Pyrography is the art of decorating wood or leather by using heat to burn a design onto the surface. For this guide, we’ll be focusing on pyrography as wood burning.
Pyrography can be used to add decorative elements to many wooden things such as dinnerware (like spoons, plates, bowls), kitchenware (like cutting boards), or general home decor (like boxes, chests).
Only a few supplies are needed, and most can be found in a nice little beginner’s kit!
Generally, the two main things that are necessary are wood and a wood-burning pen to allow you to sketch designs on the surface.
The History of Wood Burning
Also known as wood-burning, pyrography is a centuries-old technique that began pretty much at the time that humans discovered fire.
Once fire was discovered, humans realized that it could also be used to burn things like symbols and pictograms into the wood.
During the medieval period, it was popular for blacksmiths to also become involved with pyrography.
Since heated metal was used frequently in blacksmithing, blacksmiths discovered that the hot metal could also be used to burn intricate artwork into other surfaces.
This method of wood burning was frequently used to adorn containers and chests.
As wood burning evolved, so did the tools used for this craft. Smaller instruments that could be held like writing utensils were manufactured to make things easier for pyrography artists.
These wood-burning pens made this activity much more accessible for artisan crafters to learn and enjoy.
What Supplies Do I Need for Wood Burning?
There are a few essential tools that you need before you start wood burning.
Generally, you can get all the necessary equipment as part of a beginner’s pyrography kit found at your local craft store or online here.
For first-timers, I would start with one of that wood-burning for beginners kits before investing in more serious tools.
If you decide that you would like to explore this hobby more, it’s important to understand the different types of wood-burning tools.
Below are the basic tools and supplies you would need to get started with wood burning:
- Wood burning pen
- Masking tape, artist’s tape, or painter’s tape
- Graphite paper
- Mineral or olive oil – Applied on the finished work
Best Wood for Wood Burning
Wood is an essential part of this activity. Without it, you’d have nothing to burn! Softwoods can be used for pyrography, but some artists tend to prefer woods that are a little bit more sturdy like pine, basswood, birch or bamboo. Hardwoods like elm and oak can also be used but are typically reserved for more experienced artists.
- Pine – Inexpensive but uneven grains
- Birch – Smooth surface and burns light
- Basswood – Smooth surface with even grains, burns light
- Bamboo – Smooth and cheap
- Oak – Uneven grains, moisture in wood
- Poplar – Soft grains, burns easily, can be pricey
Uneven grains in the wood can make it challenging to burn straight lines.
Beginners will usually do better with wood with a smooth surface and even grains.
However, more high-quality wood can get pricey. Wood burners who are just starting might prefer to use inexpensive and readily available wood like pine.
However, it’s important to avoid being discouraged as the results of your art may also be affected by the quality wood.
How to Transfer Your Design for Wood Burning?
Although you have the option to freehand your design onto the wood.
You may want to be able to copy a pre-made design that you or someone else has made. To do this, just follow the steps below:
- Print out your design onto regular white printer paper.
- Place a piece of graphite paper onto the wood surface. Cover the graphite paper with the printed paper that has your own design on it.
- Firmly trace the design using a pen or pencil. This should transfer the graphite onto the wood’s surface.
- Use the wood burning tool to burn the design into the wood.
- Erase any remaining graphite from the wood.
Wood Burning Tool
The wood-burning tool will come as a pen-like instrument that can be plugged into an electricity source in order to create heat.
It will also come with temperature control so that you can adjust the temperature of the nib.
These pens will often come with many interchangeable tips that can be exchanged by screwing the tips off the end of the tool.
Wood Burning Nibs
There are two main types of nibs available for wood burning — a solid point tip and a wire tip.
Within each category, there are additional types of tips that vary in shape and sizes. Each of these can be used for a different purpose.
Solid point tips are great for beginners to learn how to develop control while using the tool. The universal tips can be used for intricate line work as well as shading.
Letters, numbers, and common shapes also are available as solid point tips to help you burn the exact figure into your wood.
Wired tips are generally reserved for more experienced wood burners as they are a bit more delicate and require the appropriate pressure to create the desired effects.
They are usually made from high-quality nichrome wire and work well with light woods.
Be careful while using this tool as it can get extremely hot! Make sure to read all the instructions on your wood-burning pen before using it, even if you have used one before.
These tools can vary depending on the manufacturer, so it’s important to be knowledgeable about the one you are using.
How to Use Your Wood Burning Tool?
- Read all the instructions that came with your tool.
- Make sure that your wood-burning tool is unplugged and cooled.
- Screw on the desired tip onto the wood burner.
- Plug in the wood-burning tool and allow it to heat up for at least 5 minutes.
- Place the tip gently onto the surface of the wood to start burning in your design. Keep the pressure constant to burn even colored lines. Avoid applying excess pressure to create darker lines as this can damage the nib. Instead, keep the nib on the same spot until the burn creates the desired shade.
- When you are done sketching in a line or shape, make sure to lift the wood-burning tool off the wood. Leaving it on the wood surface may cause a burn spot.
- If you want to change nibs, make sure that the wood burner is unplugged and cooled down before touching the tip. Keep nibs in an enclosed case to prevent damage. Alternatively, you can use needle-nose pliers to remove the nibs if it is still hot.
- Make sure to clean the wood burner and nib lightly with sandpaper while wearing gloves. Use a soft cloth to wipe the nib clean. This is to ensure that wood residue is not left on the nib making it dull.
Adding Color to Pyrography Art
Once you start getting the hang of wood-burning, you may want to start adding color to your pyrography art pieces.
You can do this with a variety of different art supplies including watercolor pencils, wax-based oil pencils or crayons, gel paints, or wood gel stains.
You can also use regular wood paint but this might be a bit more challenging to use as a beginner.
Finishing Your Wood Burning Art
When you are finished burning your design into the wood, you can use sandpaper to smooth out some of the rough spots.
A soft cloth can also be used to wipe off any remaining wood residue from the artwork.
Mineral oil or olive oil can be applied to the wood to give it a nice shine. If you want the appearance of lacquered wood, lacquer or shellac can also be used.
Items to Wood Burn
There are an endless amount of items you can wood burn.
Check out our post on the ultimate list of pyrography art ideas for inspiration on items to wood burn.
Wood Burning Tutorial Videos
Wood burning is a great hobby for those who like to create art with organic material.
Beginners can grab a wood-burning kit that comes with a wood-burning tool, tips, and a few other helpful supplies. You can also find small wooden slices to practice with at your local craft store or online.
There are an endless amount of items you can decorate by using a wood-burning tool. Many people like to wood burn items like kitchen supplies (spoons, cutting boards, etc), home decor, or jewelry.
Try it out and see if you enjoy this hobby! Let us know in the comments below if you are a beginner wood burner or would like to get started!