Wood Burning Ultimate Guide for Beginners

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wood burning pen

Are you thinking about trying out wood burning? You came to the right place!

Wood burning is a fun hobby that you can use to create all sorts of beautiful art.

It’s one of those hobbies that have been around forever but are becoming popular again (like another one of my favorites, punch needle).

In this Wood Burning Ultimate Guide, I’ll teach you everything you need to know to get started with pyrography on wood, AKA wood burning.

Looking for a super fun and satisfying beginner wood burning project? Check out this Rustic Wood Burned Coasters tutorial. It includes a free printable pattern!

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What is wood burning?

Wood burning is the art of decorating wood by burning designs into it with a heated burning tool.  It is pyrography on wood.  

Pyrography isn’t exclusive to wood, you can also do pyrography on other materials, such as leather, hardened gourds, cork, and even certain papers and fabrics.

It’s one of those things where all wood burning is pyrography, but not all pyrography is wood burning (that takes me back to elementary school multiple-choice tests.)

Wood burning and pyrography have been around since ancient times.  What started as rudimentary markings eventually evolved to exquisite works of art.  

With some practice and patience, it’s possible to create amazingly detailed works of art with pyrography. 

Today I’m going to show you how to get started with some basic strokes and techniques.  Let’s get started!

Woodburning Tools & Supplies

The most basic supplies you’ll need for pyrography are a wood burner and a piece of wood. 

To complete a project you’ll also need a pencil or graphite paper and your pattern, a damp paper towel or washcloth, a burn-proof surface to work on, and a well-ventilated area for your pyrography practice.  

A respirator and fan are a good idea to have as well, or at least an open window.

There are several different types of wood burners to choose from and loads of different types of wood to burn.

The two main types of wood burners are solid tip and wire tips.

The solid tip wood burners have different tips that screw into the end. The wire tip ones have interchangeable tips that are made of wire bent in different shapes.

Let’s take a look at some of the options available, as well as some to avoid.

Best Wood Burning Kits for Beginners

You can find a lot of wood burning kits online and in local craft stores.  There are many available in the $10 to $30 range, and there are some pricier models.  

As a beginner, I recommend starting out with one of the lower-priced options and getting a feel for it before you invest in a more expensive setup.  

Here’s a solid tip wood burning kit I purchased from Amazon.

This kit is a great option for a newbie pyrographer.  

It comes with an adjustable temperature wood burner, 28 different wood burning and embossing tips, a metal stand, plastic stencils, some colored pencils to add color to your design, and a carrying case and instruction manual.  

This is another popular solid tip wood burning tool for beginners. It has a temperature regulator and comes with 11 different tips to experiment with.

If you want to try out a wire tip wood burner, this is a great choice.

These types of wood burners are popular and can produce really fine strokes and detail.

This wire tip wood burner set is one of the most popular for beginners and professionals alike.

The great thing about this set is you won’t outgrow it as quickly as the other ones above if you end up falling in love with pyrography.

Types of Wood (and Other Burnable Surfaces)

types of wood and other burnable surfaces for pyrography or wood burning | Marching North

Once you choose your woodburning tools, you have to decide what to burn.

Pyrography can be done on wood, cork, hardened gourds, and leather.  It can also be done on certain types of paper as long as there are no toxic substances or inks present.  

With wood, make sure you are using bare untreated wood.  Treated or finished wood will emit harmful chemicals when you’re burning so avoid those.  

Also, avoid MDF completely.  It contains formaldehyde and that stuff is bad news.  

Plywood can be used for wood burning, but you have to take extra precautions not to burn through to the glue layer because it’s toxic.  

A great choice for beginners is basswood.  It’s easy to find at almost any craft store or online, the grain is minimal, and it has a nice light color that will make for great contrast.  

Basswood isn’t toxic when burned, but there’s still a chance any wood can cause irritation when burning it.  

The best bet is to wear a respirator.

You may not notice any adverse effects right away from fumes, but it can cause problems later on in life (and by problems, I mean cancer, so it’s not something to take lightly.)  

If you want to try pyrography on leather, make sure you use veg-tanned leather only. 

Chrome tanned leather has chemicals that are harmful when burned.  

Veg-tanned leather is the type used for leather tooling.  It’s lighter in color also which helps your design have plenty of contrast.

Here’s a design I did a few years ago on some veg-tan leather. This was done with my old wood burner that doesn’t get super hot, so the lines aren’t very dark.

Pyrography on hardened dried gourds is a really interesting art.  People have made all sorts of vases and containers with intricate designs burned into them.

Cork is popular in the craft world at the moment, and it works great for wood burning.  One fun project I keep seeing is wood burned cork coasters.  

These would be a great project for someone starting out with pyrography and looking for a quick and useful project or gift idea.

Basic Strokes & Techniques

There are a few different basic strokes you can use to achieve different effects in your wood burning project.

Most of these strokes are similar to what you would use in a line drawing with a pencil or pen.

  • Crosshatch
  • Pointillism
  • Gradients
  • Hair and Fur
  • Stripes and Lines
  • Squiggles

Here are a few examples of lines, crosshatch, squiggles, and pointillism done with a fine pointed tip.

Below I’ll show you some other ideas for strokes and gradients you can do in your wood burning adventures.

The Different Tips and What They Do

Most wood burners come with different tips to achieve different strokes and effects. 

Here are the ones that came with the kit I have.

All the tips that came with my wood burning kit | Marching North

Let me show you what a few of them do.

Examples of wood burning designs done with the pointed tip | Marching North

I did these designs with the pointed tip shown. It’s the tip I use the most for outlining and fine details.

There are a few other pointed tips that are in the kit, but this one’s my favorite.

Another example of a different wood burning tip for beginners | Marching North

This angled flat circle tip is great for gradients and shading. I love the effect shown there on the bottom.

You can also make a scale effect like I did there in the center.

Line tip for wood burning | Marching North

It’s kind of hard to see in the picture, but this tip is similar to a flat head screwdriver.

You can shade with this tip, and it also is great for making short even lines. I played around with a basketweave pattern that I think turned out pretty neat.

If you angle it one way you get those little triangles like at the top, and if you angle it another way you get half circles.

Another flat tip for wood burning | Marching North

This tip is a larger but shorter version of the last one.

It makes similar strokes, but I like this one better because it’s easier to control.

wood burning tips | Marching North

This tip is sort of a flat point shape.

It’s not my favorite personally, I have a hard time doing anything useful with this tip.

heart stamp wood burning tip

This heart-shaped tip is good if you want to burn hearts on to your project I guess.

I don’t really like the shape of the heart so I don’t use it much.

apple core stamp tip wood burning

This tip looks a little bit like an apple core.

It makes an interesting pattern and works well for filling in backgrounds.

triangle wood burning stamp

This rounded bottom triangle shape also works well as a background filler or to make interesting borders.

How to Create a Wood Burned Design

Ok, we’re getting to the fun part! Here’s the step by step guide to creating a beautiful piece of art with wood burning.

Gather Your Supplies

To get started with your wood burning project, you will need:

Make sure you don’t have kids running around or pets that could knock your wood burner off the table and get seriously burned.

Also, make sure your work surface is heatproof or covered by something that is.

Prep Your Surface

Before you transfer your design to your piece of wood, make sure the surface is smooth. 

If it’s not, use some 320 grit sandpaper to smooth it out.

Make sure you wear your respirator while you sand, wood dust particles are really bad for your lungs.

Create or Download your Design

You can either draw your own design freehand on a piece of paper or look for a free or paid design online.

If you’re going to be selling the item your creating, make sure the design is OK for commercial use.

It should say in the description if it’s for personal use only or if you can sell items you make with the pattern. 

Trace or Draw Your Design on the Surface

There are two ways to transfer your pattern to the wood (or at least two that I know of.)

You can either use graphite paper or scribble all over the back of your pattern with a pencil. 

To use graphite paper, you simply put it behind the pattern and tape both layers to the piece of wood, then go over your design with a pencil or pen.  The graphite will copy the design onto the wood.

If you don’t have graphite paper, you can get a similar effect by scribbling with a pencil on the back of the pattern. 

Make sure you cover the back of all the lines in your pattern with pencil scribbles.

Then tape the pattern to the wood and trace over the design with a pen or pencil.

The graphite from the pencil scribbling will transfer to the wood surface. 

Always make sure the transfer was successful before you totally remove the pattern, that way if you need to fix a part you don’t have to try to line it back up perfectly.

Choose Your Tip(s)

Decide what part of your wood burning design you want to do first. 

Will you be doing mostly line art or will there be shading techniques as well? 

Have the tips you’ll need handy and really think about your plan for your piece. 

Once you burn the wood there’s no going back! You can’t erase so put some thought into your design before you start.

Heat Your Wood Burner

Depending on your wood burner this may be as simple as plugging it in, or you may need to set the temperature with a dial. 

Do whatever you need to do for your particular wood burner to preheat it.

MAKE SURE you have it on a safe surface and that it’s propped up on a stand.

Outline The Design

While you don’t have to start by outlining the design, it’s a good way to start. 

Go slow and steady and take breaks if your hand starts to get shaky.  

Use Preferred Techniques to Fill Everything In

Add in any shading you want to do or techniques such as cross-hatching, gradients, or pointillism.  

Erase Any Remaining Graphite Lines

Once you’re satisfied with your wood burned design, use a clean white artist’s eraser to remove any remaining graphite lines.

Treat with Oil or Protective Finish

The type of finish you put on your finished wood burning project depends on what you plan to do with it. 

If it’s a cutting board or a wooden spoon, you would want to use mineral oil to seal it because it’s a food-safe finish. 

If it’s a piece of wall art, you can use a lacquer, mod podge, polyacrylic, or an oil finish like mineral oil or tung oil

Coasters do best with a polyacrylic finish to protect against water.

For pieces that are going to be outdoors, it’s better to go with a stronger urethane finish to protect against UV rays and moisture.  

Done!

Now you have a beautiful wood burned piece of art!  Great job!  

Wood burning is an addicting hobby.  Once you finish a piece or two, it’s really easy to get hooked.  

In Summary

I hope this tutorial will help get you started in the exciting world of wood burning.  With some practice, you’ll be able to create beautiful works of art with this fun craft.

Have you tried wood burning yet?  What’s your favorite wood to work with?  Let us know in the comments!

Wood Burning An Ultimate Guide for Beginners | Marching North

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Wood Burning Ultimate Guide for Beginners

7 thoughts on “Wood Burning Ultimate Guide for Beginners”

  1. Sudheer Deodhar

    Thank you,
    Very helpful,
    I do this as a hobby to pass my time at sea especially on long sea voyages( I am a merchant ship captain).
    Learnt pyrography in school eons ago,
    Developed a liking for it about three years back and thoroughly enjoy it!!

  2. Thank you so much. This is the best tutorial I’ve seen so far. You explained everything so we’ll and it was easy to understand.

    1. It depends on which wood burning tool you’re using. You don’t want it so hot that you have smoke, but you also don’t want it too low. My advice is to practice on a piece of scrap wood and try out the different settings until you find one you like. Slow and steady is best, and you can always make it darker but once it’s too dark you can’t really take it back. Start on the lower side and test until you find a good setting. Hope that helps!

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