Pyrography Tools Reviews - Woodburning Tools Reviews and Comparisons
Reviews and comparisons of every major brand of pyrography tools
As a professional pyrographic artist and instructor over the last 18 years I have had the opportunity to use a wide variety of pyrography tools manufactured in North America. Some I owned and others were owned by students in my class which I was able to work with during classes. It has given me an opportunity to see the performance of each of them and as a dealer for over 18 years it has given me the opportunity to work with several manufacturers and see how they handle warranty issues and complaints. Let me say that it has been very interesting to say the least both as a user and as a dealer/customer. I have a perspective that most consumers don't have.
Pyrography is the art of drawing with heat (or fire drawing) and woodburning is just as the name implies, it is pyrography done on wood. So to more accurately describe the tools used to do pyrography, the proper name for the tools should more appropriately be referred to as Pyrography Tools since people buying them might be using them on materials other than wood.
Pyrography tools can be used to do flat burning on wood, leather, canvas, paper and other natural materials as well as burning on gourds and enhancing carvings. Pyrography tools are very versatile. They are available as single-temperature, solid tip burners as well as variable temperature burners but the bottom line is that they are all designed to do pyrography on a variety of materials.
Before you make that final decision to buy a pyrography system
I know there is a lot of information here for you to read but I think you are here because you want to make a smart decision before spending a lot of money on a pyrography system.
I really encourage you to read everything on this page & the information on the next page with the chart before making that decision.
When you finish reading through all this perhaps you still have some questions. First thing I suggest is reading one more page, the Razertip Tutorial which will answer some generic questions & then some specific ones to Razertip. If you still have questions, please feel free to contact me. I usually respond to emails within one business day.
Why I decided to do this online review
This guide was originally developed by me many years ago for my online Yahoo Pyrography group, PyrographicArt, as a means of helping our new members just starting out review all the pyrography tool options available to them. This combined with input from our members would help them start making some decisions based on many factors, including budget, personal needs, company and burner reputation as well as recommendations from actual users.
Since most people don't have access to local stores who sell all these burners people have to rely on whatever information they can get from dealer's websites and perhaps from conversations with them. Obviously dealers want to sell you a burner so they will talk you into what they sell and that's exactly how I bought my first burner which I ended up hating. I want people to have as much information as possible before they even talk to a dealer. Perhaps armed with information they can make some sound decisions before making that first phone call. I know I wish I had this information over 12 years ago when I bought my first variable temperature burner because I would have waited and talked to a pyrographer who knew what my needs would be, not a carver/dealer who used a burner just to enhance his carvings. He was definitely selling tools and had no expertise in "drawing pictures" with a pyrography tool. He talked me into tips I would never use or need and tips that were not polished.
Back in 2009 I decided to add the original chart that I made to my website and expand it to include even more information. I researched all the pyrography tools on the market in North America to update existing information and added new burner information. I will try to maintain this information and update it on a regular basis as time permits.
The majority of the information was derived directly from the manufacturers or their websites. Comments were received from actual users on various pyrography forums, my personal use and from my customers. Since I have used most of the brands (except for the Everglades) and models (exceptions: Colwood Galaxy and Olympiad; Detailmaster Dagger) of burners I have also added my own comments and recommendations. I have tried to keep the information impartial in spite of the fact that I sell pyrography tools and over the years have sold several of the brands listed.
I hope you find this information useful and should you have any specific questions as you narrow down your search, don't hesitate to contact me. I also hope that you will let me know if you have anything to add to my review chart. It's my goal to have this chart as informative as possible.
First let me say that most pyrography tools will perform for years without any problems but with any electronic device there is always a chance of problems but some of the brands seem to have more problems than others mostly in the area of quality control. And you, as the consumer might not know that nor will users who have a burner that has performed without any problems. It's the dealer who becomes aware of problems and most will not share that with customers for fear of loosing the sale.
To me, the way a manufacturer deals with those problems is almost as important as the overall performance & reliability of the wood burning tools. As a dealer I don't fix them but I might have to step in if there is a problem. What I have found over the years is that there are some manufacturers that bend over backwards to resolve problems quickly and provide great customer service, there are those that give you the feeling like they are doing you a favor talking to you and then there are those who are slow as molasses. So, a manufacturers handling of problems, in my opinion, is as important as the tool itself because if you have to wait weeks or months to get your tool back from being serviced you are without that tool and cannot be busy working.
Over the last 15 years I do have to say that of every brand I have sold (and there have been a few), Razertip has consistently risen to the top in over all customer service, quality, workmanship and in getting burners back to the customers quickly. Being in Canada however, it does slow things down for customers in the US but they still excel in everything else & to be honest with you I have found I still get orders from them faster than I have with other companies I have represented. I have also found that their quality & quality control is the best in the industry. Again, I've represented many other brands so I have some basis for comparison.
With that being said, the information on my pyrography tools review chart is a comparison of prices, features, warranty and it also contain comments from me and from other users on my Yahoo pyrography group and from customers. It is based on first hand experience, not just hearsay. My comments are based on my personal experience as a user and one that most users don't have as a dealer working with the manufacturers. It's my goal to provide you with some basic information on each of the brands and models to help you make an informed decision regarding the purchase of a wood burning tool.
You will get comparisons on craft style burners vs. variable temperature burners and then some general information regarding woodburners, how they work, information about wattage and what to look for when choosing a wood burning tool.
I hope you find this information informative and helpful in your quest for knowledge on pyrography tools.
If you have information you would like to add or if you have specific questions regarding some of the burners and options please email me .
The Wattage Controversy
How Pyrography Units Work
Virtually all of the modern wood burning units are constructed in the same manner. A transformer provides the power and is controlled by a device not unlike a light dimmer that passes the power to a pen cord where a burning pen and tip are attached. The transformer's purpose is to step down the voltage to a usable level that is regulated by the controller that passes the power through the cord to the pen and tip.
There has been a lot of misleading information concerning wattage on wood burning units. Many manufacturers make high wattage claims that are false. We have tested many of these units and have found that they all consume less than 45 watts of power, including the units claiming to deliver 130 watts max.
Simply put, wattage is power; and generally speaking, more is better than less. The logical question to ask is how much wattage does one need. To answer this, we conducted an experiment in our shop using a wattmeter, a Detailer with 18 gauge cord, and a "K" tip (small point). Several feather barbs were burned on a piece of basswood with the Detailer's control knob set to 3. We were able to burn a nice, crisp "toast" colored barb. The wattmeter registered 10 watts! Next, we set the Detailer to full power. The "K" tip glowed a bright orange, the basswood burned a burnt black, and the feather barbs looked horrible. The wattmeter registered 27 watts. With respect to wood burning, we feel that wattage rating is severely overrated. You should choose a pyrography tool that has the features that you require, and a price tag that fits your budget....Colwood Electronics Inc.
Why do different manufacturers boast about their watts and amps?
“Watts are not amps. Some manufacturers state that their tools vary between 20 and 130 watts. It has been proven beyond any doubt that there are no burners that exceed 45 watts. Some brands claims of 130 watts of output are false; they are under 40 watts. Also, the statement that "the higher the watts, the quicker you can draw" is not completely accurate. As a general statement, with all things being equal, it is true. However, you need to take into account the ability to supply current (amps) to the tip. High current flow is critical to tip heat recovery. Our Razertip 2 volt transformers are rated at 10 amps. It is the amperage, not the voltage that gives fast tip recovery. Colwood, Detail Master and Nibsburner operate at around 3 volts (compared to our Razertip, 2 volts). In theory, the extra voltage helps with faster tip heat recovery, and it gives them a 50% increase in wattage over us, but it has the unfortunate by-product of heating up the cord and the pen body faster as well. Then there is the tip wire itself. Our Razertip pens use an alloy that doesn't require nearly as much power to heat it as the Detail Master wire does (Razertip's more energy efficient), so our Razertip standard tips running on 2 volts will recover their heat as quickly as the heavier Detail Master and Nibs tips operating at 3 volts. As a thumbnail guide, watts can be roughly calculated as amps x volts. Using this quick method of estimating watts, our Razertip burner comes in at 20 watts (2 volts x 10 amps). The Detail Master/Nibs burners would come in at 30 watts (10 amps x 3 volts - assuming a 10 amp transformer rating; I don't believe their transformers are actually rated this high). Razertip could achieve 20 watts by using 120 volts and 1/6 amps, or 20 volts at 1 amp, but our Razertip burner wouldn't work well because everything would get hot. The lower the voltage, the better - but if the voltage gets too low, contact becomes an issue. It's easier to keep consistent contact at higher voltages. We could also easily change to a 3 volt transformer (like Detail Master and Nibs), but our pen bodies and cords would heat up too quickly, and I doubt that CSA would pass a 3 volt burner because of a risk to the operator burning himself on a hot pen body. I believe that we have a better product because of the lower voltage and overall design......Cam Merkel, President Razertip Industries
Personally, I'm not an electronics expert, electrician or engineer, but here's my own input on this issue. I have used just about every brand of burning manufactured in North America and what I found was that they all perform about the same with minor differences. I find that the 3 volt systems burn about the same but since their tip wires are a heavier gauge I don't get the fine detail that I do with the 2 volt systems that use a finer gauge of tip wire. They will all accomplish about the same job but if finer detail is important than you need to go with a 2 volt system and I do not recommend mixing and matching pen and burner brands unless you understand the differences in the tip wire and voltage on the sytems. What I consider most important are the company's reputation, features of the wood burning systems, the pens, the price, customer service, warranty, etc. Make your choice based on all of those items and most important....what you can afford, Do not make your decision based on WATTAGE claims!!!
Comparing Solid Tip, Single Temperature Burners to Variable Temperature Burners
Craft style solid tip burners:
There are several differences between craft style solid tip burners & variable temperature detail burners.
- Single temperature craft style burners have a thicker copper tip that can withstand the constant higher temperatures
- The handpiece is large & uncomfortable especially for people with small hands. I own a Wall Lenk & use it for burning large dark areas but I find it very uncomfortable & need to stop after a short while due to cramping.
- One BIG difference in the tips of craft burners is that the ones made in China (all but Dremel, Colwood and Wall Lenk) have thinner tips that usually break or bend faster.
- Craft style burners can take up to 5-8 minutes to heat and cool.
- Tips need to be screwed into the pen very carefully ONLY when the tip is cool or the threads can be damaged.
- Craft style burners are good for simple crafts such as signs and burnings that do not require any fine detail work but do not do well on fine detail work.
- Craft style burners made by Wall Lenk (Dremel, Wall Lenk and Colwood) are still made in the USA by Wall Lenk. The tips are still thicker and solid as opposed to the ones now made in China that tend to be thin and bend or break easily.
- The 30 watt burners solid tip burners come with a dual heat shield and do a great job of keeping the hand cool. They also do a great job of burning large dark areas faster than variable temperature burners.
Variable temperature detail burners:
- These burners have electronic or digital temperature control and heat up/cool down in seconds.
- One very important feature of these types of burners is the comfort of the handpieces. The handpiece is much like holding a thick pen. Some come with foam grips & others come with cork but overall, all of these are much more comfortable to use. I have relatively small hands & have had multiple hand surgeries. I can use my Razertip hours (frequently all day) without any discomfort either from heat of from cramping trying to hold my craft burner.
- Most every variable temperature burners listed in my review chart have very quick heat recovery. Everyone heats within seconds.
- Pen tips are made from nichrome alloy wire so you get a finer tip allowing you to do fine detail work.
- Each manufacturer uses different gauges of tip wire and the percentage of nickel and chrome may also vary.
- Some brands like Razertip and Optima offer thinner tips which will give you finer detail.
- Many manufacturers offer fixed-tip or interchangeable tips although the fixed-tip pens out perform and give you more even heat flow. Interchangeable tips can be a nuisance to change and with some brands it puts your hand farther back from the tip taking away some fine control over the burning.
- While you can heat the pen tips poker hot, it is not recommended.
- Burners are available in a wide variety of prices and from single output to dual output and some come with dual heat control.
- Variable temperature burners will not burn as fast as the craft burners but they will do an outstanding job of detail work that you can't get with craft burners.
- It is best to burn in layers, building up the depth of tonal values rather than cranking up the heat and scorching the wood. It will give you a better quality in your burning and it will not fade as fast.
- If fine detail is important to you then you need to be looking at variable temperature burners.
Variable temperature handpieces & tips vs. craft style handpiece and tips
- Craft burners all come with large diameter handpieces that can become quite uncomfortable to use over longer periods, especially for people with small hands.
- The tips are soft brass MUST be cooled before removing from the handpiece or you can and will strip the threads. Since it can take up to 8 minutes to cool and heat, this can be an inconvenience & slow you down when you need to switch tips to complete a project.
- The tips are thicker so you can't do fine detail work.
- The tips are not polished so they can "drag" on the wood.
- Tips can be cleaned with a brass brush ONLY when the tips are cool to avoid damaging the soft brass tip.
Variable temperature detail burners
- Most brands have thin, comfortable pens similar to using a thick pen.
- Most brands come with a foam or cork grip to make it more comfortable to use. Most people find the foam grip is more comfortable but there are some that prefer the cork. Think this is a personal preference but the cork is a harder material with no "cushion"
- Detailmaster pens are unlike most brands. They are metal which makes the handpiece hotter during use and their pens have no comfort grip.
- Most brands come with polished tips which make burning easier because the tip glides over the surface without catching or dragging plus it makes it easier to clean. Colwood offers this as an option at an additional charge but I have found they do not do as nice a job of polishing as other brands such as Razertip, Optima & Nibsburner.
- Tips heat and cool in a matter of seconds not minutes.
- If you opt for the fixed-tip pen they just pop on and
off in a second and can be placed in the pen
clip that comes with all burners.
- If you opt for interchangeable tips you might have to screw and unscrew them from the pen (Razertip) or use a tool (most other brands) to insert or remove from the handpiece and then find a place to put them once you take them out since they might be hot.
- Interchangeable tips are cheaper but not necessarily a convenience when it comes time to changing the tips.
- The tips are much thinner than craft burners making detail work much easier. Razertip and Optima have the thinnest tips which make the finest detail work easier than most but may not hold up if you are heavy handed or tend to break tips frequently.
- Polished tips are the easiest to clean...scrape gently with a straight-edged razor and then polish with a strop or piece of leather and aluminum oxide....NOTHING any harsher.
- It is not necessary, nor recommended to anneal most brands of polished pens, but if your burner comes with instructions it's best to follow them or you could negate any warranty on the pens if there is one.
Pens loosing heat
All pens loose heat as they move across the wood so don't think there is something wrong with your burner if this happens, it just goes with the territory. Simply lift the tip briefly (in variable temperature burners) allowing the heat to build up again and gently put the pen down on the wood in a flowing movement behind where you left off.
The bottom line and important things you need to think about!
- Do I want to do fine detail work or just simply do some "crafty" things such as signs (that will help you decide between craft style or variable temperature burner). If you are just looking for something to do simple craft pieces without detail your best bet is a single temperature craft burner.
- What my budget. If you are on a tight budget opt for the best burner you can afford but don't sacrifice quality. Maybe wait until you can afford something a little better so you don't have regrets.
- Can I afford to buy the best tool now so I won't have to upgrade later?
- What is the reputation of the manufacturer (don't rely on just one or two people's opinion because chances are they may not really have enough information to give you an accurate response). Talk to dealers as well as customers and be a good listener.
- What is the warranty of the burner. Get a clear explanation of limitations. Most manufacturers provide a warranty against "factory defects" and you should get a definition of what they feel is a factory defect.
- Does the manufacturer provide good quality control in the manufacturing process (pen tips consistently made the same, low incidence of poor quality control, etc). Some of these things may require some research such as talking to a dealer and if at a show ask to see a sampling of some of the same tip styles (ie: bent spear shader, round-heeled knife) so you can see if the same tip is consistently the same during manufacturing. This is a good indicator of good quality control.
- How does the manufacturer handle problems (do they make you feel like a valued customer, time getting it returned to you, their overall customer service). Do customers feel like they are bothering them, do they get work done and back to customers in a timely manner.
- Am I looking for speed or good, quality work. If you are looking for speed I suggest you look for another hobby. Pyrography is not something to do if you want instant gratification!
Some things to think about if opting for a variable temperature burner:
- Do I need a single output or dual output burner
- Do I have a heavy hand
- Will I be burning on hard woods such as oak and maple
- What do I intend to do with it (to help you decide which pens & burner to get)
- Which wood burning pens do I need
Things to help in your final decision-making process:
- The manufacturer's reputation, customer service and warranty: Talk to dealers as well as users. Find out how the manufacturer handles problems. Speed of service, quality control, quality of the tools. Most customers have no clue how the manufacturer handles problems unless they have had a problem. Most dealers have so they would know what to expect about quality, quality control & customer service but whether or not they will be up front about this information is another question. Most dealers work with one manufacturer so might not have experience with others. But before buying be sure to ask the dealer questions regarding the manufacturer & how they handle these types of issues.
- Features of the pyrography systems, your needs and budget: Do you need a single or dual output. In most cases you can do just fine with a single output burner although there are several good reasons to opt for a dual output burner if you can afford it. Digital temperature control is a nice feature but not necessarily better. Keep in mind that MOST burners will perform in the same way and do the job for all of your needs. You don't need the biggest and the best to do a masterpiece. If you are going to burn on hard woods (oak, maple, etc.) be sure you find a burner that will do the job. It does take more heat to burn on hard woods so don't buy a starter burner that is more suitable for kids (such as the Nibsburner First Step & Colwood Cub) than general pyrography.
- Do they offer the pen styles you need: Every manufacturer of variable temperature burners makes a wide variety of pens. Most will offer the pens you will need for every day burning and almost every one makes specialty pens. If you are doing basic pyrography you usually can get away with 3 pens: a shader, a round heeled knife and a writer of some kind. Each brand makes them in a variety of shapes and sizes. Don't get talked into more than you need.
- Make your choice based on all of those items and most important....what you can afford. Do not make your decision based on WATTAGE CLAIMS!!! Just because your friend has a particular brand doesn't make it the best for your needs or the best burner, it's just their experience with one brand and if that's all they have ever used it's not a good basis for comparison. Just because the dealer at the woodcarving show or gourd show sells a particular brand, doesn't make it the best. Talk to a variety of people BEFORE making a decision. Talk to people who have used a variety of burners so they tell you the differences between them, not just based on someone's use of one particular brand.
- Dealers sell you burners but it's the manufacturer who will take care of the burner, cords or pens if you have a problem. You need to know that the manufacturer will stand behind the tools they make and will provide you with good customer service and most important fast service. If you have to wait weeks or months to get your burner back from the factory, that's not good service. If there are ongoing manufacturing defects, that's not a good product!
This page was updated on 3/20/13
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Happy Burning ©,
NOTICE: All information on this page has been researched and compiled by Nedra Denison Everything on this page, as well as on this web site are copyright protected under the law. It may NOT be copied, reproduced, altered or distributed in any way without written permission from the owner, Nedra Denison.
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