wood burning pen doesn’t glide through the wood as easily. It is however a good wood to burn. I personally like to use it for signs or solid burns like lettering and silhouettes, but not so much for portraits or shading detail.
The grains are nice and light with a consistent feel, meaning there’s not a really hard grain/soft grain pattern. I typically find birch in a variety of sizes with cradles on the back, but you can also find it as a solid wood canvas. You can also find birch in large panels at the big box stores. The large panels can be cut down and made into a custom size, so it’s a nice option if you have the tools to cut it.
Where to find it:
- Arts and craft stores like Hobby Lobby or Michaels
- Big box stores like Home Depot and Lowe
WOODS TO AVOID
You want to avoid any wood that has chemicals added to it, like MDF, treated woods, pallet woods, etc. You should always wear a mask when wood burning anyway, but these woods in particular aren’t safe to burn because they have added chemicals. So best to avoid them.
STEP TWO – PREP WOOD
It may seem like this step is easy to skip, but trust me don’t skip it. If you want to learn how to wood burn, you have to prep your wood. Sanding is the biggest thing for prep. You need a fine grit sand paper, 220, and an electric sander. I use a Dewalt, but you can use what brand you want.
You can try sanding by hand, but it takes forever. If you think wood burning is a hobby you’re going to love, invest in an electric sander. Besides, every home needs a sander at some point.
Every piece of wood you buy is going to need sanding. Run your hand (carefully of course) across the top of your newly purchased wood. You can feel a roughness on the top layer. There’s a buildup of fine wood hairs, especially on basswood. You want to sand those off and create a silky smooth wood layer.
Prepping the wood is going to help your wood burning pen glide across the surface with greater ease. It will help minimize the bumpy edges on your outlines and dark spots in your shading.
STEP THREE – TEMPLATES
Where do I get a template?
Once you have your wood picked out, prepped and ready to go, now you need something to burn on it. Where do you start?
With a template.
There are a lot of directions to go here, you can make your own digitally, you can hand sketch your art, you can buy digital templates or you can buy stencils physical stencils. If you’re brand new to wood burning, go with something simple like your name. Create a stencil on your computer using word or some other type of software that allows you to type words and print them out.
I personally use photoshop to create all my templates, but that’s because I’m familiar with the software. Photoshop has a steep learning curve, so if you’re not familiar with it, don’t sweat it. A simple word processing is plenty.
Where to find templates:
- free downloads every day on Creative Fabrica – download
- create your own on your computer
- sketch it by hand
- buy them on amazon
- buy them on etsy
- books – pyrography books usually have a collection of templates – like mine!
Transferring Your Template
Once you have a template created, printed and in hand, you need to transfer it to the wood. Like most anything in the art world, there are several ways to transfer your template to the wood. The easiest most accessible way is carbon paper. Just tape your template to your wood surface, place the carbon paper underneath and trace your template artwork.
I like to use a pencil to trace because it glides over the paper nicely and I can see where I’ve traced already. Some people like to use a tracing wand so they can use the template over and over. It’s really up to you and what you prefer. As long as you can create pressure to transfer the carbon, you can use whatever makes you the happiest, crayons, pens, a stick from your yard, etc.
Erase Carbon marks with a sand eraser.
STEP FOUR – SAFETY
I know, I know. You just want to get to the burning already. But we have to talk about safety when you’re using a hot fire stick and creating lots of smoke, so stay with me.
I know it’s not fun to wear a mask, but it’s not good to breathe in all that smoke.
When people are first starting to learn how to burn, they ask me about pulling the smoke away from their face.
You can also get a small desk fan that helps pull the smoke away from your face and out of your eyes. My suggestion is to point that fan toward a window so the smoke goes outside. You may want to put a second fan in the window to pull the smoke out of the room.
If you’re in a shop type of setup like I am, you can get a little crazier with it; like an exhaust in the ceiling. I have one in my shop ceiling with a tube that drops down to my desk. It pulls all the smoke away from my face and out of the shop. I wouldn’t recommend this for your house though, unless you don’t mind holes in your ceiling.
These will come in very handy when your fingers just get too dang hot. When you’re hold that hot fire stick for too long, your fingers will start to get a bit toasty. Protect your digits with some type of finger protection. I use these JATAI finger guards. Of all the things I’ve used, they work the best.
They aren’t full proof though, so take a break once in a while and let those digits cool off.
Where to find safety gear:
STEP FIVE – WOOD BURNING KITS
Now it’s time to burn and the number one thing people ask me is, “What burner pen do i get?”. So let’s start at the beginning. If you’re just starting to learn how to wood burn, go with a craft burner like Chandler Tool or Walnut Hollow.
NOTE: Avoid those kits on amazon that say, 187 PIECE WOOD BURNING KIT (or something similar), they are garbage and a waist of your money. Chandler Tool and Walnut Hollow design and manufacture wood burning kits for you, the user. Those large piece kits are only sold because it sounds attractive to get all those pieces for so little money. But you don’t need all the junk in those kits. Stick with the trusted brands.
Chandler Tool and Walnut Hollow both have great crafter burner options. These tools are great for getting started in wood burning. There isn’t anything you can’t burn with these tools. They are inexpensive and very easy to use. You just put in the tip you want, turn it on and you’re good to go.
I like to use the universal tips (straight edge) to outline all of my artwork. Then I use the rounded tips to fill in my artwork and create a nice texture, but I’ll get into techniques in the next few steps.
Just remember that these starter tools are just that….starter tools. They don’t have all the same bells and whistles as the pro tools. They take a while to heat up and cool off, so changing tips is a long process. I like to compare them to cars. The starter tools are like Prius’s and the pro tools are like Ferrari’s. The Prius is reliable and will get you where you want to go, but it costs less and it isn’t nearly as fast as the Ferrari.
Also, don’t push so hard on the wand. You don’t need to put pressure on the wand to create your artwork. Just go slow and guide the wand over the wood and let the heat do the work. Pushing into the wood will create bumps on your edges and possibly break your burner wand.
Where to find a craft burner:
Okay, so you’ve been burning for a while and you love the art of wood burning. You want to jump all in and go deeper into the world of pyrography and start cranking out some wood burned pieces. It’s time to upgrade. Once you’ve reached the point where you feel the craft burners are holding you back from creating what you want, the way you want, start shopping for a pro burner. I’m asked all the time which one is the best?
There really isn’t a best burner. It’s going to come down to what’s more important to you as a user. Ease of use was the most important feature for me, so I went with a Colwood Super Pro II as my first pro burner. Since then I have used a Razertip, Burnmaster, Optima, and TRUArt machine. They are all good, reliable trusted brands. Do your research, and see which one suits you best. They all have different features to offer.
Here’s a comparison video I did where I dive deep into the differences.
Overall, the pro burners are faster to heat/cool, easier to use and offer more precision and variety in tips. If you’re considering upgrading, the reason to do so is more efficiency. You’ll be able to finish pieces quicker and easier, but not necessarily better artwork. You can achieve the same end result with any set.
STEP SIX – OUTLINING
When I’m burning a silhouette(solid fill) or a lettering project is outline the artwork. This technique helps accomplish a couple of things. It creates a barrier for your fill in burn and it gives you nice crisp clean lines on your artwork. Make sure to use a universal tip, also known as a skew or a straight edge. You want a tip that has a nice long straight edge that will create crisp straight lines.
If you use a round tip for outlining, you’ll see that it creates more bumpy uneven edges and lines.
Also, remember what I mentioned earlier in the article about not pushing hard? You don’t need to put pressure on the wand to create your artwork. Just go slow and guide the wand over the wood and let the heat do the work. Pushing into the wood will create bumps on your edges and possibly break your burner wand.
One more tip about outlining. When you are just beginning to learn how to wood burn, use a low heat. This will give you more control over the burn and help prevent mistakes. Once you get more comfortable with the burner, experiment with your heat settings. If you have a burner that doesn’t have heat settings, turn your desk fan facing your burner wand. It will help cool it off so that it doesn’t burn so hot
- Turn your heat down
- Go Slow
- Put very light pressure on your wand
- Use a straight edge tip (aka, universal or skew)
Combine all these together and get nice crisp clean lines on your artwork.
STEP SEVEN – FILLING IN YOUR ARTWORK
Everyone burns differently and every artist creates art differently. Over time you’ll discover your own personal style, what you enjoy burning and how you like to burn. But for the purposes of this blog I’m going to show you what I do and you can use these techniques in beginning while you’re learning how to wood burn.
If you only take away one lesson from this blog, it should be this: Always remember to experiment, try new things in wood burning and develop your style and skills as you grow as a wood burner. You can learn the basics here, but it’s up to you to continue to develop the skill and find what you love about it.
I love to fill in silhouettes and lettering with texture. It adds more visual appeal and interest to a plain piece of art. You can use a shader tip and fill in the spaces with a flat burn, but you can also kick up the creativity a notch and add some character with texture. There is something about texture that makes the viewer want to engage with the piece, maybe feel the texture or take a deeper look at the shapes.
The goal here is to fill in those letters or silhouettes with burn and how to do it is really up to you, so don’t overthink it. There’s no one technique that should be used here. Don’t worry so much about “should be” and just have fun. There’s no right or wrong way to do this.
When I burn texture, I burn on high heats because it’s just plain fun and why not have fun with it. It’s not necessary to burn on high heats in order to learn how to wood burn, but it is satisfying. There are consequences to burning on high heats that every newbie should learn.
I explain all the consequences of burning on high heats in this video, check it out.
You can still create texture with a low heat, it just takes longer.
Best Wood Burn Tips for Texture
These are great for texture. You can create a stipple pattern (lot of dots) that fill in your spaces. Or you can use the round tips to create line texture inside the space. Remember have fun with it!
Every kit has a shader tip of some kind. It’s the tips with a flat bottom surface. Depending on your kit, the shader tip maybe be rounded like a spoon or it may be completely flat. Either way, you can still create a nice pattern. When you dab the shader tip on the wood, it kind of looks like scales or horse shoes. This is one of my favorite textures to add because it creates so much visual interest and it’s so easy to do. Turn your favorite podcast, show, music or what ever you like to listen to, and just dab the tip on the wood and fill in your space.
learn how to wood burn
Straight edge tips. (skew or universal)
You can use these to create patterns too. If you’re space is large enough, you can burn straight line patterns inside. Or, create a parque pattern like the one in my book.
This is the fun part. Take the time and experiment with all your tips and see what kind of textures and patterns you can create to fill in your artwork.
- Use textures
- Experiment with your tips
- There’s no right or wrong way to fill in your artwork
- Have fun and make it your own
STEP EIGHT – ADDING COLOR
If you follow this blog or any of my social media, you’re going to hear me say this a lot. There are multiple ways of accomplishing any task. We as individuals have methods that we prefer over others. And again, as you learn how to wood burn and develop your style of wood burning, you will become attached and comfortable with adding color in a particular way.
There are so many ways of adding color. Acrylics, Inks, Watercolor, Markers, Stains, Paper, Fabrics, and many, many more. What strikes you as an obvious first choice? If you have an answer to that question, start there.
For example, when you imagined adding color to your wood burn, did you picture paint? If so, pick up some acrylics or watercolors and go for it. Did you picture staining the wood? Pick out a light stain (don’t wash out your burn with a dark stain) and try it.
Watercolor pencils and Inks are my top two favorite ways to add color. But honestly it depends on the look I want to achieve. I’ll tell you why I use these two the most.
I have the most control with water color pencils. I can color in a space and then blend the colors with water. They are super easy to use. If you want to do a very simple color fill in, these are a good choice and a good place to start. Just color and blend.
I love inks as an all over color choice. They aren’t as great at filling in a space because they bleed into the grains of the wood. I like to use these to add a color wash over my entire piece. I think of ink as more like a wood stain. It doesn’t cover up my burn area, it just stains the wood grain with a color. You can use ink to fill in a space depending on how your piece is burnt. I have a project in my book that is reversed burned, so I use ink to fill because there’s no where for it to bleed.
Keep in mind that there are no hard and fast rules on which type of color you should and shouldn’t use. You need to try things for yourself and see which one you like best. I’ve used ribbons, paper accents, wood accents, faux flowers, faux leaves, airbrushing, solder, house paint and so on and so on in my wood burn color experiments.
I’ve found what I like and what I’ll never use again. You’re not limited to a couple of choices. You may try watercolor pencils and inks and not like it at all. Maybe you prefer not to use color. And that’s absolutely okay.
- Start with your first choice
- Experiment with different ways of adding color
- Develop your style of adding color
STEP NINE – VARNISH
The thing you need to remember about varnish first is that you need to do it. Wood is vulnerable to moisture and the elements. It may warp or discolor in humidity. And I don’t mean full on rain, I mean like Florida humidity where there’s just always moisture in the air. It can warp the wood, so make sure to seal your piece with something. And that something could be a lot of things, so let’s discuss.
There are lots and lots of ways to varnish and if you are going to learn how to wood burn, varnishing is a big part of it. I have my favorites and I know there are a ton of ways to varnish that I’ve never tried that other burners love. So experiment…..just not on a finished piece that you love. Experiment on scrap wood and see what happens.
The second thing you need to know about varnish is that they aren’t all created the same. Some are trickier to use than others and may cause you problems. That’s why you need to test them on scrap and become familiar with them before using them on a finished piece. The last thing you want to do is burn a beautiful commissioned piece, then test a new varnish and have it bubble or crack. In most cases(not all) your only option at that point is to sand it down and start over.
The third thing, read the directions and follow them!
I love to use danish oil because it’s easy to use. Plain and simple. You just wipe it on and let it dry. There’s not a lot of risk of cracking, peeling or bubbling with this varnish. Danish Oil seeps down into the grains and gives it a really ice saturated protection from moisture. There are a couple of down sides. It does add a yellowish hue to the wood. it doesn’t protect the wood burn from fading over time.
This varnish has a UV protection in it. That just means that it will help protect the burn and the wood from UV fading. Does that mean it will look exactly the same 30 years from now, I really don’t know. I haven’t been burning long enough to give a solid answer to that question. But I do know that varnishes like this will help.
Spar Urethane is one of the tricky ones. I’ve had issues with it not drying properly, which is more due to varnishing in bad weather conditions.
READ THE DIRECTIONS. Make sure you are following them. I use Spar when a piece is going outside. For example, I made a small table to go on the porch of my shop (watch on YouTube) and I used spar as the varnish.
Again, test, test, test. Experiment, experiment, experiment. Find the varnish you are most comfortable using.
AND FINALLY….STEP TEN – FINISHING
To learn how to wood burn beautiful pieces, you have to add the finishing touches. Finishing is a really simple step of adding any final pieces to your wood burn. Maybe you need to add a hanger on the back. Or maybe you need to add handles to a tray. Maybe you need to glue on accent pieces. And so on.
For my small wall art pieces, I use a saw tooth hanger. It’s simple and easy to attach. You can buy a 100 pack on amazon. Easy peezy.
For my larger wall art pieces, I use a wire and d-ring set. It holds more weight and it make it easier for the customer to hang it. You can buy a 100 pack on amazon. Use screw in the d-rings and tie on the wire. Now your piece is finished and ready to be enjoyed.
Where to find hangers:
And that’s all there is to it……hahahaha! I know this was a long article, but now you have lots of info to think about. If you want to go deeper into your learn how to wood burn journey, I have online courses that go much further into detail and techniques.
learn how to wood burn
learn how to wood burn in 10 easy steps
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