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Pyrography 101 Tutorial Supplies and Tools for Woodburning -  Woodburning Supplies and Tools

Nedra Denison's Pyrography tutorial will help people choose the right pyrography/woodburning tools to help them get started

Read through this and be sure to check out all the other tutorials to help you get started.  Keep in mind when reading my list of supplies that this is what I use and recommend but everyone has their own favorites.

This page was last updated 4/25/12

Supplies

Pyrography tools (electronic detail burner or solid-point single temperature burner of your choice)

Single-edged razor or Razertip cleaner/scraper

strop & aluminum oxide

steel/brass brush for cleaning solid point burners

blending stick

red pen

HB pencil

paint brushes 1 or 1-1/2" wide

natural bristle tooth brush or nail brush

practice board

erasers (gum, rubber or electric)

graphite transfer paper

masking or painters tape

oil or clay-based pencils (optional)

pencil sharpener

acrylic or water color paint (optional)

turpenoid or turpentine

Polyacrylic brush-on satin finish

non-yellowing spray on finish (non gloss)

wood or other suitable burning material (be sure to read the tutorial Material Safety)

My list of wood burning supplies should not be considered the only ones you can use. Every artist and instructor has his/her own style and unique way of doing things. They also have their own preferences of supplies and tools. So keep in mind that my recommendations are not necessarily the only ones, they are what I use. As I remind people in my classes - experiment until you find what works best for you. For example, when I first started burning someone recommended Deft and everyone started using it, including me, but I like to research things and test them myself to see what works best for my needs. I found that I preferred a poly-acrylic brush on finish and that is what I now use. It's more work and takes more time but the results are worth it. So, armed with the information I give you here, please remember, it is only a guide. Experiment on your own to find what works best for you. 

Saral transfer paper is a great tool for transferring your patterns. Whatever the brand, it must be graphite. I have found that buying it by the roll is usually cheapest, and remember, you can reuse each piece. One word of caution, DO NOT use carbon paper, which is paraffin wax, and can be toxic when you burn over it. 

One of the most important things you need to do is clean the tips of your burning pen. If you are using a good detail woodburner, such as a Razertip, Nibsburner or other fine polished pen tip, you DO NOT want to use any harsh abrasive, such as sandpaper (any grit). The Razertip and Nibsburner brands of woodburner in particular, are highly polished nickel/chromium alloy and you will ruin the tips if you use sandpaper. They will last you a lifetime (yours) If you care for them properly. I hear people telling me that they use fine sand paper for their pen tips because someone recommended it and I cringe. If you want to keep spending money on pens, that's fine, but why throw money away? The best methods for cleaning your tips are a strop with aluminum oxide powder, the tip cleaner made by Razertip or just the edge of a straight razor. 

When I clean my Razertip or Nibsburner pens, I use the aluminum oxide powder and a composite strop (lasts longer than leather). When I clean the tips of my Wall Lenk solid-point wood burning pen, I use a steel brush which does a nice job of cleaning the carbon off the tips. The copper tips on these pens are heavy-duty and can withstand the abrasive brush. Since I use my Wall Lenk mostly for deep, dark shading and it burns at such a high temperature, it tends to build up carbon faster than the Razertip. All you need is a few swipes across your tip with the brush.

While I'm burning I erase lines from the original design and sketch a different design. I use my trusty (clean) paint brush to clean off the eraser shavings before I start burning again. When my burning is all finished, I use a toothbrush or nail brush (natural bristle) to clean off all the excess carbon before adding color (id I use it) or applying the final finish.   

When I trace a pattern/photo onto my wood, I use a red pen so I can see where I have already traced and don't have to pick up the photo to see if I missed anything and run the risk of not having the lines in the right place when I continue. I use a mechanical pencil for sketching directly on the wood. My two favorite erasers are my electric eraser and Generals Gum Eraser. They are great for removing pencil/graphite from the wood without smudging. My other favorite eraser is the magic eraser, or commonly referred to as a single-edge razor blade. It is something no pyrographer should be without! 

If you want to use color in your burnings, there are many options. You can choose from a variety of paints or pencils. The Derwent Studio pencils are clay-based and have beautiful soft colors that are easy to blend. Prismacolor oil-based pencils offer nice bright colors that can be blended with a blender stick. Coloring or leaving your burning natural is strictly a personal thing. I rarely add color because I prefer my wood burning to look like a wood burning, not a painting on wood. When I do add color its usually just for accent and I use pencils, both the studio and the oil pencils, depending on the look that I want to achieve. When using oil pencils I frequently use a rag and turpenoid to rub it into the wood creating a thin "wash" so I get just a hint of color.

The last item I am going to discuss here is the finish that I use on my burnings. When I first started burning I was told by many people that Deft was the finish of choice so that is what I used. It leaves a nice finish on the burning without altering the overall appearance, but provides no UV protection. At this point I want to stress that woodturnings can fade, especially if they are displayed in front of a window or under fluorescent lights. There is not much you can do to prevent it completely, but using a good finish with UV protection will help.

After much research, I settled on using a poly-acrylic blend that I brush on. It leaves a beautiful finish and will not yellow or discolor the wood.

Woods that are good for burning

If you are just starting out I recommend starting on woods that have the least amount of grain. Once you gain confidence then it's time to move up to woods with more personality. 

Some good woods to start with:

Basswood - it's best to get winter cut, which is almost white and clear. The sap isn't running and you will find that there is not as much grain as the summer cut.  You will find that the craft store basswood is summer cut and you can tell by the cream/yellow color. This is one of the best woods for beginners because there is not much grain but once you gain confidence you will probably want to experiment on other woods.

Italian poplar plywood - for years this was very popular because it doesn't have much grain.  The last several years it's been coming in with lots of spalting (black spots).  If you can find clear Italian poplar you will enjoy burning on it but it's very hard to find good quality.

Russian birch plywood - this is one of the best quality birch plywood's and one of my favorites.  Nice color and even grain. Very nice to burn on.

Good woods for when you have gained confidence:

Maple - this is a harder wood but turns out beautiful burnings. I like it because I get nice clean crisp detail.

I urge you to read my Pyrography 101 tutorial on safety.

Pyrography Tools

There are two basic types of pyrography tools: the solid-point, single-temperature pen, such as the Wall Lenk, and a detail burner with temperature control. There are many pyrography tools on the market today with temperature controls and I have used most of them. After several years of experimenting with them, I now use the Razertip and Nibsburner pyrography systems and use just a few tip styles for everything I do. Many burners come with single output, meaning you can only attach one cord and pen at a time; or dual output, meaning that you can attach two cords and pens at one time and merely flip a switch to go from one pen to the other. It is really a personal choice which is better since most pens just take a second to remove.

I also use and recommend a fixed-tip style pen rather than one with replaceable/interchangeable tips. It may be cheaper to buy one pen handle and several tips, but you get better heat distribution with fixed-tips and they do not overheat as much with higher temperatures over extended periods of time. I also use a heavy-duty cord rather than a standard cord so that I have a wider range of heat control without overheating the pens.

The pens I use and demonstrate in my books are Razertip, Nibsburner and the new Colwood polished tips. Similar pens are also made by Optima, but all Razertip and Nibsburner pens can be adapted for use with most brands of electronic burners. If you do not have suitable pens and want to use a Nibsburner, Razertip or other brand of pen on your burner, I recommended that you use a replacement cord rather than an adaptor plug with your existing cord.

When I first started burning I had no clue what pens I needed, so when I bought my burner, I asked the vendor and ended up buying a burner with twelve interchangeable tips. I used that burner for about a year and only worked with three tips! When I got my Razertip I found that I still used three pens to do everything I needed. The number of pens you will need depends on the designs as well as the material you will be burning. If you are going to do flat burning on wood and will not be doing any miniatures, you can probably do everything you need with three pens. 

I will briefly talk about pens, but will go into more detail in another section. About 95% of my work is done with one pen, the #5MP Razertip or Nibsburner 5BSM bent spear shader. This is one of the most versatile pens you will ever own. I have done most of my burnings using just this pen. You can do lines and you can vary the thickness, depending on the look you want to achieve. Because of it's design you can shade in tight spots that you might otherwise not be able to reach with another shader. This pen is also available in a small size that is ideal for fine detail work and miniatures such as tagua nuts and a brand new thinner size for getting into the tightest spot. The Razertip #14 round-heeled knife or Nibsburner KN14B are other favorites of mine and is available in several sizes depending on your needs. It is wonderful for curved lines, shading and I use this for grass, hair and fur depending on the look I want to achieve. The curved back/heel makes it more versatile than flat skews. The Razertip #9 or Nibsburner 4M writing pens are great for signatures and other free-form lines and it is also available in several sizes. The Razertip #99 ball stylus' are great for a multitude of things. I use the .08 mm for cursive writing and pointillism. Their use is limited only by your imagination. The Razertip #68 or the Nibsburner SQ Calligraphy pens are not just for what the name suggests. They are also great shading tools. Those are just a few of the many pens available and I'll get into them in more detail in another section.

Single temperature burners such as the Wall Lenk, Walnut Hollow Creative Burner and Hot Tool are other useful tools. These burners burn at a relatively high temperature and do take quite a bit longer to heat and cool but for the beginner on a budget offer the opportunity to get started to see if they really like doing pyrography. Another great tool is the miniature torch. I use the single-temperature burners and torches for my dark backgrounds and find them very quick and efficient. 

Happy Burning ©!

Nedra Denison signature.

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