Burning Patterns Into Wood

Overview of creative woodburning art for the beginner, including basic tools and materials and tips and instructions for doing it yourself.

Burning patterns and pictures onto wood is a fulfilling and relatively simple craft called woodburning or pyrography. It requires a few special tools, and enough patience to develop skill in using a woodburning pen. Following are the basic steps for a beginner to learn this fun craft.

1. Find a suitable surface and prepare it for burning.

The easiest place to find wood that is already prepared for burning is at your local craft or hobby store. If there are no stores in your area, try a web search for "woodburning supplies" and you should be able to find all the resources listed in this article. When choosing wood, look for round centers cut from tree trunks that still have the bark along the outside edges, or if you prefer a more sophisticated look, try the sanded planks with finished edges that come in various shapes and sizes. You can also cut your own wood from a tree, or use any piece of scrap wood or board that you find around the house. Be aware, however, that some species of wood are more easy to burn on than others. Basswood and walnut are two woods with a reputation for ease of burning. It makes sense for a beginner to start with wood that is dependable, such as those listed above, or prepared pieces found at the craft store. If you decide that you like this craft, you can research different wood qualities and experiment with more challenging species later.

If you purchase a prepared wood, then you are ready for the next step. If you have collected or cut your own, prepare it by sanding the surface in the direction of the grain, so that you retain the grain pattern. Sand away rough edges, then blow off excess dust and wipe gently with a cloth.

2. Choose a design and transfer it to the wood surface.

Gorgeous patterns, designs, and pictures can be found in woodburning design books found at your hobby shop. These book designs will likely have helpful hints regarding specific ways to shade and draw the designs. However, you can use any pattern or picture, including those that you find from stencils, sewing or craft patterns, photos, art, or from your own mind! If you are drawing your own design, using stencils or patterns, then practice making your picture on paper first.

When you have chosen a design that you like, place a piece of graphite paper on top of the wood, with the ink side facing down. Put your design on top and draw over it, transferring the design to the wood.

3. Choose a woodburning tool.

A woodburning pen is the tool used to burn the pattern onto the wood, and like all the supplies in this article, it can be found at craft and hobby shops, or from suppliers over the internet. These pens are basically metal rods that look very much like a writing pen, which are fitted into a hand-friendly holder. The plastic holder is also a transformer that keeps the pen heated at a steady rate when plugged in. Control units can be bought as an accessory to help control the heat, raising or lowering it as you choose. Woodburning pens come either with a fixed tip or interchangeable tips. The different tips alter the type of mark that is made on the wood.



How do you know which pen to use? If you are new to the craft, the most economical pen is one that is designed for beginners, and may come in a package that includes instructions, a design book, and either several interchangeable tips, or one tip that can be used for a variety of basic effects. Buying a control unit is not necessary unless you fall in love with the craft or plan to do it often. In that case, the control unit can help you to increase the life of your pen by setting the temperature lower than normal during down times. Changing the heat is also a way to increase the range of detail and contrast achievable in your design art.

4. Burn the pattern or design.

Now you are ready for the best part, burning the design. If you have opted for a design that comes in a woodburner's how-to book, then this will be easier, as the book will give specific details about how to make the different lines in that particular design.

If you are using your own pattern and are new to woodburning, then the first thing you need to do is practice on scrap wood. Most woodburning pens will include one or more basic tips, including a sharp pointed tip, which is used to make fine lines. Wider, flat surfaced tips are used for fatter lines and shading, and tips that are rounded are used to make softer outlines. Shading is accomplished by making clusters of dots or lines to create a shaded effect, or "floating" a wider tip in a circular motion over an area to darken it.

The most important guidance is to hold your pen lightly and never allow your pen to simply "sit" on the wood. By keeping your touch light you will avoid over-darkening, and you can always go back over and repeat movements to increase the shading if you wish. It is also important to move the pen towards you, rather than away. You may feel that you must keep the wood static but feel free to move the wood around as you need to position it for easy burning.

5. Finish your work.

Use a pencil eraser to remove any leftover lines from the graphite drawing that still show. Oil pencils are available for coloring woodburning patterns and designs. The time to use these is after you burn the basic picture. Again, a light touch is advised, as you can always increase the color later with reapplication. However, in woodburning it is best to avoid putting too much color on, because it can detract from the natural beauty of the burnt wood and grain pattern.

When all burning and coloring is finished, seal your work with a varnish or other finish that is designed for woodwork. That light touch is still important here, as you do not want to make the colors run. It is always better to put several light coats on than one heavy one. Now, all you need to do is hang your work, or otherwise display it so that you and your friends and family can enjoy it.

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