Wood Carving Vs. Wood Burning

Is Wood Carving the Same as Wood Burning?  Although both wood carving and wood burning are methods of beautifying and decorating wood, the difference can be seen in the process and the physical appearance of the finished work.

While the process of wood carving involves the use of a cutting tool to impress artistic decorations on wood, wood burning involves using a heated object to etch out burn marks on the wood. These burn marks are strategically made to beautify the wood, serve as decorative patterns in some cases, and add life to the art.

The idea behind wood burning is to create decorative elements for wooden objects or surfaces. As modern as the whole concept or process may seem, it dates back to the first century AD. Back then, the designs were carried out with metal rods heated with fire. The metal rods employed varied in thickness and point size. Therefore, the bigger the design or pattern to be made, the larger the point size or the rod’s thickness. 

With the advancement in technology, the whole process of wood burning is no longer seem like a herculean task. Unlike the old times when heated objects were used, electrified wood burners (pyrography pens) or electric soldering iron can be used to burn wood.  The different patterns done on the wood are dependent on the type of wood available, the temperature of the burner, the thickness of the tip, and how the tip is applied to the wood. 

How is Wood Burning Implemented in Wood Carving?

Implementing burning into an already carved work is a common practice that has been in existence for a long time. Burning on a piece of wood requires a bit of creativity, technicality, practice, and patience. There are several reasons why wood burning is implemented in wood carving. Some of these reasons are;  

  1. To Make Distinctions: When carving a piece of wood, it may be difficult to distinguish the depths and angles in a picture, video, or even in real-time. Burning the important parts of the carved objects helps to deepen the cuts, define the features and outline the important aspects of the carving. For example, when carving a figurine, shading lines to outline the arm area makes it easier to tell that a human figure is being carved at first glance.
  2. To Improve the aesthetics: Integrating burning into a carved work helps to generally improve the beauty of the wood. Burning adds tone and contrast in a way that gives the wood a polished look. This way, the wood is not looking plain and unrefined. Burning wood carvings also help to get rid of all fuzziness and irregularities on the work.
  3. For Detailing: There might be certain details that may be missed because they are too small to be distinguished. Burning the carved object allows for the addition of these details that are too small to be seen when carved. For example, when carving a wooden bird, by drawing and burning the feather outline, it becomes fairly obvious to know the goal of the artist. Also, it makes the carving look more realistic in contrast to a plain wooden bird.
  4. To Add Writings and Markings: Burning on a carved wood is a method of adding writings, letterings, names, years, and specific markings on a wood. Writings or markings on a piece of a carved object are useful for dating relics and historical art.

Can you Wood Burn without Wood Carving?

Yes, it is possible to burn on woods with no prior carvings. Some people prefer to carry out designs on plain pieces of wood. Woods like this double as a work of arts and decorations that can be displayed. To burn on a piece of plain wood, follow the following steps:

1. Prep the Wood

If the wood to be used for burning is a raw piece of wood, it may require sanding. You can determine the direction you want the grain to follow by sanding the wood towards that direction (It is easier to draw in a direction towards the grain than against it). A block of wood with a smooth surface is easier to draw on in contrast to one with an uneven grain. Therefore, beginners will find it easy to work with softwoods with even grain.

A softwood like Pine will burn at a lower temperature. Harder woods like oak will require a higher temperature to burn.

2. Prep the Design

To burn on a plain piece of wood, you have to have an abstract idea of what you are going for. This design can be reproduced on a piece of wood in two ways.

  1. Freehand drawing: Using a pencil, draw out the design you wish to see on the wood. An eraser can be used to wipe off any mistake that may happen during the process of drawing.  
  2. Carbon Paper Method: If drawing is not your strongest trait, you can simply pick out a design you love from a book, or download one from the internet and print it out. Make sure the design is printed to a size that would fit the length and breadth of the wood conveniently.

 Next, affix the design on the wood and trace it out with a pen using carbon paper. Be careful and steady while tracing out the design to avoid errors.

3. Burn the Outline

Once the process of drawing or tracing out the design is complete, you can begin to burn out the outline of the design. To increase the beauty of the work, various wood-burning techniques can be applied to create beautiful patterns on the wood. Some of them are; filling silhouette, hatching and cross-hatching, gradient effect, texture, etc. These various techniques require different tips, temperature, and exposure time. The longer the wood burner is exposed to a surface, the darker the burn mark will appear.

After the main burning has been carried out, background designs can be added to the work. These background designs make a huge difference to the final look as they give the wood a polished look. Some background design techniques include:

  • Rust: In this technique, rust is extracted from rusted irons and metals using sandpaper. It is then distributed evenly on the surface of the wood. The rust design works best when the main burning has a shiny gradient.
  • Heat Blowing: Here, heat is evenly distributed on the surface of the wood with a blower or blow torch. This method is perfect for creating background designs with a 3D effect. It is more suitable for larger designs.
  • Dotting: Here, you heat the wood burner to a high temperature and create dots all around the wood surface one at a time.
  • Shading or Filling: This technique requires a lot of patience and work to complete.  It may not be suitable for a beginner looking to work fast because there may be many flaws.

Note: When applying the shading technique for a 3D effect, the flat tip should be used to create an evenly light shade before the darker shade is applied. This is because it would be easier to go from a lighter shade to a darker shade in case a mistake occurs. Although sandpaper can be used to correct this error, the wood won’t be as perfect as it was.

4. Finishing

After burning out the desired design on the piece of wood, sandpaper can be used to smoothen out the rough edges and even out the design. After this, a piece of cloth can be used to wipe off residues. If you like the work old-fashioned, it can be left as it is.

However, if you wish to give the wood a nice shine, you can apply Mineral oil or Olive oil to it. To seal the wood or give it a lacquered appearance, lacquer or shellac can be sprayed on the wood.

Safety Tips For a Pyrography Pen

Although an electric soldering iron is the most commonly used wood burner, it may not be suitable for all designs. A pyrography pen is a better option because it gives more control, and it helps to create finer and more intricate patterns on the wood. It comes with a variety of tips (about 4 to 7) that can be swapped to suit the design to be made.

So here are a few tips for using a pyrography pen:

  • When the pen is not in use, put it on the metal safety stand to prevent an accident.
  • Allow the pen to cool before swapping the tips.
  • If the pen starts to smoke, it’s an indicator that it is too hot. Reduce the heat to stop smoking.
  • Once in a while, wipe off the end of the tip with a wet paper towel. This prevents residue build-up.
  • To avoid hurting yourself, use a respirator mask and a safety glove.

Where to Learn Wood Burning?

If you are just getting started or hoping to brush up on existing knowledge and you need proper guidance, then check out our Beginner’s Guide to Wood Burning on Carvings. In the article, we cover the basic foundation and answer all the questions you may have concerning wood burning.

As earlier said the art of wood-burning requires patience and creativity. To facilitate your learning, you can get your burning kit and begin practicing on your own. But before you start to design on the main wood, it is recommended that you practice on a scrap piece of wood.

With practice, you can get comfortable with the pen and its safety precautions, test different tips, and practice the different shading and background techniques. On the first trial, your designs may not be perfect, the key is to go slow and steady until you are better at it.

Final Thoughts

Both wood carving and wood burning are uniquely different ways of transforming wood. The best way to relate the relationship between carving and burning is to think of them as cake and icing respectively. They both unique and beautiful styles individually, but even better when used together.  There are numerous everyday items burning can be done on. Go grab your wood burner and begin to practice your way to perfection. You will definitely find burning rewarding and enjoyable.

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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