Pyrography Techniques – Should You Clean Your Pyrography Art Before Sealing It?

I started my website back in 2014 and my YouTube channel in 2017.   The website didn’t bother me as I figured no one would find it, but the YouTube channel terrified me.   I hear about online trolls and I just knew they would be out in force leaving brutal comments.   My fear made me postpone uploading videos, but Todd kept pushing me to take the plunge.   I have been so pleasantly surprised with how wonderful most people have been.  One of the best parts about the experience are the tips and ideas that get shared.  I am almost always learning something new.  Occasionally someone will tell me something that I’m not sure about, so I try to test out the information as best as I can.   This blog will discuss a tip someone gave me about the need to clean your artwork.

The tip went something like this:  you must clean your pyrography artwork with denatured alcohol before you seal it with a brush on finish.   If you don’t then the loose carbon will get mixed into the finish and smeared over the artwork.  First off, I had never heard of denatured alcohol.  Secondly, I had never heard of the need to clean pyrography artwork.  This was information I had to test out!  Fortunately for me Todd had some denatured alcohol in his shop.   

Click on the image to the left to watch a YouTube video on this tutorial.






The first thing I did was create a test panel.   The top row would get cleaned with denatured alcohol, and the bottom row will be left alone.






I started out using a mini torch to burn the sections on the far right of the panel.   








The other sections were created with by wood burning using different heat settings.







This is the test panel held at an angle to show the texture difference between the different sections.   The sections created with a wood burner are very shiny.  The two rightmost sections created with the torch are dull.  What comes to mind is how charcoal looks when you apply a thick layer of it. 


After the test panel was created I rubbed a clean q-tip or cotton tip over each section to see if any carbon would get transferred to the q-tip.






Not one of the sections created with a wood burner produced enough carbon for the q-tip to pick up.






I was expecting to see some carbon on the q-tip from the torched section.






I wasn’t disappointed.  For a quick swipe of the q-tip over the area it picked up more carbon than even I was expected.


I must mention right now that denatured alcohol is toxic!









The safety data sheet for this stuff warns of all sorts of health hazards from the liquid and the fumes! 







The second page of the safety data sheet provides a list of symptoms from both skin contact and vapor inhalation.   








If you use this stuff, which I will tell you right now, I don’t recommend, take appropriate safety precautions!   I wore gloves, goggles, a dust mask, and had a window open to ensure good ventilation.



Now it was time to clean the top row with denatured alcohol.  For this part of the test I used a new q-tip and dipped it into the alcohol.







Then I rubbed the alcohol soaked q-tip over one section on the test panel.








Afterwards I checked the q-tip to see if any carbon was removed.  The first section turned the q-tip had a little carbon pick up as it turned the q-tip a tan color.







I repeated the process with a fresh or new q-tip, but the second section didn’t discolor the q-tip.







The third section had a fair amount of carbon get removed.  Not surprising in a way as I burned this one with the heat set pretty high on my burner.







So I rotated the q-tip to get a clean side and rubbed over the section again.







As I rubbed I noticed more and more carbon getting smeared around onto the unburned portion of the wood. 







When I checked the q-tip it was pretty dark.  The denatured alcohol soaked q-tip was removing a lot of carbon from the board.






With the torch section, the q-tip came away black after the first swipe.









I ended up using several fresh or new alcohol soaked q-tips on this section to try and get it clean.   







I think the only thing I really did was smear the carbon around.  You can see how discolored the unburned portion of the wood is around the last two sections on the top row.




To try and fix this, I used a clean alcohol soaked q-tip and just went around the unburned border.






It removed some of the carbon, but not all of it! 

Denatured alcohol is a liquid, so I think the wood absorbed some of the liquid.  During that process the carbon got locked into the wood grain.




Here’s a comparison of how the board looked before (top) and after (bottom) I tried to clean up the unburned area of the board.  It’s a little better, but not substantially.





I created a new torch burn patch to show how I clean it.







Using a clean paper towel I rub it over the burn patch.







A lot of carbon was removed from the board.







I fold the paper towel to get a clean edge.






Then I rub the paper towel over the burn patch again.






I repeat this process until the paper towel came away with very little carbon on it.






Afterwards I rub a standard pencil eraser over the area.  Mostly I’m trying to clean up the unburned wood that the carbon got smeared onto.






Here’s how the patch looked once I was done.







I decided to try erasing the smeared carbon from the unburned wood areas on the alcohol cleaned sections.






It removed some of the carbon, but not a lot of it.


I’m used an easy to finish by Minwax. 

I do not recommend this finish for pyrography! 

I only used this because when I went into Todd’s shop it was sitting on his work table.  As I can never find a thing in his shop, I decided this was good enough for what I was doing.






Once again I’m using a clean q-tip, dipping it into the can, and then applying the finish onto the board.  I start applying the finish at the top of each section and pull the q-tip down past the bottom edge of the burn area for that section.   I did this because I wanted to see if any carbon would get smeared onto the unburned areas of the wood.





Here’s how the alternately cleaned patch looked after finish was applied to it.  I don’t see any additional carbon on the unburned areas.  The slight yellowish or wet looking area below the burn patch is the Minwax finish.  Yes, I dragged that q-tip down quite a ways.







So I repeated the process with the test panel.  Again I used a fresh q-tip for each section, just like I did when I testing the denature alcohol. 

I went through a lot of q-tips while testing whether or not the board should be cleaned.






Now I’m applying finish to the last section.  Remember that this section was created by a torch, and it wasn’t cleaned.






Here’s how the test board looked once I was completely done.  





Here’s a closer look at the uncleaned row.  The only section that had carbon smearing was the one created with a torch.





I started this blog with a goal of discovering if you should clean pyrography artwork before sealing it.   The answer is no; UNLESS you used a torch.  Then you should clean that area, but I wouldn’t use denatured alcohol.  A paper towel worked better and you don’t have to deal with the toxicity of the alcohol.

That’s it for this blog.

Until the next time,


July 10, 2020

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10 thoughts on “Pyrography Techniques – Should You Clean Your Pyrography Art Before Sealing It?

  1. Hi Branda,
    Thank you so much for your very helpful tips and tutorials. As a new wood burner, I should say your tutorials helped me a lot, though still I need a long way to go. After covid-19 pandemic I started learning pyrography from my son. Later, by watching different tutorials including yours, I made a lot of progress. I held my first art show on December. people liked my work. Their feedback was great and made me so motivated. Having no job after pandemic, I thought maybe pyrography can be my job. So, What do you think? Also, I was wondering if you could possibly give me some hints about it. Thank you so much! Looking forward to hearing from you! Best, Leila

    1. Hi Leila,

      If you are enjoying the pyrography process and people are willing to buy your art, then go for it. For me this is a hobby, so I cannot tell you best practices or even offer advice. Instead I would direct you to Lachri Fine Art on youtube. She actually makes a living off of her art and has for a number of years. Her advice would be much more valuable than anything I could provide.

      This link will take you to her YouTube channel and hopefully to a filter pages that contains her videos on pricing art, etc.

  2. Hi Brenda, I accidentally wrote in Spanish and I guess you don’t speak it.
    The meaning of my message is to thank you for your work that has avoided the loss of a lot of time and risks for your readers.
    Thank you

    1. Hello Antolin,
      Don’t apologize for writing in Spanish. I can understand a little of the written language, but not enough to have a conversation. I use google translate to help me. My website doesn’t allow comments to become public without my approval. I do this to block the numerous spam comments that are ads for clothing, shoes, etc.
      Thank you for the wonderful comment. It really means a lot and I’m very happy to know that my blogs are helpful.

  3. Thank you – I love your very logical and structured test approach! I am new to pyrography and am learning so much from your videos and website. Thanks for sharing all your knowledge.

    I have heard some people recommending lightly sanding your work once you are done. It seems that could lose some of the detail. Is this something you suggest doing?

    1. Hi Bron,
      First off let me welcome you to the fantastic artform called Pyrography! I hope that you will enjoy it as much as I do.
      Also, thank you for the wonderful comment and compliment! I’m glad my videos and blogs are helpful.

      I do NOT recommend sanding over finished pyrography! I’m not sure what purpose it would have or why someone would even suggest it. I completely agree with you that sanding will remove some details of the burn.

      Thank you again for the comment.

  4. thank you once again very impressed with the way you do all of your tutorials And I am so glad I do not need the cleaning alcohol think it would have caused me an asthma attack

    1. Thank you for the comment. I’m glad my blog is helpful. Sometimes I’m surprised by some of the bad information that gets spread around the internet. Using a toxic chemical to clean something that doesn’t need cleaning ranks up there as bad information to me.

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