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Types of Wood – What Works with Pyrography

While the art of pyrography can be performed on various surfaces, different types of wood remain to be the most popular medium. This natural “canvas” comes with many characteristics that cannot be found in any other material. Grains of different shapes and sizes, various wood sap consistencies, and the plethora of hues can all pose different challenges for the artist. But when these challenges are overcome, the result is a unique and lasting piece of art.

It is therefore important that artists have at least a little understanding of the characteristics of wood and how to make the most of it be it your wire-nib pyrography pen or solid-point pyrography pen. This also includes knowing whether it is safe to work on certain pieces of wood or not.

Here we will cover the basics in relation to pyrography and these include:

  • Hardwood
  • Softwood
  • Plywood
  • Treated wood
  • Untreated wood
  • Wood tones

 

Hardwood

Hardwood comes from flowering, seed-producing trees that are from the angiosperm family. They are often from the deciduous species, which typically display annual growth rings.  Oak, maple, walnut, and hickory are just a few examples of the various types of hardwood.  Hardwood is generally difficult to burn images on and is not typically the wood of choice used for this medium. There are certain types of hardwood that are actually softer than some softwood.  Poplar is an example of a type of hardwood that works well for pyrography.

 

Walnut

 

Oak

 

Maple

Softwood

Softwood comes from the gymnosperm family and belongs to the seed-producing category as well. This is the preferred type of wood to use with pyrography. Basswood, birch, and pine are examples of some softwood that are excellent for wood-burning.

 

Bat is burned on basswood

Logo is burned on pine

 
Plywood

Plywood consists of layers of wood veneers that are glued together to create a flat sheet.  Plywood’s best features are its resistance to warpage,  shrinkage, and water. Generally, it comes with both surfaces sanded. Since the Douglas fir is most commonly used throughout the US and Canada, this is another great wood source to burn your images on.

 

Turtle burned on a piece of plywood 
Treated wood

Before you start your burning you must first identify whether the wood you chose is treated or untreated.  Treated wood consists of wood that has been painted, varnished, stained, and pressure treated. You also want to avoid any type of fibreboard. It is extremely dangerous to burn on treated wood.  Inhaling the fumes that are produced by burning treated wood is toxic and harmful to your health. If at all possible, DO NOT burn on any treated wood.

 

This Coffee sign had to be created with pen and markers because the wood is treated.  Notice the wood is painted which was done prior to burning making this treated wood dangerous to burn on.

 

Untreated wood

Untreated wood is wood closest to its natural state.  You can find several pieces of untreated wood and your local craft and hardware store.  Many craft stores have pre-cut wood pieces available for purchase to fit your needs.  Lumber yards are also wonderful places to go to find freshly cut, seasoned, and reasonably priced wood pieces.

 

Wood color tones

The white soft layer of wood is called sapwood. Sapwood is formed between the heartwood and bark. Heartwood is the innermost part of the tree trunk. Heartwood color varies depending on the species.  This is why we have a wide array of wood tones. Exposing cut, dry wood to light, specifically UV light, will darken the wood. Air, heat, and water exposure can also impact the color of the wood as it ages. Most wood will darken with age while others may change to a rust hue.   Varnishes and oils can also impact the color of the wood.  Working with a lighter shade of wood may prolong the effects of aging, however, there isn’t much we can do to prevent this natural process from happening.

 

Additional information

Gourds, leather, paper, and bones are alternative materials that you can successfully burn images onto.  Burning plastic or rubber items will not only melt and cause burns but will create toxic fumes.  If you are not certain, don’t do it.  Err on the side of safety first and always do your research.

Dollar burned on paper

There is so much more to learn about wood but things like different shakes (a wood defect), rays, rings, and interlocking grains among others. These natural characteristics are very useful. Imagine whorls, swirls, and minute cracks inculcated into your wood-burning as accents or natural details of your burn subject. Your imagination is the only limit!

Andrea Pate
Pate’s Pyrography

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Back To School TRUArt Pyrography Tutorial for Kids and Parents

Materials:

  1. TRUArt pyrography pen
  2. 4 pcs Edgy Circle Die Cuts
  3. TRUArt Carbon Transfer Paper (optional)
  4. Pencil
  5. Colored Pencils
  6. Twine

This is a fun and quick project to make for any teacher.  Get your kids involved and let them help burn and/or create the designs that are used for this banner.

To start, draw or trace some items that are commonly associated with school (for tracing tips, check out my previous post Wood burning Tutorial).  Keep the drawings simple.   Make sure you only use one drawing per work piece.  Outline your image with your pyrography pen.

To make your image pop, I recommend burning the background.  You can make the background a solid dark burn or you can do some light shading (for shading tips, check out my tutorial Shading Technique).

 

Once your burn is complete, add some color to your wood.

 

String your wooden circles on some twine.  Once you pull one circle through, knot it at the top of the hole to keep the wooden piece from shifting.

 

Give this to your child’s teacher as a sweet “Back to School” gift.  If the banner is not for you, as another option, you could use these wooden circles as an ornament or they could even be used for decoration on a wreath. Practice with different designs and see what works best for you and your kids.

If you have any questions whatsoever, please leave them on the comments below and I’ll get to them as soon as possible.

See you next time!

Andrea Pate
Pate’s Pyrography

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Woodburning Tutorial For Kids on Father’s Day

A great way to bond the whole family is to work together on a single woodburning project. Yes, pyrography can be for the little ones too!

 

What you will need:

  1. TRUArt Pyrography Pen
  2. TRUArt Pyrography Carbon Paper
  3. Tape
  4. Wood
  5. Ball Point Pen
  6. Printout of Pattern/Image to be traced

IMPORTANT Child Safety Tips:
Never let a child use a pyrography pen unattended. An adult must always be present to supervise since pyrography pens get hot – VERY HOT. Be sure your child holds the pen by the rubber handle and never touch near the tip of the pen. If you or your child is not actively burning with your pen, keep it propped up on the stand that was provided with your TRUArt pyrography kit. It holds your hot pen securely and you don’t have to worry about it accidentally touching anything else. Always make sure your pen is turned OFF and unplugged when it is not in use. Allow some time for your pen to cool off completely before handling and storing it. Remember, these pens are HOT. This is not a toy and must be used with caution under adult supervision.

 

One thing I find exciting about pyrography is that anyone can do it! Children in general love to draw and enjoy creating something special for the ones they love so I wanted to find a project that would be fun and easy for any age to try. With the help of my three little artist volunteers, we scoured the internet for quotes or phrases that sounded like something they would want to tell their father. Once we had the phrases picked out, I typed up the words on a Word document. I let the young artists pick the font that they thought looked best for their artwork. Larger fonts work best as does thicker lettering. I then looked for some simple clip art to add to the document – nothing too difficult for our young artists to handle.

Once you have everything picked out the way you want, scale everything down to the size you need to fit the wood. Print your image out and then either you or your child can trace the image onto the wood. If you’re not sure on how to do this, check out my previous post Woodburning Tutorial. Once the image is traced, remove the carbon paper and tape. Start burning.

When burning, children tend to press down hard with the pen. This can cause hand cramping as well as burn splotches on the wood. If this happens, don’t worry. Remember, they are just children. Let them have fun enjoying the process and reassure them that it happens to everyone every now and then. If burn splotches do happen, this usually means the temperature is too high and needs to be adjusted. Be sure that an adult adjusts the temperature of the pen, never a child.

 

 

 

Sometimes, the grains in the wood may prevent a smooth burn for the young artist. The grains may cause some stray, crooked lines. It takes practice to learn the right pressure and heat to use while burning. Embrace the flaws. Remind the young artist to have patience. They are learning and it will get easier with time. Observe their excitement as they burn into the wood. After all, this is about having fun while learning a new art form. Occasionally, you may see some smoke come up when the pen touches the wood. This is normal. This usually happens if the pen is too hot or when it is pressed hard into the wood. Be sure that the child does not keep the pen pressed onto the wood for a length of time. With these pens, you are burning the wood so a hole can be burned through if you’re not careful.

As the adult, you may need to assist the child with holding the pen. It is thicker than regular pen and the child may be scared at first. That’s ok too. Safety is the main priority. Most children are nervous the first time they use a pyrography pen. Once they start burning, they usually become comfortable with the pen rather quickly and end up loving the process. Guide them, help them and supervise them. Allow them to have fun creating something unique and special.

When the burning is complete, you can give them a pen to write their name down or personalize a message.

Practice wood burning with your children often. You’ll be amazed at how quickly they adjust to using the pens. Be patient and know that mistakes will be made, it’s just part of the process. Always follow the safety tips and have fun.

Got any questions? Just leave them in the comments below and I’ll get to it as soon as possible.

Enjoy!
Andrea Pate
Pate’s Pyrography

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Shading Technique in Pyrography

Shading is a challenging but extremely rewarding technique to master.  Shading gives your drawing depth and illustrates the various levels of darkness.  When you use this technique, you can make a flat image instantly have the realism of a 3D image.

When practicing, use a sample piece of wood.  Practice your shading by using simple shapes or designs.  Another useful tip is to study black and white photographs to observe where the light and dark values land on the image.

To start, draw your image or design onto the wood.  With pyrography, there is no room for error.  All marks you make are permanent.  In general, you should start burning your image at a low temperature and gradually increase heat as needed.

When burning, always burn softly. To do this, do not press down hard with your pen or make solid harsh lines.  I like to burn on a low temperature and make small, tight, circular motions on the wood.  I continuously do this until I blend my markings into a light, even shade.  You should not be able to distinguish where the shading started or ended, you want it to all flow together. Do not outline your image completely with dark, solid lines.  The point of shading is to give your art realism and it also helps define an object.

 

 

   
   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When shading, you don’t want your dark value to be too similar of a shade to your lighter value. Sometimes, it helps to practice shading on paper with a pencil first.  This can help you get a feel of how to transition from dark to light values.

When burning, move your pen in a slow, even motion.  Add layers to your burning to give it depth. Increase your burner from a low temperature to a medium low temperature to the areas needing a darker value.

   
   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope these tips will help you master the art of shading.  Practice frequently and find what works for you.  Experiment with the different tips that are provided with your pyrography pen.  Different tips may help assist you with your technique. Most importantly, take your time. This is not an easy thing to do if you are not familiar with this skill.

If you have any questions regarding this technique or anything about pyrography shading, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll get back to it as soon as possible.

Good luck and see you next time.

Andrea Pate

Pate’s Pyrography

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“Welcome Home” Woodburning Tutorial

If you are looking for a way to create a very beautiful and professional looking wood burning, I have some tips to assist you along the way.

What you will need:

  1. TRUArt pyrography pen
  2. Wood of your choice
  3. Colored ballpoint pen
  4. Carbon tracing paper
  5. Tape
  6. Image/design to burn
  7. Magic eraser
  8. Sand paper
  9. Stain
  10. Varnish

 

Take the time to find the right image to burn.  Make sure the size of the image works well with the piece of wood you choose.  Be mindful of the type of wood you choose.  Try sticking to a softwood such as birch wood, basswood or even simple plywood.  Sand your wood surface down prior to use to ensure that the image you use will burn evenly.  Do not burn on treated or painted wood as fumes inhaled from these can be harmful to your health.

 

 

Get some tape, carbon paper, and a colored pen.  Find the center of your wood and place your image on the desired location.  Tape the top of your image onto the wood to prevent it from shifting.  Slide the carbon paper underneath your image (glossy side down). Take out your pen and trace the image.  I like using a pen because I feel like I don’t have to add as much pressure while I’m tracing the image.  It is useful to use a colored pen so that you can see the area that was already traced.

 

 

 

Once the image has been completely transferred, gently lift the bottom portion of the design to ensure that you have traced the whole image onto the wood. If so, remove the paper.  When burning the image, start at a lower heat and slowly increase the temperature as needed.  If you start too hot, you will get an uneven burn and possible burn marks outside your design.

Do not press down hard while burning. If you feel the need to push down hard on the wood with the pen in order to get the desired darkness/shade, your temperature is too low and needs to be increased.

Once you have completed the burning, you may have some marks left on your wood from where you traced your design.  These markings can’t simply be erased with a regular eraser. Get a magic eraser.  Add only a little water to the eraser and gently rub in a circular motion evenly across the wood.  If it’s not done evenly, you will have splotchy marks on your wood when you stain.  When that happens, simply sand the wood down on those areas. Rubbing too hard may cause smearing of the image.  Gently rub the eraser on the smudges until they’re gone and let the wood dry completely.

To give the wood a finished look, add a little stain on it.  Be sure not to add too much stain or too dark of a stain or the image will fade into the wood. To protect the image from darkening over time, varnish the wood with polyurethane or resin.

Now, all you have to do is enjoy all your hard work.  Keep practicing and be patient with yourself.  Hang in there, you’ll get it.

I wish you the best of luck and I will see next time with some more tips to help you along the way.

If you have any questions regarding the whole process, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll get to them as soon as possible.

 

Andrea

Pate’s Pyrography