While high-quality wood burning is a skill that takes time to learn, all of the practice in the world won’t make a difference if you do not choose the right species of wood to work with. Not all wood species were created equal when it comes to wood burning, so it is important to be sure that you are working with a wood that is approachable. Some woods are notorious for burning at an uneven temperature, while other woods, such as treated woods, are downright dangerous to work with. Here are some tips on choosing the ideal wood species for wood burning.
Ideal Wood Species
It is easy to forget as a woodworker that you are working with potentially toxic materials. This can be a potentially dangerous oversight to make, particularly if you spend a good deal of time in your shop. For instance, pressure-treated woods contain preservatives that are not healthy if they are inhaled. Similarly, painted and stained woods give off poisonous fumes when burnt, and old wood may contain molds that are best left undisturbed. Instead, work only with fresh, untreated woods.
Basswood is easily my favorite wood to work with. It has a fine grain that does not show any change in color along burnt lines. Basswood is a softwood that results in dark, striking lines of rich black when it is worked with.
White birch is another standard candidate when considering what wood species to work with while wood burning. Like basswood, white birch is a very light-colored wood that allows for a wide range of colors when burnt. It also has a fine grain that ensures even lines in the finished product.
Fine, Plain Grain
The finer the grain in your wood, the more even and dramatic the lines in your wood burning will be. However, it is also important to note how the wood has been sawed. Depending on how the wood was cut, the grains and growth rings may or may not leave a high amount of distortion. If you are shooting for straight forward wood burning projects, then your best bet is to work with plain grain woods that have a relatively even distribution of grain patterns.
A high amount of sap in a piece of wood can potentially be a great source of frustration for a wood-burning enthusiast. It can result in very uneven lines when burning, and the burnt sap can quickly build upon the tip of your tool. However, some craftsmen enjoy working with high sap woods such as white pine. Personally, I keep my distance.
Choosing a Wood Burning Tool
Wood burning tools come in a wide range of prices and models. Here are some basic things to consider when choosing a new Woodburner for your shop.
One Temperature Woodburner with Single Tip
The single tip, single temperature Woodburner is by far the simplest of all wood burning tools and also the cheapest. This tool has one setting once it has been plugged in and heated: scorching hot. It also has a single, fixed tip that consists of a slim, tapered cone that ends in a blunt point. The first wood burning tool that I ever used was such a simple device that belonged to my grandfather, and I have since become comfortable enough with it that I seldom find a need for a more sophisticated piece of equipment. It is a pleasure to work with the older tools of woodworking, and I like to think that I can approximate the quality of lines and textures with this simple device that is made much easier using the newer wood burners of today. However, the affordability of a Woodburner with interchangeable tips in today’s market means that most new hobbyists really should consider a model with interchangeable tips to simplify matters.
One Temperature Woodburner with Interchangeable Brass Tips
The charm of working with antique tools definitely is not for everyone. For the budding craftsman who anticipates many happy hours working away at the bench with his or her new Woodburner, I would recommend a single temperature Woodburner with interchangeable brass tips as the ideal first tool to purchase. Such a tool comes with a half dozen tips that can be switched out of your Woodburner, each of which greatly simplify creating different patterns, lines and shapes in your wood. Still, the single setting of a very hot temperature means that developing a light and intuitive touch.
Variable Temperature Woodburner with Interchangeable Wire Tips
A variable temperature Woodburner is a next step up for a craftsman who has spent enough time and patient energy learning the basics of wood burning to know that his interest in the craft is high enough to justify the expense of a more highly-priced tool. A variable temperature Woodburner comes equipped with an additional thermostat that sits apart from the wood burning pen and allows for the adjustment of the temperature of the tip. As a result, shading and controlling the depth of a burnt line become infinitely simpler. Unlike single temperature wood burners, variable temperature models frequently have somewhat flexible wire tips rather than sturdy brass ones.