Wood Types and Prepping Wood for Pyrography wood burning

In this blog I’m going to discuss the pros and cons of different woods that I’ve burned on and how to prep the wood for optimal wood burning.  

WOOD THICKNESS – I recommend using wood that is at least 3/8 inch or thicker.   Wood that is 1/4 inch or thinner has a tendency to curl and bow as the wood ages.  The smaller the piece of wood, the more noticeable this will be with the exception of plywood.  Due to plywood’s making process, plywood can remain very thin and seldom curl or bow, but it is also a lot more susceptible to water damage.

Foreword – because each person is different, a variety that isn’t bothersome to me might be to you.  Plus there many woods not fit for burning on because they are too dark or they are an irritant or even toxic (like yew and milky mangrove).    There are many places online to check and see if a wood is a known toxin.   Almost all wood species have several varieties or subspecies and some varieties might be worse than others.   Take cedar for example, all species are listed as an irritant if burned, but western red cedar can cause asthma in some individuals.

Again as mentioned in my last blog – DO NOT BURN ON PLASTIC OR SYNTHETIC MATERIALS.  DO NOT BURN ON FINISHED OR RECLAIMED WOOD.   Wood burning releases fumes from the heat of the pen coming in contact with the item you are burning on.   Depending on what that item is or what it has on it (old finish) those fumes can be toxic.  This includes old fence boards, wood exposed to the weather, etc., as they could be harboring molds and bacteria.   Stains, sealants and other items used to finish wood should be treated like plastic and synthetic materials – they were NEVER meant to be vaporized and the fumes can be very toxic.   Your health isn’t worth the risk associated with burning on such items.

Below are pros/cons for the assorted woods I’ve burned on.   I’ve provided pictures where I can, but keep in mind each type of wood can vary a lot in color and grain pattern depending on where it was grown, the growing conditions, how it was cut, etc. so there will be variances.

 

WOODS I’VE BURNED ON

ALDER

Is hardwood that feels nice to burn on, but is a darker wood.  I personally wouldn’t use it for projects.   Tried this one July 2017.

 

 

Pro – –

  • No resin/sap (that I’ve encountered)
  • Nice to burn on and was easier than poplar even though it’s harder than poplar
  • Cheaper than poplar
  • Can find in home improvement stores

Cons – –

  • Limited widths – I only found 4” wide (10.16 cm)
  • Fairly dark in color especially compared to basswood and maple
  • Very grainy

 

BALSA WOOD

Is a super soft and I would only use for practice.   I know they use it for making model planes as it is a lightweight wood.   I’ve only found it sold a blocks for carving or really thin strips for model plane making.

 

 

Pro – –

  • Very light in color
  • Minimal grain
  • No resin/sap (that I’ve encountered)
  • Extremely soft wood, so very easy to create divots, embossed lines, grooves
  • Very Inexpensive
  • Can be found in stored that have supplies for creating models (planes, buildings, etc) and some wood stores.
  • Exotic Wood store and wood carving supply store will carry blocks of balsa wood for carvers (would need to saw it into planks)
  • I use this to practice / test ideas on as it’s inexpensive

Cons – –

  • Not as readily found
  • Very limited sizes of prepped boards – usually 2-5” wide strips  (5.1 – 12.7 cm)
  • Prepped boards are usually very thin in thickness
  • Tends to curl since it’s not very thick
  • Super easy to gouge when fixing mistakes
  • Would only use as practice pieces
  • When burning dark the tip tends to sink into the wood

 

 

BASSWOOD (my favorite)

Is very nice wood for decorative art and inexpensive.  It is my favorite to burn on. 

I just read an article (Feb 2018) that stated Basswood is called European Lime or Common Linden in Europe.  Note that the wood is not related to the lime fruit tree. 

 

Pro – –

  • Very light to light in color, sometimes with a tint of yellow
  • Minimal grain
  • No resin/sap (that I’ve encountered)
  • Softer wood, so fairly easy to create divots, embossed lines, grooves
  • Inexpensive
  • Can be found in craft store and wood stores

Cons – –

  • Softer wood, so not a great choice for non-decorative items that get a lot of handling
  • Can be easy to gouge when fixing mistakes

 

BEECH

(2/2017) Recently tried this wood and didn’t care for it.  Bought a board to try as it is pale in color, but has lots of little dark dashes in the grain that ooze sap when heated.

 

 

Pro – –

  • Light in color
  • Hardwood that’s not quite as expensive as maple.

Cons – –

  • Harder to burn on that than maple.  I had to turn the heat up a lot higher than normal on my unit
  • Has little dark dashes that oozed resin or sap when I burned over them.
  • Not readily found.  I’ve only found it in a specialty wood store.

 

BIRCH

I’ve only found birch in plywood form.  There are 2 types of birch plywood that I know of, Baltic and Russian, and I burned on both.  The Russian has a smoother surface to it, but also tends to have more grain lines.  Also the Russian plywood is a bit darker than the Baltic, and it costs more.  Lastly, I can’t readily find Russian birch plywood in my area.

 

One thing I dislike about plywood is the pitted or slivered surface texture, and it doesn’t completely go away no matter how well you sand it.   This photo shows burning on a piece of baltic birch plywood.  The left side was sanded using 280 grit sandpaper and the right side was left alone.   The burning was smoother and easier to make uniform on the sanded side (left), but it still shows the slivered texture of the wood.

Update (1 16 2017) I’ve burned several projects and both types of birch plywood and my biggest complaint is that the plywood tends to splinter.  By that I mean small slivers of wood tend to chip off depending on what type of texture you’re creating.  Plywood surface is never as smooth as the solid wood surfaces (bass, maple, etc), so I keep my use of plywood to mandala’s and tutorials.  I won’t use it for fine art.  The mandala styled art is an exception because that style has a lot going on, so the lack of a super smooth surface isn’t as noticeable.

Update (Sept 14, 2017) – I’ve been watching how my artwork ages on plywoods and I’m not liking what I see.  The wood continued to darken especially the grain lines and I’m losing contrast on the art.  I’ve provided some examples below the pro/con section.  

Pro – –

  • Very light – light in color
  • Minimal grain
  • No resin/sap (that I’ve encountered)
  • Inexpensive
  • Can purchase large sheets of plywood, so can create larger works of art without gluing up boards
  • Can fix mistakes fairly easily

Cons – –

  • Not as easily found (at least where I’m at)
  • Tends to splinter – small slivers of wood flake off
  • Usually sold as plywood
  • Craft stores tend carry in the form of decorative items like bird houses, boxes, etc
  • Wood stores are only place to find sheets
  • Hardwood, so not as easy to create divots, embossed lines, grooves
  • Use caution not to burn deep and hit the glue layer – vaporized glue is not likely to be good for you.
  • Tends to be pitted or slivered even with lots of sanding, so not the smoothest texture I would prefer.  I use it for the tutorial pieces.
  • The artwork does NOT age well.  Plywood fades a LOT more than any other type of wood I’ve burned on.
  • Avoid using an eraser on it as little tidbits of the eraser gets ground down into the surface.  
Feather aging on plywood
Vista House aging on plywood

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sept, 2019.  I did a burning on plywood that my husband, Todd, did some fractal burning on.  During the process of fractal burning the wood is coated in a solution of water and baking soda.  I noticed a huge difference while burning over the wood.  I had to set the heat on my burner to a much lower temperature than I normally use.   Todd sealed the artwork with lacquer and it turned out terrible.  Areas of the wood seem bleached, so I don’t know if the lacquer and baking soda had a reaction at some level.  Plus, the artwork faded immediately!   For some reason I remembered this artwork today, so wanted to include it.

 

CHERRY  

Not my favorite because it can be very dark with streaks of pale wood.  Or put another way, it’s not uniform in color.  Plus it can really darken up when a finish is applied.  

 

 

Pro – –

  • Hardwood, great for practical items
  • No resin/sap (that I’ve encountered)
  • Can be found in home improvement and wood stores

Cons – –

  • Medium to very dark in color
  • Doesn’t tend to be uniform in color
  • Medium to expensive in cost, but generally cheaper than maple
  • Can really darken up depending on the finish and the artwork becomes less pronounced.  

 

HICKORY

I hated burning on it.  To me it was almost identical to Oak and I really despise Oak.  It makes great looking furniture, but features that make it great to look at are the same features that interfere with pyrography; grain lines and tonal variations.

 

Pro – –

  • Hardwood, great for practical items
  • No resin/sap (that I’ve encountered)
  • Can be found in home improvement and wood stores

Cons – –

  • Medium to very dark in color
  • Lots of grain and color variations
  • Medium cost – more than basswood, less than maple
  • I hated burning on it. The grain is very pronounced and hard to burn over.  Makes beautiful furniture, but artwork gets lost in the wood grain.  

 

MAPLE  (nice to burn on)

It’s wonderful hardwood, but tends to be expensive.  It is another wood that I do like to burn on.

 

 

Pro – –

  • Light – medium in color
  • Can have minimal grain
  • No resin/sap (that I’ve encountered)
  • Hardwood that can be used in practical items like furniture, utensil holders, etc
  • Generally found at all lumber stores and wood stores
  • Gouge resistant, so easier to fix mistakes on

Cons – –

  • Expensive (generally double the cost of basswood)
  • Usually have to purchase at a wood store or lumber yard
  • Really wide lumber is expensive! To make it more affordable you can to glue boards together.
  • Due to hardness, have to turn up heat on pen.

 

OAK

I absolutely hated burning on oak, and I avoid it like the plague.  It has too many grain lines that are very difficult to work with or around.  It had a tendency to leave a streaky or banded appearance to the artwork.

 

Pro – –

  • Hardwood, great for practical items
  • No resin/sap (that I’ve encountered)
  • Can be found in home improvement and wood stores

Cons – –

  • Medium to very dark in color
  • Lots of grain and some color variations
  • Medium cost – more than basswood, less than maple
  • I hated burning on it. The grain is very predominating and made a cat I burned look like it was part zebra.  (read blog “why I hate wood burning on oak” for a more detailed explanation of why I hate oak)

This is the photo of the cat I burned on Oak.   I spent a lot of time and effort trying to hide or blend the grain lines so the cat wouldn’t look like it had pale bands running through it.  I was not successful!

 

 

 

 

 

OSB – Oriented Strand Board

I have NOT burned on this board and neither should you!  This board is made out of pieces of wood glued together.  When you burn over it you will be burning over areas of glue.  Depending on the glue used it can release toxic fumes when heated.

 

 

 

 

 

PACIFIC ALBUS

Is a poplar hybrid, but seemed very similar to balsa wood to me.  Granted the piece I was burning on was thin and not very wide. 

Pro – –

  • Very light in color
  • Minimal grain
  • No resin/sap (that I’ve encountered)
  • Softer wood, so very easy to create divots, embossed lines, grooves
  • Very, very Inexpensive (cheapest of all the woods I’ve burned on)
  • Great for practicing, or in my case, demonstrating a technique

Cons – –

  • Not readily found. I’ve only found it in one exotic wood store.
  • Boards tend to be thinner, so prone to curving
  • Super easy to gouge when fixing mistakes
  • Would only use for practicing
  • When burning dark the tip tends to sink into the wood

 

PARTICLE BOARD

I have NOT burned on this board and neither should you!  This board is made out of ground up wood that is mixed with a binder and formed into sheets.  When you burn over it you will be burning over god only knows what type of chemicals. 

Your health is NOT worth the risk!

 

 

 

 

PINE

very resinous wood, I don’t care for it

Pro – –

  • Light tan in color
  • Softer wood, so easy to create divots, embossed lines, grooves
  • Inexpensive
  • Fairly common. Lots of craft store items use pine

Cons – –

  • Has a high resin/sap content
  • When burning dark/high heat the resin (sap) bubbles up creating sticky spots
  • I avoid burning on pine.  It’s my third most hated wood I’ve burned on (Oak and Hickory being the first and second)

 

PLYWOOD

Tends to be cheap compared to solid wood board.  Plus it is available in a large variety of widths.  The type of wood used to create plywood varies, so you’d have to check with the local store to see what they carry.   

IMPORTANT – make sure you do not burn deeply on plywood.  The top layer is nothing more than a very thin piece of wood.  Underneath that layer of wood is glue.  Some glues can release very toxic fumes when heated.

Keep in mind that pyrography created on plywood fades a LOT more on plywood than it does on solid wood boards.  I do want to point out that the pyrography artwork is not actually fading.  Instead the board is aging.  As the board ages it gets darker in color.  The darker it gets the more contrast you lose, so your light burns don’t show up as well. 

As for the aging process the grade of plywood has an impact on this.  Generally speaking the cheap plywood you can purchase in large sheets at a home improvement store like Home Depot is a very low grade.   Wood panels or cradle boards are a much higher grade of plywood and don’t age like the cheap stuff.  On the flip side, the wood panels cost a LOT more.  Craft store birch plywood tends to be better than the home improvement plywood, but much lower in quality than the wood panels.   Please keep in mind that there are always exceptions to this as some manufacturer produce a better product that others.

What I dislike about plywood is the texture.  When darkly burned over it looks like long slivers of wood are missing from the surface.  ALL plywood that I’ve burned on has this issue.  Despite my dislike of the texture I do burn on it.  I think plywood is great for practicing.    

For more information about Birch plywood or Wood Panels look at those sections.

 

 

 

 

Pro – –

  • Can get in a variety of size
  • Tends to be cheaper than solid wood

Cons – –

  • Has a slivered texture
  • Ages faster than solid boards
  • Can easily sand and/or burn through the top layer of wood

 

POPLAR (nice to burn on)

is very similar to maple, but cheaper.  It is one of my prefered woods to burn on.  

 

 

 

Pro – –

  • Can be light in color
  • Can have minimal grain
  • Hardwood that can be used in practical items like furniture, utensil holders, etc
  • Generally found at all lumber stores and wood stores
  • Gouge resistant, so easier to fix mistakes on
  • Much cheaper than Maple

Cons – –

  • Might need to glue boards together to get nice sized planks to burn on
  • Due to hardness, have to turn up heat on pen.
  • Can have color streaks and the color streaks tend to have sap/resin spots. I did a sign and the board had this green streak through it and the green streak oozed sap

 

REDWOOD

I was given a small log or branch to burn a simple message on, but I wouldn’t recommend burning fine art on it.    It was a very oily wood and I didn’t enjoy burning on it.

 

 

Pro – –

  • Was easy to burn on
  • Can use a lower heat setting than normal to get dark results
  • The grain lines didn’t char like others woods do

Cons – –

  • Not readily available
  • The red areas on the wood oozes a LOT of sap and actually seemed oily
  • The wood is highly figured with numerous red streaks and patches

 

WALNUT

Tends to be highly figured, has lots of grain lines, and gets VERY dark when finished.  I would not recommend burning on it as you will have a tough time seeing the artwork.

 

 

Pro – –

  • Was fairly easy to burn on

Cons – –

  • Not readily available
  • Expensive.  It costs more than maple does
  • Even paler areas on the wood get really dark when finished
  • Lose a lot of the fine or subtle detail when the wood is finished

Below is a composite photo of a deer I did to test out walnut.   The top photo is untreated wood, the middle photo shows the wood after it was misted with water, and the bottom photo shows the wood one coat of Tru Oil was applied.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WOOD PANEL

Is a type of plywood that has been sanded and ready for burning.  They intended to be an alternative to canvases, but since it’s made out of wood I tried one.  

The brand I used was made out of birch plywood, and it had a much smoother surface than any plywood produced I’ve used so far.   It’s still plywood, so not as smooth of a surface as a solid board like bass, maple, etc.    I have since tried several brands of wood panels/cradle boards and wrote a blog about them.   Cradleboard

Pro – –

  • light in color
  • minimal grain
  • ready for use
  • found in craft and art supply stores (look in the canvas section)
  • Comes in an assortment of sizes from a small 4″ x 4″ to a large 48″ x 72″   (10.2 x 10.2 – 121.9 x 182.9 cm)
  • Didn’t splinter like the birch plywood does
  • Ages well.   Doesn’t brown up like the birch plywood does.

Cons – –

  • Expensive.  Small board is $3-5 and the largest $200-350.
  • The brand I tried was made out of plywood, so not as smooth of a surface as a solid board like bass or maple.
  • Has a grainy look when I try to burn a uniform color (see picture below).
close-up of grainy texture of the wood panel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will add to this list if I encounter more woods to burn on.

 

MAJOR WARNING!!!!!

NEVER EVER  burn on finished wood, reclaimed wood (like old fencing or barn siding) or anything made out of plastic or synthetic material.    Yes, I know I already said this, but I’m always amazed at some of the things people will decide to burn on so I’m saying it again.     You cannot wood burn without creating some vaporization and your health is worth more than your hobby.

 

Prepping the wood for optimal burning

All wood needs to be sanded before you burn on it including all items bought at the craft store.  I have a 3 step process:

  • Sand the board down to at least 220 grit.  You may have to start with a rougher paper (60, 80, 100, or 150 grit or all of the then in progression) to get the board in shape for the final sanding.
  • After it’s sanded to 220 grit, wet out the wood.   To wet out, take a very wet sponge and wipe it over the sanded surface of the wood.   The goal is to get the wood wet, but not dripping, it should feel damp to the fingers.   Place the wood someplace to dry for a few hours.
  • After it’s dry, sand again with 220 grit sandpaper.  It should feel very smooth at this point.

 

The board is now ready for use.  The purpose for the wet sanding is to bring up the grain, or nap, so that during the second sanding it gets removed resulting in an ultra-smooth board to burn on.  Smoother surfaces enable the tips to glide across them easier and allow for finer detail in your artwork.  Also, if you plan to seal the work, it will help prevent the nap from raising when you do and thereby avoid it getting ‘fuzzy’ in the process of applying the sealant.

This board is a piece of plywood.  The leftmost section is unsanded.   The middle section has been sanded using 240 grit sandpaper.   The right section was sanded with 240 grit sandpaper, then misted with water, allowed to dry and sanded again with 240 grit sandpaper.   

You can see the difference each step makes on the wood surface.

 

 

 

I think this covers the main items for wood types and prepping the wood.   Next blog I will discuss several different techniques of transferring a pattern to wood.

 

PROJECTS ON DIFFERENT WOODS

Basswood.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

scrolling heart wood burning pyrography bmjBirch Plywood.  Store bought craft box with plywood top and pine sides.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maple.   Trout Lake scene I burned a cribbage board my husband made

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oak.   I hate oak.  It’s so heavily grained (or figured) that it made the cat look like it had vertical stripes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

hand wood burn pyrography bmjPacific Albus.   Practice piece on a board 4 x 6.  The boards were 4 inches wide by several feet and I bought one to see what it was like to burn on.  The boards were very thin and this piece has curled a lot, so I wouldn’t use for anything other than practicing on.

 

 

 

 

 

Poplar  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Russian Birch Plywood – (with a black walnut frame)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STUDIO WOOD PANEL – this wooden panel measured 6×6″ (15.2 x 15.2 cm).  It was the smoothest plywood I’ve ever burned on, but it wasn’t as smooth as a regular board of solid wood like basswood or maple.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brenda

Originally posted:  Dec 19, 2015

Last updated: July 4, 2018

28 thoughts on “Wood Types and Prepping Wood for Pyrography wood burning

  1. Olá Brenda! Seus trabalhos são fabulosos, perfeitos. No meu caso, existe um grande problema, pois as madeira que você cita, não encontramos em meu pais com facilidade, ou seja, para consegui-las teremos que pagar bem mais caro, pois trata-se de exportação, etc. Opá… sem saída. Ou deixo a arte do lado, ou vou mudar para teu país. rsrsrsr (risos). Aqui no Brasil, as madeiras boas para essa arte com superfície dura ( mais ou menos) são muito escuras com machas que atrapalharia no resultado final. Bom… vou seguir minha saga em busca de um achado milagroso.
    Marcus bastos

    1. Oi Marcus,
      encontrar uma madeira semelhante pode ser difícil. Muitas pessoas, inclusive eu, queimam em compensado. Geralmente é mais barato do que placas sólidas, mas, novamente, pode não estar disponível em sua área. Eu sei que painéis de compensado de bétula estão disponíveis na Amazon, mas dada a sua localização, os custos de envio podem ser terríveis.

      Você já pensou em gravar no papel? É leve e geralmente mais fácil de obter. Eu recomendo papel aquarela 100% algodão prensado a quente com 300 g / m² de gramatura. Com o papel, você não precisa lidar com linhas de fibra e é fácil de emoldurar.

      Minha marca favorita é minha Winsor & Newton. aqui está um link para ele na Amazon para que você saiba do que estou falando
      https://www.amazon.com/Winsor-Newton-Professional-Watercolor-Pressed/dp/B01MZBVKXW/ref=sr_1_4?dchild=1&keywords=winsor+%26+newton+140lb+hot+press&qid=1597687450&sr=8-4

      Brenda

  2. Hi Brenda,
    As with everything, this is really useful information! I followed these preparation steps. I have used basswood boards that you can buy in craft shops – they are about 3/4″ thick. One of the boards warped a bit and also got a small crack at the edge. That’s OK – I can deal with it, but do have two questions:

    (1) can you provide hints on how to avoid this in the future – perhaps it was a bit too wet, or I should’ve let it dry lying flat rather than standing up the way I did;
    (2) do you think there is a risk of further cracks if I try to nail a saw tooth hanger to the back? Should I perhaps use some other hanger that can be applied differently?

    Thanks,
    Marlies

    1. Hi Marlies,
      wow, I’ve never had a board that thick warp. I asked Todd and he said that the board should never be super wet; especially if you live in a really dry climate. Phoenix Arizona is a good example of that. Instead just a light misting of water is all that is needed. Never soak the board. Really dry climates cause the ends of the board to dry super fast compared to the center.
      You can dry the board laying down or standing, it shouldn’t matter.

      If the crack is small, place scotch tape on the front and back side of the board so that the tape covers the crack. Make sure the tape extends to the top or the edge of the board where the crack starts. Prop the board up on its side so the crack is on top and fill the crack with super glue. The tape will keep the glue from running out. Let it dry and then remove the tape. You might need to lightly sand to smooth out the area, but the crack shouldn’t get worse.

      Avoid adding a hanger on or real close to the crack. Todd said that once a board starts to crack is wants to continue.

      You can always use a picture frame wire hanger like they type used in fine art and for large pieces. Here’s a link that shows a picture of what I’m talking about:
      https://www.unitedmfrs.com/Prepack_Picture_Frame_Hanging_Kit_1_Bag_p/926h.htm
      I’m not promoting this particular brand or seller, it was just the first one I found that clearly showed what I’m talking about. I use this style on larger pieces where I wouldn’t trust a sawtooth. I also use it cradleboards as sawtooth hangers don’t work on those – at least not in a way where the board stay flush on the wall. If you google “picture frame hanging kit” or something similar you should get a number of results to choose from.

      Hope that helps.
      brenda

      1. Thanks for your quick and helpful response, Brenda! I have just applied the scotch tape and poured in super glue, so sure hope that prevents the crack from extending.

        1. Hi Marlies,

          It worked for me, so hopefully will work for you too. Still very odd that the board would warp and crack to begin with. Makes me wonder if there was a flaw in the board.

    1. Hi. As I said in the blog, Basswood is my favorite. I altered the blog a bit to make this a lot easier to see. Basswood is also called linden, common linden, and common lime.

      Yes, plywood is a suitable surface to burn on as long as the top layer is solid wood. DO NOT burn on OSB boards – oriented strand board. These look like the top layer is made out of pieces of wood haphazardly glued together. Also do not burn on particle or MDF boards. The wood is ground up, mixed with binders, and formed into a board.

  3. Hi Brenda, as bought chopping boards are often treated – is it best to steer clear from burning them or is it possible to sand them down and use them maybe with a face mask and eye wear? Without help, it’s not easy for me to shape boards and sometimes you can pick them up cheap but they are already treated 🙁 Thanks, Beki

    1. Hi Beki,
      I had to ask Todd about this as wood finishes are his realm. His condensed answer is a very cautious yes, but you need to sand a LOT. You should remove 1/8 – 1/4 inch (0.3 – 0.6 cm) of wood to ensure you have removed all of the sealant. The harder the wood the less the sealant can penetrate, so not as much wood needs to be removed. Mostly likely you wouldn’t know what type of wood is being used, so remove extra to play it safe.
      That said, we both recommend that if you do burn on one to make sure the area is extremely well ventilated. Put the board on a easel or prop it up against something like a large paint can so that your face is not hovering over the board while you burn. I highly recommend using an easel and Amazon sells a number of different types for under $20. Look for tabletop easels. Also use a fan to suck any smoke or fumes away from you. While pyrography is a lot of fun, it’s not worth risking your health!

      With your last question I already mentioned this, but I’ll say it again. If this is going to be a functional chopping board, then make sure to seal it with a food grade safe sealant like food grade mineral oil. Keep in mind that this will darken the wood, so don’t burn a really complex design with lots of gradient shading as you’ll lose most of the light tan colors after the board is sealed.
      There are other types of supposedly food safe sealants (like shellac), but Todd doesn’t have any experience with them, so doesn’t feel comfortable recommending any of them. Whereas the food grade mineral oil can be bought in drug stores (at least in the USA) to treat constipation, so if it is safe enough to consume it’s safe enough to be in contact with food. You can even add a few drops of essential oils to give it an aroma. We use lemon or orange, but keep in mind that the aroma only lasts for a couple weeks at the most.

      If the board will be decorational (wall hanging) then I’d use polycrylic for the sealant. I would not trust the sealant to be food safe despite the manufacturers claim, but that is just me. Now if you trust the manufacturer, the key to getting a food safe finish is to allow the finish to FULLY CURE which takes a minimum of 30 days. Polycrylic doesn’t make the wood change colors near as much as mineral oil, so with that finish you could do gradient shading.

      Hope this helps.
      Brenda

    1. Hi Carly,
      I have not burned on either. My only thought on the spoon, and the bamboo for that matter, is to make sure it doesn’t have a finish on it. I’ve seen a number of artistic works on wood spoons, so obviously it can be done.
      Have fun!

    2. Hi Mike,
      I am most likely using the J tight round shader. What makes my shader look so different from Colwood’s website is that I bent the tip to a 45 angle. Colwood now offers to bend pen tips and they bend them along the thick wire connection instead at of the thin metal end like I did. My method can break the tip off of the pen, so I don’t recommend it. I also want to point out that if you bend your own pen tip, it will void the warranty.
      Another shader that I think is very versatile is the D shader. It has different sides or angles along the edges that can be used to create a great range of burn widths. Again it is another shader that I’ve been the tip on to a 45, so that it is more comfortable to use.
      Hope that helps.
      Brenda

    1. Hi Margarer,
      I’m not 100% sure what underlayment board is. If it is regular plywood, then yes. Plywood is sheets of thin wood glued together. Just don’t burn really deep as you don’t want to get into the glue layer.
      If you are referring to MDF then no. MDF is made by taking wood fibers and mixing them with glues and resins. This mixture is poured out and formed into sheets. The heat from your burner could cause the glue and resins to release vapors that could be very harmful to your health.
      Art is not work risking your health over!
      Hope that helps.
      Brenda

  4. Do you always use store bought wood, or do you go out and cut your own too? And if so, how do you dry it without splitting it or using sealant?
    I cut wood for a living, so I take home slabs for wood working. I try to dry them slowly to reduce the chance of splitting, but it’s very disheartening to see a piece that you really wanted to work on split on you. I’m afraid to use sealants other crafters recommend due to the possible vapors they’d be letting off.

    1. Hello Agnieszka,
      We always buy store bought wood, so we don’t have any experience with that. I did a quick internet search and I found a short youtube video that said you can seal the ends with melted wax. Here’s a link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpD2XZUJ0Ts
      I would think that if your wood is too large to dip like the video shows, you can always pour melted wax onto the exposed wood surface.

      Thank you for your question and I hope that helps.
      Brenda

  5. My friend wants me to burn a cutting board for him and I’m leaning maple. Do you think that’s a good idea? What kind of oil should I finish it with? Thank you!

    1. Hi Geneva,

      Maple is a wonderful choice for cutting boards as maple is a hardwood that can handle the use cutting boards get. Todd always uses food grade mineral oil on the cutting boards he makes. When you oil the board for the first time, it will take several coats of oil before its ready. The board is ready when it quits absorbing the coats of oil.

      Hope that helps and have fun with your project!
      Brenda

  6. hi Brenda, I have what I think is an old Russian birch carved and burned picture . it is very intricate and quite lovely. Can you give me any help in finding out value, etc. I know nothing about this. there is writing and a signature on the back in what I believe is in Russian. I can send you pictures of it as well as signature if you are interested. Many thanks for any assistance in this matter, Linda Stell

    1. Hi Linda,
      I would love to see it. As for it’s value, my first inclination is to try an internet search on the artist name. You might try googling Russian pyrography artists and see if you can find something on the internet with his signature. Another idea is too look for places that will do art appraisals. Maybe a local art gallery could provide information and/or direct you to a place that could.

      As I said, I’d love to see it. Please send me a picture to: PyrographyMe@gmail.com
      Brenda

  7. Hi Brenda … I love your videos and your blog … I love how honest you are in your descriptions … its very helpful to see one as talented as you are and to know what to do and NOT do …. thank you and I will be continuing to follow you … Nancy

    1. Hi Nancy,
      thank you so much. I really appreciate your comment and I’m glad the site & channel are helpful.

      We all have to start somewhere. My first attempts at pyrography were not; at least I don’t think so. As I’ve continued to practice and push myself I’m learning more and more what I can do in the medium. The best part is that I’m having a lot of fun, encouraging others to try the artform, and meeting some wonderful people. Can’t ask for more than that! Ok, I could ask to win the lottery, but there’s no point in pushing my luck. 🙂
      Brenda

  8. Thank you Brenda for all of this helpful information. My husband is new to woodburning and has burned on a slab of Birch that we purchased at a craft store. Would you seal over the little edge of bark that shows or leave that as it is?

    1. Hi Peggy,
      Welcome to the wonderful world of pyrography! I hope you husband enjoys the artform.

      As for your question, the answer is yes. Any exposed wood surface will dry out and with the bark that means it will fall off. There isn’t a guarantee that the bark won’t fall off in spots over time, but sealing it will help as it acts a bit like a glue. Hope this helps.
      Brenda

  9. Hi. I, personally, am not a fan of balsa wood because it is extremely soft. I can carve or gouge it with my fingernail. I prefer Basswood, followed by maple and then poplar. Basswood is my favorite for wall art as it is the least expensive of the three and tends to be very pale in color.
    brenda

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