Beginners Guide To Wood Burning on Carvings

Wood burning is a great way to decorate and add contrast to your carvings, learning how to wood burn is very interesting and it can significantly improve the quality of your carvings. To start with, let’s define what wood burning is.

Wood burning is the process of burning the outer layer of wood using a soldering iron or other heating equipment to create a decorative ornament or highlight the contour of a carving. This is usually done on wood or sometimes leather.

In this article, we will cover everything you need to know to try wood burning for the first time as well as provide you with useful tips on how to improve your carvings with this wonderful form of art.

Wood Burning Basics

First, let’s go over some of the basics of wood burning. When working with a wood burning tool you should keep in mind that working with it requires patience. Wood burning is a process that takes a significant amount of time if you’re going to do a good job out of it. Otherwise, the outcome will look rushed and not look as good.

This, of course, depends on what tool you are using to burn wood. Some tools that heat up to lower temperatures take even longer than what we described above, while the best tools that can reach 1400 degrees in 8 seconds will save you some time. We will talk more about the different tools that you can use to burn wood in a section below.

The process you will undergo is divided into 4 sections that you follow every time you want to make anything regarding a wood burning:

  1. Planning your work
  2. Adjusting power or warming up the iron
  3. Burning
  4. Shading

So let’s cover every step of the way in detail.

Note: If you don’t know about the difference between Wood Carving and Wood Burning, Most importantly which one do you need for your project. Then You should read our well written article on the difference between Wood Carving and Wood Burning.

1. Planning your work

Planning how you burn wood can be very different, this depends on the style of your carving and your pattern. For now, we will concentrate on the fact that you should plan your wood burning and not necessarily go into detail of what exactly you should plan.

There are mostly three ways you can go about planning your wood burning carving:

  • Draw it with a pencil/marker
  • Transfer a printed/drawn design onto your carving
  • Choose an area to freestyle on

Drawing with a pencil or a marker is the best way when you want to add a design that is simple such as writing, shapes, or shadows. Sometimes you don’t even need to draw out every little bit of the pattern, instead, you can mark the borders and freehand the rest. However, if you are new to wood burning it’s better to draw everything you are planning to burn.

When it comes to transferring a pattern onto the wood the most common way to do it is with graphite paper. If you are unsure how to do that or your carving is in 3D and therefore requires an alternative way to transfer a pattern we recommend you read the article 9 ways to transfer a pattern onto wood, and find the method that works best for your carving. Transferring a pattern is best when you want to trace the exact copy of something onto your wood carving, this often may be a pattern that you found on the internet or maybe a photograph you have printed out.

Finally, if you don’t want to draw on your carving and know exactly what you will be burning, you should still plan out a rough plan in your head and maybe set some ratios on the wood to help you freestyle. This method works best if you are familiar with wood burning and have enough experience to be comfortable with freehand.

2. Adjusting Power Or Warming Up The Soldering Iron

The name of the tool is used for wood burning is a soldering iron. They come in two different forms, the economic version that heats up to the temperature the manufacturer sets, and the professional version which lets you set the desired temperature.

The economic version of the soldering iron also takes longer to heat up and reaches a lower temperature than what is usually convenient for woodburning.

When heating up the soldering iron make sure it is not close to any flammable objects such as plastic, electronics, wires, or computers.


The high-tech version of the soldering iron that lets you choose the heating usually warms up faster and is, therefore, more safe for the objects around it.

After you’re done heating up the soldering iron test it or a scrap piece of wood to make sure it reached the temperature you wanted. If you are using an adjustable soldering iron be sure to play around with temperature and find the one you feel most comfortable using.

3. Burning

Here comes the best part of the process! As mentioned before wood burning requires some patience, therefore try to concentrate on creating the best possible result and not the best possible result in 30 minutes.

With your soldering iron will come different attachments, work out which attachment is most suitable for your work and after you’ve warmed up the iron you are ready to touch the wood with the soldering iron for the first time.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when wood burning:

  • The longer you hold the soldering iron in one spot the darker this spot becomes, therefore try to evenly distribute the time pace at which you are moving the soldering iron.
  • Temperature impacts the color of the burned wood.
  • Higher temperature allows you to work faster as the wood reaches the desired shade in a smaller period of time. However, if the temperature is too high this will force you to rush and make mistakes such as curvy lines and uneven areas that will take a long time to fix, so try to find the optimal solution.

Now that you know a little more about woodburning mechanics try it out for yourself. For your first time, you are aiming at creating an even color and straight lines that don’t wable on the border.

If you planned out the carving as we recommended in step one, go ahead and trace the design with your soldering iron. Start on any spot and slowly move the iron across the design.

The motion when wood burning is different to when you are drawing with a pencil. Instead of multiple strikes you slowly pull the soldering iron only coming back if the color is not shaded enough.

4. Shading

Shading the wood using a wood burner is quite an advanced technique but it’s best you start implementing it in your work (where suitable) as early as possible.

The reason that shading is so important in wood burning is that it adds more volume and an extra layer to the carving, in other woods, burning wood without shading is only half the job done.

To shade wood using a wood burner (soldering iron) you need to highlight the left or right contour of your design towards the middle. However, you want to only highlight from one side otherwise the shading will turn your design too dark

What it means to only highlight the left side or right side is basically picking a preferred side to leave a shade, while the opposite side will be untouched. It is important to remember that shading is done towards the center of the pattern and not outside of it.

The best way to choose between the left or right side is by looking at the grain of your carving. Ideally, you want to shade in the direction of the grain, however, most of the time that can not be done, therefore try to pick the side that is closest to the direction of the grain.

That is all you need to know about the process of wood burning. If you want to see a quick example of all the 4 steps see the video below.

Example of basic wood burning:

Wood Burning Tips and Tricks

Now that you’re familiarized with the process of wood burning, here are a couple of tips and trips that will help boost your efficiency and make things easier:

Begin With Samples

Though you might be tempted to jump into the project right away, the first thing you should do is begin with small samples. The last thing you want to do is keep wasting blocks of timber because they didn’t react well to the heat and got charred. By testing small chips of timber you can easily ascertain how they react and might even get new design ideas in the process.

Another benefit of working with samples is that it allows for getting familiarized with the timber you’ll be using for the project, reducing the chances of making mistakes when you finally start to work on it.

Pick the Right Timber

If you’re just starting off in wood-working, chances are that you still haven’t mastered picking the right material for your project yet. Doing so requires experience which is gained by practice. What material you choose greatly impacts the look and quality of the final results, so its importance cannot be understated.

For a rookie, starting off wood burning by choosing timber that burns easily such as pine and aspen is a good idea. Generally you want to be choosing dry, well-seasoned wood for wood-burning projects. Hard wood requires more time and effort to get the desired effect, so practicing on lighter wood at first is a good idea.

Use Pyrography Pens

While the soldering iron is definitely the go-to wood burning tool, if you want to create finer details and have more control, using pyrography pens is the perfect solution. Pyrography pens provide you with a wide variety of options in terms of patterns and thickness, which allows for complex designs.

Another major advantage of using pyrography pens is that the tips can be swapped out in the middle of the process, allowing you to keep working uninterrupted. You can just swap one out when it gets overheated and then switch back to it when it gets cooled as the current one gets heated.

Start Light

You might have your creative juices flowing and really pumped to try some advanced designs, but it’s better to just start light. Complex designs involve adding multiple layers to the project which you won’t get right immedietly. So, it’s better to start working on light and simple designs, gradually ramping up their complexity as you gain more experience.

The trick is to ensure that the first lines should be drawn lighter, adding heavier layers as you progress. Doing so minimizes your chances of making mistakes and improves your understanding of design principles.    

Using Heat-Blowers

Heat Blowers are another great wood-burning tool that can help you create some detailed and amazing designs. Heat blowers specialize in creating detailed and interesting backgrounds that would be difficult to recreate with a soldering iron.

They even allow you to create a vignette effect if you want by just passing it along the edges of your canvas. This allows you to create a 3D effect.

You can follow all of these steps to boost your efficiency in Wood burning. If you would like to know more tips and tricks about wood burning, we have a dedicated article that covers each and every tips about wood burning.

Common Wood Burning Techniques

Here are some of the most common wood burning techniques that are commonly used for commercial and personal designs. Some of these techniques use pyrography pens and other tools, so doing your research for each of them before trying out is an excellent idea.

  • Silhouette:
  • Gradient:
  • Fractal:
  • Texture:
  • Hatching:
  • Backgrounds:
  • Dotting:
  • Shading:

Wood Burning Safety Precautions

As you might have already deduced by now, wood burning is a bit risky since you’ll be working with a tool that generates heat in very high temperatures. Accidents can happen at a moment’s notice, so you need to ensure that you take proper safety precautions before starting on your project.

Here are a couple of simple safety precautions that you should take every time you work on wood burning:

  • Always ensure that there are no children or pets around you when you’re working on a wood burning project.
  • Invest in a good pair of industrial quality protective gloves and soldering mask. These will keep your hands and face safe, significantly reducing chances of injury.
  • Never touch the pen of a wood burning tool until it cools down completely. Always hold it by the handle and if the pen tips need to be removed, use a pair of pliers to do so and place them in a ceramic or heat resistant to cool off.
  • Have your chimney or vents inspected at least once a year. Wood burning produces a lot of fumes which might clog and make the air in your home dangerous to breathe. 
  • Use papers or kindling to light a fire. When you use kerosene, gasoline, or other flammable liquids, the chances of accidents increase greatly
  • Cool the ashes for at least 4 days before throwing them. While doing so, make sure to carry them in a metal container with an airtight lid.
  • Installing a heat shield beside or behind the stove is a smart way to containing the heat, preventing damage to nearby walls, curtains, and other susceptible objects. 
  • When installing the stove, try to ensure that the pipe isn’t extended via the walls or ceiling of the room. You should only consider doing so if there aren’t any better alternatives.
  • Only consider connecting the stove to the fireplace chimney of the latter has been sealed off.
  • Always ensure the stove has been turned off and the fire has been put out properly before leaving the room.

Top 3 Soldering Irons To Buy

If you are looking for a wood burner then check out these best sells from Amazon that we know you will love!

This is a complete wood burning kit with an excellent soldering iron comes at a very affordable price. It has a lot of extras to offer you including 1 x LCD digital display engraver pen, 28 x wood face/cast tip, 5 x weld head, 2 x head converter, 2 x lettering pen, 1 x suitcases for x sprayers, 1 x welding trowels, 1 x sterilizers, 1 x curved tweezers, 1 x cleaning sponges and 1 universal box.

The TOAUTO Soldering Station is perfect for someone who knows takes wood burning seriously. It has a lot of unique features that you should read from the Amazon page if you are interested (just click the check price button). Nothing more to be said, this is the ultimate purchase for a wood burner.

Finally, if you are looking for the very best then we present you the YKEY 65W 12-24V Upgraded. This portable soldering iron is the Bently of soldering irons with dual-temperature sensors and accelerated sensors with STM32 chip. The adjustable temperature from 212°F to 752°F (100°C to 400°C) heats up in seconds.

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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