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Easy Wood Burning for Beginners: Innovative Approach

by Winnie Li Posted on December 23, 2023

Wood burning, a subset of pyrography, is an art form that dates back to the First Century AD. It began with fire-heated metal for wood design. Then, in medieval times, portable wood stoves were introduced and the technique was known as pokerwork. Fast forward to 1900, we saw a transformative moment with the introduction of a benzene-fueled mechanical tool.

Today, pyrography is a beloved craft, cherished for its rustic charm and the unique personal touch it brings to each piece. But its mechanical tools have been replaced with electric wood burning tools.

Now, there’s a new tech in the market: laser engraving, an extremely precise process that allows hobbyists (even beginners) to create intricate, detailed work; much more precise than what you would achieve with the wood burning technique.

laser wood burning machine

This article aims to guide newcomers into the world of wood burning, with a focus on the potential of laser engraving. It highlights how laser engraving opens up new avenues for creativity, offering beginners a user-friendly approach that respects the art’s rich heritage.

In This Article

  • How is Traditional Wood Burning Done?
  • How Do Laser Wood Burners Streamline Wood Burning
  • Best Wood Burning Laser Machine
  • Best Wood for Wood Burning
  • Step-By-Step Guide on Laser Burning Wood
  • Creative Wood Burning Ideas with Laser Engraving
  • FAQs of Wood Burning
  • Conclusion

How is Traditional Wood Burning Done?

Although its tools have evolved over the years, the traditional wood burning technique remains the same – a heated metallic nib that was once fire-heated. Today, that’s electrified.

Here’s a simple look version of the traditional process:

  • Heating the Tool: The wood burning pen is the key tool in the process. Once the pen is plugged in, the metal tip becomes very hot. The tool works similar to a soldering iron.
  • Preparing the Wood: Before you start burning, the wood surface should be smooth and clean. Sanding may be done to remove any and make the surface smooth. A smooth texture helps in creating clear and precise designs.
  • Drawing the Design: You can either trace the image with tracing paper for an outline or directly draw it on the wood surface with the heated pen. When you press the pen against wood, its hot tip scorches the wood, leaving a darkened line or mark. You can create various patterns, from simple lines to complex designs.
  • Adjusting the Temperature: Depending on the type of wood and the desired effect, you may adjust the temperature of the pen.
  • Changing Tips for Different Effects: The wood burning pen often comes with interchangeable tips. Each tip can create a different effect, like shading or fine lines. By switching tips, you can add depth and texture to your design.
  • Final Finish: After burning the design into the wood, you can add sealant or paints to enhance the artwork. This step is optional and depends on the desired final look.

Limitation of Traditional Wood Burning Tools

Traditional wood burning tools, although popular and cheaper, often limit beginners. Some drawbacks of wood burning tools are:

  • Learning Curve: Like painting, mastering wood burning takes time, especially for beginners. It requires developing hand skills and a steady technique, which comes with time and experience.
  • Time-Consuming: Wood burning projects can be tedious and time-intensive. Depending on the complexity, you may spend hours on a single piece, similar to detailed painting work.
  • Precision Challenges: For beginners, achieving precision can be difficult. A steady hand is critical for creating designs, and initial unsteadiness can lead to less accurate results.
  • Design Limitations: Basic shapes and outlines are achievable, but complex designs pose a challenge.
  • Safety Hazards: Using a hot pen carries risks. Accidental burns are a concern, and there’s also constant exposure to wood burning fumes, as the process is typically done in an open environment.
  • Tip Fragility: The nibs or tips of wood burning tools are delicate. Applying too much pressure can lead to breaks.

How Do Laser Wood Burners Streamline Wood Burning

Laser engraves completely revolutionize the hand-driven process into an automated one. Instead of a heated nib, laser engraving uses an intense light beam, which precisely burns and erodes the wood surface, etching the desired design. The process is much simpler and quite accurate compared to hand pyrography.

Opting for laser engraving rather than pen tools can be advantageous in many ways:

Design Creation and Control

In traditional wood burning, you draw or trace designs by hand onto the wood. This step is not only time-consuming but also requires artistic skill and a steady hand. However, with laser engraving, you create or import designs digitally using software. The laser machine then accurately transfers these designs onto the wood. This process eliminates the need for manual drawing or tracing.

It can also complement your existing tools. With a laser engraver, you can either transfer the entire design or just an outline for further manual work. It can also help cutting stencils for wood burning.

Precision and Accuracy

The precision of laser engraving is significantly higher than traditional wood burning. The laser spot size (diameter) is much smaller, measured in microns. Whereas, wood burning tips are a millimeter tip (about 0.04 inches).

This smaller size means you can create more detailed and accurate designs. This is one of the key reasons why laser engraving is a superior choice for intricate work.

Speed and Efficiency

Laser engraving machines operate at impressive speeds, with desktop machine speeds ranging from 400 to 600 mm/s. Whereas, in the traditional approach the speed is entirely dependent on the artist's skill and experience. It is a manual process that can be slow, especially if you’re a beginner or working on intricate designs.

Versatility in Design

In traditional methods, you’re limited to manually tracing designs, which can be a hurdle for complex patterns. However, laser engraving stands out in versatility. You simply feed a digital design into the software, and the machine handles the rest. This feature is particularly beneficial for newbies who might find intricate designs challenging.

Consistency and Reproductivity

Consistency is another highlight of laser engraving. The automated process ensures that designs are replicated without the errors or variations that can occur with manual work. This consistency is valuable for small craft businesses that often need to produce multiple copies of a design with uniform quality.

Material Versatility

The wood burning pen, primarily designed for wood, also works on other materials like canvas, leather, and cork. However, its effectiveness varies depending on the material's properties. On the other hand, laser engravers can efficiently engrave on hundreds of different materials, including paper, leather, fabric, acrylic, stone, and even metals. This makes them a wise option to consider, especially if you want to try other types of pyrography (apart from wood burning).

Ease of Use

Using a laser engraver is generally easier compared to traditional wood burning. You don’t have to manually draw or trace the design. Instead, it’s prepared digitally and sent to a laser engraver, which then automates the wood burning process, imprinting that design accurately.

Customization and Personalization

Although traditional wood burning allows for customization, the level of detail and precision achievable is often limited by the artist's skill and the tool's capabilities.

With laser engraving, personalization reaches the next level due to its material versatility and precision. Whether it’s intricate artwork, detailed text, or custom patterns, laser engravers can produce highly customized results with ease.

Best Wood Burning Laser Machine

All types of laser machines work best for wood. In the compact segment, we have two options: CO2 lasers and diode lasers. CO2 machines are a popular choice for wood engraving but expensive. Diode lasers are the best economical option, especially for beginners and hobbyists. One of the powerful diode lasers, best suited for wood burning is xTool S1.

xtool s1 laser wood burner

xTool S1 Enclosed Diode Laser Cutter

$2,299.99
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xTool S1: The Best Diode Laser Wood Burner

xTool S1 is the most powerful diode laser on the market. The machine is quick too, with engraving speeds reaching over 600 mm/s. It’s offered in two variants, a 40W laser module, which has eight 5.5W diode laser packed in one, and a 20W module. For wood burning or engraving jobs, the 20W will be enough. 

Speaking of internals, it has a spacious bed measuring 608 by 385mm. This size is larger than an A3 sheet, so you can easily work on a wide range of projects.

Want to create long sign boards or wall art? The machine bed expands with an automated passthrough lot. And you can engrave materials up to 3000mm long.

wood burning machine with passthrough

If you want to personalize curved wooden surfaces like plates or bowls, then you’re in luck. As xTool S1 supports uneven surface engraving. All you have to do is place the object underneath the laserhead, it intelligently focuses and creates a 3D path for engraving. The support for rotary wood burning is available with xTool RA2 Pro.

curved wood surface burning

For accurate placing of the design onto objects, it has an advanced ‘Pin-Point Positioning System’. This feature allows for accurate engraving on various shapes, from circular to polygonal, by marking precise laser points on the material.

Moreover, S1 also supports an air assist system. It’s quite useful in this case to avoid severe burn marks that may alter the outlook of the design.

Unlike traditional tools, the machine is quite safe for use. It’s fully enclosed and features a laser-filtering lid – no laser or fumes get out. Plus, for added safety, it has five smart flame detectors that alert and switch off the machine immediately before a fire erupts.

Using xTool S1 is simple with XCS – a simple user-friendly software that runs on all operating systems. You can even control it from your smartphone. Plus, if you’re familiar with Ligtburn, it’s compatible with that too. All, in all, it’s a dream machine for beginners, venturing into the wood burning art.

Best Wood for Wood Burning

For wood burning, generally, we prefer straight grain and light hue woods as the burnt design gets more prominent on a light background.

Here are examples of some best wood for laser wood burning.

Basswood

Basswood has a light, almost pale color with a fine, straight grain. It is known for its smooth texture, and minimal grain, which make it an ideal choice for wood burning. Basswood softness allows for easy burning plus it’s economical too. It’s the top choice for detailed work.

Birch

Birch is a combination of pale white and brown shades, with even grain. It does have a smooth texture but it’s a bit harder than Basswood. So, more power is required. But it burns well, whether you are using a wood burning tool or a laser engraver.

Poplar

Poplar typically has a pale yellow or white hue with a straight, uniform grain. This wood is relatively soft and easy to burn. Poplar is another good choice for beginners due to its consistent texture and moderate price.

Maple

Maple is known for its creamy white color and subtle grain patterns. Maple’s hard, dense nature makes it more challenging for wood burning, but it offers a beautiful, smooth surface for high-contrast burns.

Step-By-Step Guide on Laser Burning Wood

As mentioned earlier, laser burning wood is a fairly simple technique that you can perform by following these bunch of steps:

1. Choose A Quality Wood

Select a high-quality wood suitable for laser burning. Prefer a wood from the list we mentioned earlier, or choose wood type best suited for laser engraving. Next, ensure its surface is clean and smooth. If necessary, use sandpaper to prepare the surface.

2. Prepare a Design File

You need a design file for the laser burning process. You can either create a custom design using laser engraving software or download pre-made laser engraving files from sites like xTool Projects, 3axis, and Ponoko.

prepare the wood burning pattern

©Sawdust and Splinters – YouTube

3. Position the Workpiece in the Machine

Carefully place the wood in the laser engraving machine. Ensure it is properly aligned and fits well. Adjust the focus of the laser and map the design onto the wood surface.

postion the wood in the machine

4. Set the Right Parameters

Determine the optimal engraving parameters. You can do a test run on a scrap piece of wood to find the right power and speed settings or follow the manufacturer's recommendations.

If you are using xTool laser engravers, refer to our recommended material settings page for the best values for different materials.

set the laser engraving parameters for wood burning

5. Seal, Paint, or Decorate

After engraving, you can further enhance your work. If the engraving appears too burnt or if the design calls for it, paint the laser-burned wood. Wood absorbs paint well and can give a very appealing finish to your artwork. If you don’t opt for painting, seal the wood with a clear coating of lacquer.

laser wood burning art

Creative Wood Burning Ideas with Laser Engraving

We have discussed quite a bit about using lasers for wood burning. Now, let’s take a look at some creative examples of how this technique can be used to personalize your crafts.

Cutting Boards

wood burned cutting board

You can turn a simple cutting board into an art piece with laser burning wood. For instance, you may design a board adorned with an intricate family crest or a beloved recipe in elegant script. It could serve as a functional centerpiece in your kitchen or as a thoughtful, personalized gift for a loved one.

Wooden Coasters

wood burned coasters

Craft unique wooden coasters using laser engraving. You can etch anything from detailed landscapes to personalized initials or even humorous sayings. These personalized coasters may add a bespoke element to your home décor. They are perfect for impressing guests or giving as a special gift.

Wooden Door Signs

Customized wooden door signs are also an option. With laser wood burning, you can create everything from sleek, modern house numbers to rustic nameplates with ornate details. These signs not only offer a warm welcome to visitors but also add a distinctive character to your home’s entryway.

Wooden Wall Art

Every piece you create is art, but laser engraving can be used for creating personalized wall art. For instance, you may laser burn a simple wood with intricate designs, inspirational quotes, or even detailed landscapes. These artworks can easily become the focal point of any room. 

Wooden Photo Engraving 

wood burned photo

Capture your cherished memories by engraving photos on wood. This process brings a unique, rustic charm to your photographs, turning them into timeless keepsakes. Whether it’s a family portrait or a memorable landscape, wooden engraving is a novel way to preserve and display special moments.

Wood Key Chains

wood burned keychains

You can also create small, personalized wood key chains with laser engraving. These can be simple name tags, miniature artwork, or logos. These accessories make excellent personalized gifts or promotional items for a small business.

Traditional wood burning might be just a hobby and a delightful way to spend your free time. But, with laser engraving, you can transform your hobby into a thriving business – a business of selling customized wooden pieces. Explore a broader range of wood burning ideas and get started today!

FAQs of Wood Burning

What is the Difference between Pyrography and Wood Burning?

Pyrography is a term derived from the Greek words 'pyr' (fire) and 'graphos' (writing). It is the art of decorating materials (wood, fabric, leather, paper) with burn marks. Whereas, wood buring, is a specific type of pyrography for burning designs into wood surfaces only.

Is Plywood Good for Wood Burning?

You can use plywood for wood burning, but it is not an ideal choice. Firstly, intricate designs can be challenging as the plywood burn marks spread out more than desired. Secondly, over time, designs burned into plywood blackens.

Do you Have to Sand Wood before Burning it?

The main purpose of sanding is to create a smooth and clean surface, which allows for clearer and more precise burn marks. If the wood is already smooth, you may skip this step.

Do you Have to Seal the Wood after Burning?

Yes, sealing wood after burning is important. Over time, burn marks can fade. Applying a sealant helps preserve the design and protect the wood.

What is the Best Tool for a Beginner in Pyrography?

For beginners, traditional wood burning tools can be challenging, especially for intricate designs. A portable laser engraver is a great alternative. It is user-friendly and perfect for detailed work.

What is the Best wood for a Beginner in Pyrography?

Basswood is an excellent choice for beginners. It has a light grain, which makes burning easier. Additionally, it’s readily available and has a smooth texture. This makes it ideal for creating intricate and complex designs that will stand out.

Conclusion

Wood burning is a time-honored art form where artists use burn marks to decorate or sketch on wood. Traditionally, this has been done using heated metallic rods or nibs.

However, laser engraving has emerged as a modern and innovative approach to wood burning. It utilizes a laser beam, controlled by a computer, to create precise burn marks. This method is quick, offers exceptional precision, and provides greater control over the design, making it an ideal option for beginners in the craft.

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