In this blog I’m going to discuss the different Colwood pen tips I use in pyrography. There are a lot of different pen tips available, but I thought it would be useful to know which pen tips I use and why. This blog will get updated with any additional pen tips I find useful in pyrography.
Last updated: Sept 16, 2019
First let’s talk about FT & RT pen tips and the 2 options that Colwood offers on their pen tips. The two options are polishing and bending.
FIXED TIP OR REPLACEABLE TIPS
Colwood offers two types of pen tips: RT & FT. RT stands for replacement tip, and FT means fixed tip. Fixed tips are permanently secured to a pen handle. Other than cost and the mechanics of switching out tips they work exactly the same.
FIXED TIP PENS (FT)
Grab a new pen that has the needed tip and plug it into the power socket.
The new pen is ready to be used and this photo shows a pen with a LSS tip on it.
REPLACEABLE TIP PENS (RT)
With RT tips you pull the old tip and replace it with the new tip you want. In this photo I’m using a ‘tip puller’ to grab the pen tip and pull it off of the pen body.
In this photo I’ve removed the pen tip and it’s still secure in the puller. I have a pen tip holder Todd made me (photo at the very top), so I just drop the tip into the holder and grab the pen tip I need.
Then I just firmly push it into the pen body and I’m ready to go.
Obviously the FT tips are more expensive as you are getting the entire pen with each one versus just the tip. If there is a technical advantage of one style over the other I couldn’t tell you. I personally use the RT style of tips.
You can purchase pen tips directly from Colwood (http://www.woodburning.com) or from some of the numerous sellers on the internet.
POLISHED vs UNPOLISHED
Another option Colwood offers is to have the pen tip polished. The picture shows the J Rounded Shader unpolished (left) and polished (right). Both work wonderfully, but the polished glides over the surface a little better and is easier to remove carbon build-up from. Colwood charges several dollars (3$ USD as of May 2018) to polish the tips. I have a couple of polished pen tips that I use for burning on leather. I love how the polished pen tips glide over the leather without sticking and gumming up like the unpolished tips do.
Is the premium for polished tips worth it? If you are burning on leather, then absolutely. Otherwise it becomes more of a personal choice and whether or not your budget can afford the premium.
STRAIGHT OR BENT TIPS
In the photo the left pen tip is how the J shader normally ships, and I marked the pen tip with a yellow arrow. The red arrow points to how I modified the pen tip. I really don’t recommend this as it voids the warranty and there’s a good chance of breaking the tip off.
Should you have your pen tips bent? If it is a shader, then I would say yes. Note that the bending option doesn’t apply to all pen tips. For example, I doubt anyone would want a bent micro writer pen tip.
This photo is a screen shot from Colwood’s website showing some of the RT pen tips available along with a new handle. This screen just shows you what type of tips are available, but you have to click on one to get more information.
After clicking on a pen tip, this screen that appears. For this particular tip, there aren’t any options. If there were options then there would be drop down boxes that appear to the left of the pen tip photo. Below the red ‘buy it now’ button is an area that tells you about the pen tip. This one states that it comes pre-bent and polished.
The one thing I really wish their website included are some example burn strokes. I did send them an email about this, so I’m sure that they will jump right on it. 🙂 Ok, they might give it some small consideration.
In a lot of my tutorials I will mention the heat setting I use for different pen tips. Please keep in mind that this can vary a LOT depending on your machine, the wood you are burning on, and how old your pen tip is.
Over time your pen tip can wear down. Especially if you use harsh or coarse sandpaper to clean it with. Cleaning burrs will also wear down the tip pretty quickly as I have discovered, so I don’t use the cleaning burrs very often. When the pen tip wear down, it get thinner. The thinner it is the less heat is needed.
I tried to get a photo of my old slightly worn down tip compared to a new pristine tip, but the photos all turned out blurry. One day I’ll manage the photo and add it to this spot.
A rep from Colwood told me that one of the worst things you can do with your pen tip is to allow it to get so hot it turns red. This can reduce the life of your pen tip and possibly damage the pen tip.
WRITERS PEN TIPS
Writer pen tips do exactly what they say; they write. So almost anything you can do with a black ink pen you can do with a writer. Of the different styles of writers available, I tend to use the micro writers. Some of the pen tips, like the two on the left, are for calligraphy styled writing. Calligraphy is not something I do, so don’t ask me questions about it.
I use writers to burn in trace lines, draw fine lines, add tiny dots, and work in really small spots that shaders would have a hard time getting to; like tight corners. Also I use writers to draw lizard scales, cracks, squiggly lines, and an assortment of embossed designs. Embossed designs are designs sunk down, or carved, into the wood and then the surface around the design is burned over revealing the design.
Here I’m drawing in small scales on the face of the Collared Lizard artwork. While you might not be able to tell it from this picture, the lizard actually turned out very nicely.
Here’s a picture of the final product.
Here I’m using the writer to define the area between the raffia streamers on the Thunderbird Dancer Mask.
I use writers to draw lightning or crack type of lines. Some of the small background dots were done with the writer.
Doing embossed lines is something I like to do. This process requires you use a low heat setting and exert a lot of pressure on the pen tip to create deep, but not dark lines in the wood. Once the design is embossed in, any residual graphite is removed, and the wood is burned over to reveal the embossed.
Here’s a photo of the embossed design I did on the Valentine Plaque.
Embossing works well with an assortment of burn designs like dots. The photo below shows my starting to burn over an embossed dotted pattern I did on Mandala II.
You can create entire artwork using nothing but a writer to draw lines to give texture, color, and depth as I did in the Gingerbread House.
Super fine or small detail work is a perfect application for a writing tip. This pictures shows me burning a thin line around the white light reflection spot on a water droplet. I couldn’t do this with a shader.
And there are times I use a different writer, like the C writer. Because of the style, it writes a little smoother and produces a thicker line, so I used it when creating the background floral spray on the Valentine Plaque.
Ok, so I’ve talked about what I do with writers, but what do they look like?
This is Colwood’s current style of micro writer. It has all of the functionality of the old style, but is a much sturdier! This is really important when doing embossed designs! The micro writers can burn thin lines and get into really small places, but the small tip also tends to snag on grain lines.
On many of my blogs and videos you may see the old style of micro write Colwood made. Both styles work exactly the same, but I have bent the pen tip on this style when doing some embossing.
This is Colwood’s regular writing pen tip called a C Writer. I use it to write the name of the artwork on the back of the wood, some texture techniques when working mandalas, and to shade or color in small areas. It writes smoother than the micro writer since it has a larger tip. Another feature of the C Writer is its design allows you to get a wider range of line widths with it.
This photo shows a comparison of the types of burn marks created with the writer pen tips. As you can see, my attempt at doing a calligraphy styled letter B is terrible. Calligraphy is an artform unto itself and one that I never learned.
SHADER PEN TIPS
Shaders are used to create the majority of the artwork I do, and while there are many different styles out there, any one of them will work. Shaders can draw lines of various thicknesses, uniformly color an object, produce gradient shading, and create an assortment of textures. Textures like rocks, hair, fabric, clouds, water, tree bark, fur, etc. Watch any YouTube video on pyrography art and more than likely the artist will be using some type of shader.
I have a particular shader I’m fond of using, the Tight Round J, but as I said before all shaders work basically the same. The difference is the size and personal preference. I tend to pick my shader based on the areas I’m working in. The larger the area the larger the shader as this will cut down on the amount of time it takes to burn in the area.
I discussed how I use the shader of my preference in a fair amount of detail in another blog and I don’t want to repeat all of that here. Instead please read “using the shader.”
Please note that I have purposely angled the ends of most of my shaders to make them easier for me to use. When you purchase the tips, most of they will come straight. For a fee you can buy them with a 45 degree angle. I should point out that Colwood bends the two metal posts instead of the seam where the pen tip starts.
Its small size that allows me to get into most areas. It is razor thin, so I can use the edge to burn fine thin lines. And, when needed I can switch to the side of the shader for bigger stuff.
In this photo it shows two lines being burned. The first is with the tip of the shader and the second is with the side, or long edge, of the shader.
S (3/16). This is my next size up shader. This shade has a slight curve to the end and I’ve found I like that for doing pull-away strokes. I ended up using this pen tip a lot when I did the Crashing Ocean Waves tutorial.
In this photo it shows two lines being burned. The first is with the tip of the shader and the second is with the side, or long edge, of the shader.
D (3/16). This particular shader is my favorite after the tight round. I love the three different sized edges I can burn with. I tend to use this shader when working on larger background stuff. It produces a larger burn pattern, but it still small enough that it can easily do fine work if needed. For me this means if I’m using this tip on the background and see something on the subject that needs touching up, I can use it.
With this pen tip I show three lines being burned. The three lines are burned with the different sides of the pen tip. Using the bottom, or long, edge of the tip can produce a very wide line.
E Spade (1/4). This is my largest shader. It’s also one of my most dangerous shaders because of the large center opening. When I was first learning pyrography, I made a common mistake of having the heat setting too high and the spade tip sank right down into the wood leaving a “horse shoe” print embedded in the wood. Ooops! I use this tip almost exclusively when burning in backgrounds. It’s large size makes it difficult for me to use when working on smaller items like eyes, ears, etc., but it’s great for darkening up large sections of background quickly. I also love it for doing background texture like tree bark.
Another nice thing about the E spade shader is that is has a nice sharp point, so it can get into tight corners. The first line was drawn using just the tip of the pen. The second I decreased the angle, so more of the pen tip was in contact with the wood. The third line is using the side of the shader.
LSS Square. While this is called a square tip, it does have rounded corners. I’ve used this on occasion, but not very often. I’m super impressed with how wide of a line or band it can burn, but I can’t consistently hold the pen correctly to obtain that wide burn.
As this photo shows, the LSS tip can burn a very wide band of color. Like I said before, I have a difficult time holding this pen tip correctly to get good contact with the wood to achieve that.
Keep in mind that the lines I burned in this example can vary a lot depending on how the pen is held.
When I decided to take pyrography seriously I watched a number of YouTube videos and saw quite a few artists using spoon shaders. I decided I better get one so I could burn great art just like they did. Unfortunately, I hated this pen tip. I can’t tell where I’m burning, and I find it’s hard to use the edges of it to burn thin lines. I just felt like I had no control with it.
As the spoon pen tip shows, what works for some doesn’t work for everyone. If there is a shader you like, then use it! Get super comfortable with it and your artwork will be better for it.
As for me, I already mentioned that I use the Tight Round J for the majority of my work. Except when I work on background stuff and then I often switch to larger pen tips. Generally I use either the D or the E tips. I like the D because it’s a bit larger and has 3 burning edges to choose from. The E tip is great because of its sharp point and large burn surface.
Knife tips, as I call them, remind me of X-acto knives and, like X-acto knives, they create thin lines. There is an assortment of knife tip styles out there, but they all do the same basic thing; burn really thin lines. Once I discovered this I quit using my shader to burn them. Ok, I only use my shader if it’s a small line and I’m feeling too lazy to switch out the pen tip.
The knife tips are fantastic for straight, cross-hatch, and semi-curved lines. The tip tends to burn deeply into the wood, so use light pressure. I have problems burning really curved lines with this tip and I’m sure that’s a two part problem. 1) The tip tends to burrow into the wood, so that makes it harder to curve the line. 2) I don’t practice much burning curved lines with this pen tip.
I used the knife tip to draw in the grill on the Old Truck artwork I did.
The shingle roof line and the wood boards on the Cedar CreeK Grist Mill was done using a knife tip.
Here I’m using the knife tip to draw short thin lines in a segment on Mandala III.
Drawing some curved lines.
MR Rounded heel. This is pretty much the only knife tip that I use even though I have a couple others. For me it is the easiest to control and feels the most comfortable. The rounded or curved blade edge doesn’t drag in the wood.
And the LM Long M.
I’ve tried using both, but because of the way I hold the pen the back edge tends to drag on the wood. I think the problem is I’m not angling the pen tip enough. Instead of leading with the upper point (marked with white arrow) and allowing it to do the cutting, I’m trying to use pen edges. As a result I’m actually end up leading with the lower side (marked with yellow arrow) and it’s not sharp. This makes it drag along the wood surface instead of cleaning cutting into it.
You can write, stipple (dot), and even shade with the ball tips. They produce a very smooth burn stroke and are great for producing consistently sized dots.
You can make the dots smaller or larger than the tip depending on how long you hold the tip onto the wood. Quick touch and lift = smaller dot versus a Touch and Hold = larger dot.
Ball tips (think I was using the large one) are great for producing consistently sized dots. Especially if you want larger dots.
I use ball tips to stipple texture on animal noses, like Venison, as it creates that slightly bumpy nose animals often have.
Needle Point Tip. This pen tip has a super tiny end. I very seldom use it except when I’m working really, really small. The tip tends to sink quickly in the wood, so you must use really light pressure when burning. In the numerous projects I have done, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I used this tip.
I have a couple of pen tips that have chisel tips on them. Not sure if that’s a proper term to describe them, so let me explain. Both the top and bottom edge of the pen are angled at the end, so it comes to a point. I’m sure that in certain applications this feature is wonderful, but it doesn’t work for me. When I angle the pen to use the ‘razor’ edge at the end, I get the lower chiseled edge of the triangular point instead. I hate that, so I don’t use this style of pen tip.
Quill Tip is one of the tips I have with a chiseled edge.
Square Tip is the other one I have. I sanded the end of the square tip to remove the chisel, so now it has a blunt end. That didn’t help any. I could sand the tip to thin out the end, but I haven’t taken the time as I have other tips what work much better for me.
That’s it for this one. Colwood makes a lot more tips than what I own, including an adaptor for using Razertip brand pen tips. Some of Colwood’s pen tips are rather unique like the scales and circles pen tips. I think a number of Colwood tips are used in bird decoy and other carving applications, but they have quite a few that work wonderfully in pyrography.
One thing I have been trying to do is use some of my other pen tips. Mostly in an effort to discover if they make certain tasks easier to do. For example, I once burned the majority of my dark thin lines with the shader and then I discovered a knife tip. The knife tip burned the same thickness and was so much easier to burn straight lines.
As I said in the beginning, as I learn to use more pen tips I’ll update this blog to include them. Before then, do you have a favorite pen tip? If so leave a comment and tell me what your favorite pen tip is and why.
Until the next blog,
Original posted: Feb 9, 2018
Updated: Sept 16, 2019
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