Creating Borders and Straight Edges in Pyrography Wood burning Tutorial

I like to put borders around the edges of my artwork as I think they give the artwork a polished look that is similar to framing the work. In this short blog I will provide some tips for creating borders on your artwork.  I will cover using a torch to burn in a border and discuss some things to avoid.  Afterwards, I will explain I technique I recently developed to get really nice straight edges on your borders, but the method can be used to create any straight edge you need.    

Now, let’s get started. 

If you’d like to watch a YouTube video version of this tutorial, then click on the image to the left.





USING A TORCH                  

Let’s start with the torched border method.  Using a torch is a really fast way to get a very dark border.

I’m using a very inexpensive Bernzomatic Butane Torch, but any small torch will work.  This mini torch works well enough, but my complaint about it is the fact that it holds very little fuel.  The torch was full before starting the border around the cougar and was empty by the end of it.   The border I burned was 8″ long x ½” wide (20.3 x 1.3 cm), so it wasn’t a large area.

You will also need a metal drywall mudding knife with a wooden or rubber handle.   The mudding knife can be any size.  If it is smaller than the artwork you would just work in sections. 

The metal can get very hot, so you want one with a non-metal handle.   






Using a mudding knife was an idea sent to me from Trish.  Trish has done quite a few pyrography projects included a number of mine, so you’ve probably seen her artwork at the bottom of several blogs like the Christmas Postcard series, Garden Thief, and more.  Trish, thank you so much for sharing this tip with me and now everyone else!


Draw a dark line on the surface.  This particular line in the photo was drawn in with a pencil and then burned over with a knife pen tip. 

I do want to point out the burn marks that are on the border.  Since I knew that I would be creating a dark border, I used the border to test the heat of the pen tip before burning on the artwork.


This is the pen tip I used.  It is Colwood’s MR round heel tip that I like to call a knife tip.   After I burned in the line I erased over the line to remove any graphite.  I burned in the line just to make it easier for me to see.






Place the metal edge of the mudding knife on the line.  Make sure that the metal is covering or protecting your artwork.





Use the torch to burn in the border.   Notice how I have the torch angled upward or away from the artwork as I’m burning the border.





When burning along the outer edges of the border you can remove the metal shield, but make sure you keep the torch flame angled AWAY from the artwork.




The yellow arrow is pointing to a small gap I missed with the torch.





To fix, replace the metal shield and burn over the gap.  Again angle the torch so the flame is up or angled away from the artwork.







Here’s how the border looked after I was done.  It’s not 100% perfect, but it’s pretty good and it was very quick and easy to do.





Wipe over the border with a piece of paper towel to remove excess carbon.







Look at how black the paper towel is after I wiped over the border.









Refold the paper towel and wipe over the border again and again.  This shows the carbon I removed on the fifth wipe. 






Here is how the paper towel looked after the seventh wipe.  At this point is not coming away solid black like the first wipe did or near as dark at the fifth, so I stopped wiping.  Another indicator that I can stop wiping is when I rubbed my finger across the border, it stays clean.


Things To Avoid

This photo shows the first border I started burning and as you can see I’ve got the flame angled inward towards the artwork.





Because I had the flame angled towards the artwork, the flame was able to char some of the wood under the metal shield.  Yellow arrows are pointing to a few of the spots.  


Important lesson learned; always angle the flame AWAY from the artwork!






 With the next border I had a pencil line drawn that wasn’t very dark, so I had a hard time seeing it.



Even then this border turned out better than the first one I did.  The big difference was having the flame angled AWAY from the artwork.





Here’s a comparison of the two borders.  Border 1 was burned in with the torch flame angled away from the artwork.  Border 2 had the torch flame angled toward the artwork, so the flame was able to burn some of the wood under the metal shield.  Thus border 2 isn’t as clean and straight looking as border 1 is.







Here’s how the completed border ended up looking.  Side 1 I angled the flame inward, so had to try and scrape way the charring.  Since I was burning on plywood, the scraping didn’t go as well as I would have liked because if you look close you can tell.   Side 2 is a lot better than side 1, but I didn’t have a very dark guideline to line up the metal with so I had a hard time seeing where the metal edge needed to me.  When I was trying to fix a gap I missed, I didn’t line up the metal well and over burned.  Sides 3 & 4 I had a dark line to line up the metal shield with and they turned out much better than 1 or 2.




My takeaway on using a torch was to angle the flame away from the artwork and to have a line that is easy to see for lining up the edge of the metal on.




Now I’d like to show you my recently discovered technique for creating the straight line I used on the Mexican Wolf.  The artwork isn’t done, but this blog is about the border which is done.   Please note that my method for creating a straight line can be used for any straight line you may need in your artwork.   First I’m going to demo on a piece of scrap wood as I did a better set up, so it’s easier to see what I’m doing.






Use a ruler to mark where you want the edge of the border.









Then use a straightedge to draw a line connecting the marks.









Here’s my line.  It’s really dark because I wanted to make sure it would show up on the camera.








Use a metal straight edge and line it up along the line.


The straight edge MUST have a metal edge on it so it won’t get damaged during the next step.   






For example this simple and very inexpensive wooden ruler that you can get during the ‘back to school’ supplies or in the office supplies section of a store would work.  

Use a sharp knife, I’m using an X-acto knife, and run it along the metal straight edge cutting a deep line into the wood.  I would venture a guess that I’m cutting 1/8 of an inch (0.3 cm) deep into the wood.


Make sure you are holding the metal straight edge VERY FIRMLY in place when cutting the line!





Then use a pen tip that has a thin edge and place it down into the cut line.  Pull the pen tip towards you, but don’t press down.  Keep a semi-light grip on the pen and let the pen tip just follow the channel.  If you exert a lot of pressure on the pen tip you can accidently veer out of the cut line.

I always burning in the line lightly the first time, then I reburn over it to darken it up.  This way reduces the chance of veering out of the cut line.




For the burning I’m using Colwood’s Round Heel MR pen tip.







Keep in mind that any sort of thin pen tip that will fit down into the cut line will work; including the razor edge of a shader.  Knife tips are just easier to use in this application, or at least I think so.








I had a camera set up to videotape the pen tip from above so you can see the angle I’m holding the pen tip at.  Notice how I’m slightly angled.  It would have been better to be holding it straight on, but I tend to hold my pens at a slight angle.





Here’s a composite photo of the taken from the cameras.   The white letters you see on the pen tip were written by me using a white gel pen.  I like to write the letters that Colwood uses to identify their pen tips because after a while I can’t remember what they are called.  This way I can easily identify them.




Now I reburn over the line to darken up, but this time really angle the pen tip to make a lopsided “V” groove.  Make sure to angle the pen tip AWAY from the artwork as we are working on the border side of the line. 

If you are making a straight line in your artwork versus creating a border, then keep your pen vertical or straight up and down as much as possible.  Or put another way, don’t angle the pen tip.




Here’s the alternate view of how I’m holding the pen tip. 






This is the composite photo view.  The reason I angle the pen tip so much on the reburn is that I’m creating an angled groove.   Since I’m holding the knife tip at a steep angle the side of it is also burning the wood.  That is why it is important to angle the pen tip AWAY from the artwork. 





Now use the shader of your choice and burn along the edge.   Since I created a lopsided “V” groove, the shader pen tip can easily follow along the edge of the burned line without crossing over it.   Again I’m using a light pressure and allowing the pen tip to follow the groove.




Here’s my real world application of this technique.  In fact, this project is where I came up with the idea for this technique.  As you can see, I have a faint pencil line on the wood.








Line up the metal straight edge on the line and hold it very firmly in place.









Then use a sharp knife to run along the straight edge cutting a deep line into the wood.








I choose to rub over the cut line with an eraser to remove any residual graphite.   I’m not 100% sure that this needs to be done, but it’s a habit to always remove any graphite.








Next using a pen tip with a thin edge and pull it gently towards you as it follows in the path of the cut line.  I am NOT pushing down on the pen tip or exerting a lot of pressure on the pen tip.







Finishing up the first pass of burning in the line.









Reburn along the line to darken and create a groove by angling the pen tip as you burn.  Remember to angle the pen tip away from the artwork.







Then use the shader of your choice and allow it to burn along the groove.






Extend the color or burn to the edge of the wood.






Continue this process until the border is done.   You might ask why I didn’t use a torch for this.   There are two reasons.

First reason; I’m not that good with a torch and I didn’t want to ruin my straight line.

Second Reason; the board I’m burning on has a beveled edge on it and I wasn’t sure if I wanted all of the beveling dark.  At the time of this blog, Todd thought the bevel should stay pale for contrast, but I’m leaning towards making it dark.   Time will tell what happens.

For those of you who want to know how the beveled edge was created.  That is an easy answer.  Todd used a router bit on the edge before I started the project.


That’s it for this blog.  As promised, it is short.  Well short compared to most of my tutorial style of blogs.  I hope the information I presented in this blog will be helpful in your own work.

Until the next blog,


Dec 13, 2019

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8 thoughts on “Creating Borders and Straight Edges in Pyrography Wood burning Tutorial

  1. I started using thin borders this year after noticing how it accents the focal scene, but I’ve never considered a bold bolder. It looks real nice. Thanks for the idea and method tips.

  2. This is awesome as I just tried a border just this week, this makes so much sense to me. Thanks for sharing this tip 🙂

    1. Hi Karen,
      I’m glad the blog made sense. Sometimes I write explanations that make sense in my brain, but they don’t always make sense to other people. So thank you for letting me know I didn’t do that.
      Have a great day and thanks for the comment!

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