In this tutorial I’m going to show you some of the different ways that I use to fix mistakes and hide wood grain in my pyrography artwork. I will divide the tutorial into four categories; Lighten, Fixing/Filling, Seam Lines, and Grain Lines. The great thing is that all of my methods are easy to do and require just a few items.
Let’s get going on this subject by starting with the lighten category.
I think burning an area too dark is a pretty common problem. I would love to say that I’ve never done it myself, but that would be a lie. My first method of fixing begins with an ink eraser.
The eraser that I use is a standard Ink Eraser. Ink erasers are grey in color and very gritty feeling. They are also called Typewriter erasers, and more recently I’ve been seeing them called Sand Erasers. There isn’t a brand I would recommend as they all work the same.
Another form of the eraser is the combo erasers. Combo erasers have the grey gritty ink eraser on one side and a standard pencil eraser on the other. This type of eraser is also called a Sand & Rubber eraser.
Ignore the “fixing” yellow sticky note in the photo. I have been gathering videos clips over the past year to use as real examples for this tutorial. The yellow sticky note was my way to easily identify the clips I needed without having to watch the clip.
Use pretty firm pressure and rub the eraser over the area just like you would if erasing pencil lines. Depending on how dark the burn is, it will take several passes before the area is noticeably lighter.
Note that an ink eraser will only lighten the area a few shades. It will not completely remove a burn.
Slivering is what I call the tiny slivers of missing wood that plywood has. I have yet to encounter a piece of plywood that doesn’t have this issue. The only difference between the boards or brands is how bad the slivering is.
The only way I’ve found to fix this is to gently pry out each piece using the tip of an X-acto knife. Not only is it a very tedious process, but it can make the slivers even larger and deeper.
Now, I avoid use dark erasers on light areas of plywood to ensure the problem doesn’t happen.
Ink Eraser Pros:
- Can be found in most stores (office, craft, etc.)
- Easy to use
- Unlikely to damage the board; unless the board is very, very dry plywood
- Great for adding soft and/or subtle highlights
Ink Eraser Cons:
- Doesn’t keep a point, so not a great option where precision is needed
- Will only lighten the wood by a few shades
- Can fill the micro slivers in plywood with grey rubber making the board look dirty
SPOT SANDING PEN
What I want to lighten in this photo is the small leather strap. The area is not very big and it’s pretty dark. Plus, there is a lot of stuff around the strap that I don’t want to damage, so the ink eraser would not be a good choice.
Also, CLEAN THE WOOD SURFACE THOROUGHLY after using the fiberglass eraser. I use a two part system for this; first erase, and then wipe down.
Let the wood dry completely before doing anything more with it. In this photo I’m spraying a paper towel with water to get it slightly damp.
SPOT SANDER PROS:
- If the color isn’t too dark, it can remove all traces of the burn
- The small tip is great for working in small places
SPOT SANDER CONS:
- I’ve only found them online; Amazon and Ebay both carry them.
- Cost around $10 dollars
- Can easily damage the wood, especially soft woods like bass wood
- Made out of fiberglass, so carries a warning on the pen (avoid getting into your eyes!)
I use the flat end or non-sharp edge of the knife and gently scrape away at the burning. You can remove considerable amount of color if you work at this long enough. In fact, if you can remove all traces of the burn, but depending on where you are using it this might leave a depression or sunken area on the wood.
- Almost anything will work
- Large variety of sizes
- Can remove considerable amount of color
- Can cut yourself on the blade if using a knife
- some brands of Cabinet scrapers are expensive
It comes in an assortment of grits, so you can use a high grit to add highlights and remove a little color. Use a lower grit to remove a lot of color including removing all traces of the burn.
- Easy to use
- Large variety of grits
- Depending on the grit, you can remove a little or a lot of the burn
- Have to fold and contort them to work in small places
- Creates considerable amount of dust
FIXING / FILLING
EXAMPLE 1 – REMOVE BLOTCH
Use the flat of the X-acto knife to scrape on the blotch. Scrape very gently as X-acto knives are sharp and can remove a LOT of color very quickly. Plus they can easily gouge the wood if you’re not careful.
Notice how I held the X-acto knife in the last photo so that I didn’t use the pointed end of the blade. NEVER want to use the pointed end for fixing problems as it digs into the wood pitting and gouging it.
EXAMPLE 2 – REMOVE OVER BURN
Use the flat edge of the X-acto knife to gently scrape along the over burn. Once again, notice how I’m holding the knife. I never hold the knife upright like I do a pencil when I’m using the knife to fix problems.
EXAMPLE 3 – DARK TAN LINE
With the seashell there are two things that need fixing. First the yellow arrow is pointing to a thick dark tan line that is running horizontally on some of the scallop shell ridges. Secondly, the red arrow is pointing at a thin vertical line running down one of the ridges.
For problems like this, the goal is to remove just enough color so the line blends in. Do not scrape so much that you end up getting down to bare wood. Go slow, lightly scrape a couple of times, and then check the color level. Repeat as needed, until the line blends in.
EXAMPLE 4 – SUNKEN GRAIN LINE
Fixing sunken grain lines requires the use of a writer pen tip. I use a micro writer because the tips are so small. This photo shows Colwood’s micro writers, and you’ll often see me using one or the other in my blogs and videos.
The only difference between them is that the tip on the left, circled in green, is their newer version. It is a LOT studier than the old version, which has a red arrow pointing to it. I’ve actually bent the old version, so I’m really glad they came out with a studier pen tip.
Equip a small pen tip, like a micro writer, and burn along the sunken grain line. It will most likely take several times of burning the sunken grain line before it matches that color of the surrounding area. Keeping the heat set to low will ensure the grain line doesn’t turn black.
For reference, my unit goes up to 10 and I usually have it set around 1.5 for this.
Here’s the before and after picture. The sunken lines look better, but you can still see them. The real problem I had with this board is that there were so many sunken lines that I got tired of working on them. If I had spent more time I could have made the lines disappear.
Generally I don’t bother trying to burn in the sliver, but it can be done. You have to use the razor edge of a super thin shader, knife (rounded heel or skew), or a needle point pen tip to reach the bottom. Keep the pen tip on low heat and use it to get down into the crevasses of the sliver.
The reason I advise avoiding the seam lines is because they are hard to fix. Seam lines darken up even faster than grain lines do and I have a hard time fixing them. If I scrape on them it generally creates a shallow groove or gouge along the seam that that looks almost as bad as a dark line.
With this artwork, I had a seam line and I spent time considering how to place the design on the board. I had two options for the seam line; 1) it went across the forehead just above the eyebrows, or 2) it went across the chin area.
I deliberately chose the chin area because there was more stuff going on, so I thought that the seam line would be less noticeable.
Yes, if you look you can see the line, but it’s not the first thing you notice. Most likely this would not have been the case if the seam line was just above the eyebrows.
You can treat wood grain like seam lines and try to avoid burning over them, but I don’t find that this is very practical. If a board has a seam line it is generally limited to 1 or 2, but boards have lots of grain lines.
Be realistic with your board. This photo shows a water lily flower that I haven’t burned in yet. You can see all of the grain lines on the wood and some of them are pretty dark; red circles mark a few. Those lines cannot be removed. Instead you can keep them from getting darker or incorporate them into the artwork.
With this particular artwork, I was able to incorporate some of the grain lines as shadows on the flower petals. If they got too dark, which they often do, I had to scrape over them to lighten them back up.
There are times when you can remove the grain line. I shouldn’t say remove the grain line, but reduce the color of the line to match the surrounding area. In this photo it was too difficult to avoid burning on the grain line, so instead I burned right over it and you can see how dark the line got.
After the grain line darken has been reduced to the point it’s not visible, I switch to a micro writer pen tip and burn in the sunken grain line. Make sure to keep the heat set to LOW. As I said before, my unit goes up to 10 and I have it set around 1.5 when I do this.
Take you time and re-burn as necessary to build up the color on the sunken grain line so that it blends in with the surroundings.
But there is one very big difference between the mushroom and the shell. The shell has a lot of growth rings that have different tonal values intersecting the grain lines. The yellow arrows are pointing to a couple of the ridges where the color is paler. The red arrows are pointing to a few of the dark shadows under some of the ridges. When the sunken grain line is burned in, the color has to match the growth rings that intersect it.
The first step is to remove the charring on the grain line, so it isn’t as noticeable. Just like before, use the flat edge of an X-acto knife to gently scrape along the darkened grain line. When I do this, I’m using a VERY light pressure and scraping numerous times to slowly remove the excess color.
Then use a micro writer pen tip (or other pen tip that will reach the sunken grain line) and burn it in. Keep the heat on LOW and re-burn several times to build up the color. It often takes several re-burns to get the color where it is needed to blend in.
Be aware that this is not fast work, but it does produce good results.
That’s it for this blog. As always, my goal is to provide helpful information and I hope I’ve accomplished that in this blog. If there is a method or tool that you’ve found helpful for fixing mistakes, please leave a comment and share your knowledge with the rest of us.
Until the next blog,
April 19, 2019
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