Why I hate wood burning on oak wood burning

As promised, here’s my blog on why I HATE wood burning on oak.  Oak is a beautiful wood and gorgeous furniture can be made out of it, but it is horrible for fine art pyrography.  The reason is because of its grain pattern; beautifully striking for furniture and exceptionally challenging for fine art pyrography.

Close up of Oak wood

The above picture is a close up of the wood grain on oak.  The picture showcases the many features of oak including the pits and streaks that make it such visually beautiful furniture.  Since oak is a hardwood it also make very sturdy furniture, so it’s appeal is very understandable.

Oak Tongue Drum

My husband, Todd, was asked to make a tongue drum out of oak because of its appealing looks.  Todd did a beautiful job making the drum; it had dark walnut top with a light maple streak down the center and deeply grained oak sides.  

It is such a pretty drum and I would have to be honest and admit that it looked much better before I wood burned on it.



This project was my first experience with burning on oak and I absolutely hated it.    The wood has grain streaks that are soft compared to the surrounding wood.  Theses soft grain streaks, as I started calling them, would char very quickly when my pen tip touched them despite the fact that I wood burner set on a fairly low heat level.   Almost inevitably a ultra-dense streak of wood would lie next to the soft grain streaks.  The ultra-dense streak wouldn’t burn at all, so I’d have to go over the section repeatedly while trying not to touch the softer grain steak next to it.

Plus it was almost impossible to hide the grain bands/streaks in the project.  It seemed like no matter the angle, the bands showed and made my cat look more like a zebra. 





I kept re-working the light bands with the tip on a very low temperature and it didn’t matter.   I finally just gave up, chalked the project as a learning experience and vowed I’d never burn on oak again.  I just hope that the customer didn’t absolutely hate how it turned out like I did.






Despite my vow to never burn again on oak, I found myself recently being commissioned to burn on a mini oak barrel.  Several of my coworkers are getting into making homemade whiskey and one of them decided that he wanted his barrel customized with a little pyrography art.


Above is a close up image of the oak barrel before I started working on it.  This image perfectly showcases the many things that make me hate oak.  It can be pitted in the “soft” grainy sections and has extra hard streaks in it that look like stretch marks to me.  I’ve equated to burning on oak as using a marker on a piece of paper that has pieces of tissue paper and little strips of plastic in it.  You’re going along just fine coloring a line with the marker until you encounter the tissue paper at which point the ink starts spreading or bleeding like mad.  Instead of a nice line you end up with a blob.   If that isn’t fun enough, when the marker hits a plastic strip it refuses to color it leaving it bare looking.   The combination of those two features makes for a miserable burning experience on oak.  


Pyrography Pheasant
Pheasant (Oct 2015)

Where I got some extra fun, serious sarcasm here, with this commission was the small size I had to work with.   The barrel  is 5 1/2 inches in diameter, there was a large pit in the center of it, and a spigot hole at the bottom.   Don’t get me wrong, the barrel is cute because it’s so small, but the cute factor quickly faded while I was burning on it.







pyrography pheasant
pyrography ring-tail pheasant on mini oak barrel by Brenda

Two hours were all it took me to complete the pheasant, but that’s because I had such a small area to work on that I couldn’t put much detail into the art.  My co-worker loved it, but I still cringe when I look at the pictures because I know given better wood I could have produced a much nicer piece of pyrography art.






I’m actually very surprised at the positive comments I’ve gotten from assorted co-workers who saw the pheasant.  I don’t know if that means I’m excessively hypercritical of my own work, or that people have very low expectations, or a combination of them both.

In conclusion, while I can and have burned on oak, I don’t like it.  I also don’t recommend it unless it is something super simple that doesn’t require shading.  By super simple I mean basic things like lettering and/or silhouettes as there wouldn’t be a need to make them realistic or three-dimensional.  Now you know why I hate burning on oak!


Nov 23, 2015

5 thoughts on “Why I hate wood burning on oak wood burning

  1. Brenda…. I was so glad to run across your article. My heart sank though, when I saw your opinion on oak, because I’m not far behind you on it. I have an oak table my parents had in their restaurant. I just turned 61, and I remember this table when I was a kid. I know it’s far older than I am, but not sure it’s exact age. I have two leaves/extensions, that match it. One, I don’t ever remember it having any sort of varnish on it, the other, is gorgeous, and is what the table should look like. The table, is showing signs of wear in the finish, which is more of a eurathaine? from way back. it’s not a traditional varnish. I thought, fix up the leaves, and on one, wood burn, Give Thanks, on the other, after removing the finish, wood burn, With a Grateful Heart. I thought it would be nice/fitting for the dining room table. I spent one day, sanding, ( as I’d previously had to glue the unfinished piece because it had split) Another day burning the letters. this morning I put golden oak stain on it and it went so dark, that I could barely see my letters! Did I do something wrong? Scared to death to touch it again, and more so after reading your article. haha…oye what did I get myself into!!! Can you give me some pointers as to how to fix my dark table leaf? Thank you!!! Sandra I’d prefer my email used as … I’m kinda unsure about the other stuff. I have photos if you want to see them.

    1. Sandra, talked with hubby and he said that once you put a stain on the wood, there isn’t going back. You can try using a stain remover to lighten the wood, but I do not recommend wood burning on the surface! Stains and stain removers have a LOT of chemicals in them that are toxic and you don’t want those chemicals to vaporize and get airborne. Brenda

      1. Thank you. Though a bit late on it. I won’t do it again .i haven’t done anything else to it except glower at it. I will try sanding it before I try painting the lettering in. (If I cant get it to look nice after sanding) if you’re interested, I can send a photo of what I end up with. Thank you again for responding. Sandra

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