How to Color a Wood Burning Project

Updated on June 18, 2018
Bede le Venerable profile image

Bede has worked with a variety of artistic media but enjoys the simplicity of wood burning.

Various boxes decorated by the author.
Various boxes decorated by the author. | Source

Con·tent·ment \kən-' tent-mənt\ n 1: the feeling of simple joy when working on a small wood burning project in the evening. 2: the unique pleasure of sitting in a room heated by a woodstove, while the outside Minnesota temperature is ten below.

I’m often involved with complicated artistic media such as egg tempera, but working on a small wood burning project is simple and easy on the mind. The fragrance of the singed wood is pleasant, and seeing the design emerge on the natural wood is very satisfying. It is not necessary to color a wood burning, but on certain projects, it really enhances the overall appearance. Unfortunately, most demonstrations of how to color a wood burning are faulty. Why? Water-based paint is used, which is the wrong choice as water will raise the grain of the wood. I will share my secret for properly coloring a wood burning without raising the grain.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Tools: A. pencils, brush, rubbing alcohol B. Colwood Detailer C. blue tape, container for alcohol D. carbon paper, dried-out rollerball pen, eraser E. box and tracing paper. This stack of boxes was under ten dollars.These tools are helpful for transferring the design: on top is an etching needle, and the rollerball pen is dried-out.
Tools: A. pencils, brush, rubbing alcohol B. Colwood Detailer C. blue tape, container for alcohol D. carbon paper, dried-out rollerball pen, eraser E. box and tracing paper.
Tools: A. pencils, brush, rubbing alcohol B. Colwood Detailer C. blue tape, container for alcohol D. carbon paper, dried-out rollerball pen, eraser E. box and tracing paper. | Source
This stack of boxes was under ten dollars.
This stack of boxes was under ten dollars. | Source
These tools are helpful for transferring the design: on top is an etching needle, and the rollerball pen is dried-out.
These tools are helpful for transferring the design: on top is an etching needle, and the rollerball pen is dried-out. | Source

What You'll Need

  • Wood Burning Unit: I use the Colwood Detailer. It costs under $150.00 and includes a variety of tips. It is highly recommended if you want to become serious about wood burning.
  • Natural Wood Box: They're available from Hobby Lobby for $1.99 each.
  • Tracing Paper
  • Carbon Paper
  • Scribing Tool: You'll use this to transfer the design onto the wood. A dried-out rollerball pen works best, though a regular sharpened pencil or mechanical pencil will work as well.
  • Inktense Watercolor Pencils: Though typically used for watercolor techniques on paper, these pencils work very well on wood.
  • White Acrylic Paint
  • Rubbing Alcohol
  • Small Artist's Brush
  • Blue Tape
  • Ruler

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The carbon paper goes between the sketch and the wood.Tape the drawing down with blue tape.This is how the transferred drawing appears.
The carbon paper goes between the sketch and the wood.
The carbon paper goes between the sketch and the wood. | Source
Tape the drawing down with blue tape.
Tape the drawing down with blue tape. | Source
This is how the transferred drawing appears.
This is how the transferred drawing appears. | Source

1. Make the Design

  • A pleasing design for your wood burning project is obviously essential. Refrain from corner-cutting in the design stage, as it usually reflects in the final product. What makes for a pleasing design? A good design simply feels right. Tastes may vary, but a common consensus often exists as to what is lastingly attractive.
  • The ancient Greeks developed an array of design principles that are still valid, regardless of the subject matter. The following are especially useful to keep in mind: balance, repetition, harmony, proportion, contrast, and unity.
  • Whichever design you choose, work at it until you are perfectly pleased with it. The design I have chosen is Celtic in nature. I tried to make it original, which is always more meaningful. However, it is acceptable to copy something that you like, especially if you are just beginning.
  • When searching for a new design, I first doodle in a sketchbook until I arrive at something that pleases me. It often takes several tries to smooth out the bumps. After the design has been refined and perfected, I proceed to transfer it onto tracing paper. Using tracing paper is useful because it is easier to transfer the design onto the wood. You may even want to practice color combinations on some scrap wood or paper before committing them to the good surface.

Wood burning provides a simple joy after the initial steps are completed.
Wood burning provides a simple joy after the initial steps are completed. | Source

2. Transfer the Design

  • Before transferring the design, it is a good idea to go over the wood first with some light sanding paper. Generally, #220 is best, but something coarser may be necessary with damaged wood.
  • Next, remove the particles with tack cloth; don’t use a cloth dampened with water, as this will raise the grain of the wood. If your design has need of a border, it is best to draw this on the wood first. I cut the paper to conform to the size of the box top, and use blue tape on four corners to keep it stable.
  • To transfer the design, I place an old piece of carbon paper between the drawing and the wood. New carbon paper tends to transfer the lines on too intensely, but it is possible to use a very light touch as well. Some practitioners may not like to use carbon paper at all since it has a very subtle greasiness, which may affect the color of the wood burning. Another option is to rub the back of the design with a colored chalk pencil.
  • Whichever method is preferred, you will need to go over the lines on top of the drawing with some sort of scribing tool, such as a dried-out rollerball pen or engraver. After transferring the design, don’t remove the tape entirely as it may happen that you missed some lines.

3. Burn the Design

  • After you have transferred the design, the moment of joy has arrived. Yes, the preparation may seem somewhat tedious, but it is well worth the effort. It is especially rewarding if you have put time into the design and feel confident about it. Patience is most useful when wood burning, as Michelangelo says, “Genius is eternal patience.”
  • Cheaper wood burning tools take some time to warm up, so you may wish to plug it in before transferring the design. The boxes that come from Hobby Lobby are pinewood, which is tolerable, though not ideal.
  • On soft woods such as pine or basswood, a bad singe mark will occur if you hold the tip on the wood for too long. It is useful to have some scrap wood for practicing and testing the strength of the hot tip. I have also worked on basswood, aromatic cedar, cherry, and oak. Birch is also highly recommended. I’ve also removed the pine wood top off these boxes on a belt-sander and glued on basswood.

4. Clean the Lines

Once the design is burned, go over your piece of wood with an eraser to clean any carbon lines. Make sure you don’t use a pink eraser, since it may leave streaks. I use a white eraser called Staedtler.

5. Apply the Color

  • To add color to a wood burning, use Derwent Inktense watercolor pencils. I use a 24-pencil selection, which is sufficient for my needs. In application, they appear as a regular colored pencil would on paper or wood. When moistened with water, however, the color dissolves and appears to be painted.
  • I generally color everything with the dry pencils before moistening with a brush. I prefer colors that are more transparent, but you may prefer very vibrant, opaque applications. After applying the colors, put some rubbing alcohol in a small dish and soak a soft artist’s brush in it.
  • Why use rubbing alcohol instead of water? Normally watercolor pencils require water, as mentioned, but water will raise the grain of the wood. To avoid this unpleasant effect, it is best to use rubbing alcohol in place of water. Moreover, the white watercolor pencil is fine for making some shades more pastel, but for a good, strong white, the best option is acrylic paint. Based on experiments, I have found that acrylic paint mixed with rubbing alcohol works very well. I have also used a gold paint pen, which can give just the right touch on certain projects. However, make sure to use good ventilation when using toxic paint pens.

6. Varnish

  • After completing the color stage and letting it dry, it is wise to varnish your project. This will bring out the colors more and will protect from scratches. I have tried several varnishes on wood burnings, including linseed oil, polyurethane, and shellac; however, my preferred varnish is lacquer, which is available at most hardware stores. It is non-yellowing, dries quickly, and gives a very good finish. Moreover, if the application is too glossy, it may be removed easily with lacquer thinner.
  • For a box with metal hinges and clasps, it is best to remove them before varnishing. Make sure to use good ventilation when using lacquer.

Red felt is a good finishing touch.
Red felt is a good finishing touch. | Source

7. Add Felt Padding

  • The inside of the box used in this demonstration is designed for holding playing cards, but it may easily be used for storing jewelry or other trinkets. An extra touch to make it more presentable is to add felt on the inside of the box.
  • Felt comes in a variety of colors, but personally, I think red looks best. Dark green felt also looks good. I recommend using felt with a peel-away back rather than felt that requires glue.

Wood burnings often look fine without color, but in some instances, it really enhances the overall effect.
Wood burnings often look fine without color, but in some instances, it really enhances the overall effect. | Source

“Finis Coronat Opus”

I hope that the number of steps described in this article may not seem intimidating. With practice, this method is actually very simple. Yes, there is some preparation, especially in the design phase, but as the Latin phrase suggests, “The result crowns the work.” Moreover, you can reuse a finished design on multiple projects. If the work turns out poorly, don't be discouraged. Keep on trying!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Crosses with colorful designs make good gifts.Sometimes just a hint of color adds much to the wood surface.Various box designs by the author
Crosses with colorful designs make good gifts.
Crosses with colorful designs make good gifts. | Source
Sometimes just a hint of color adds much to the wood surface.
Sometimes just a hint of color adds much to the wood surface. | Source
Various box designs by the author
Various box designs by the author | Source

A Little History of Wood Burning

  • The official name for wood burning is pyrography, which in Greek means, “writing with fire”; “drawing with fire” is also an acceptable translation, since the Greek verb graphein has several meanings.
  • From the time of the Han Dynasty, the ancient Chinese practiced a form of wood burning known as "Fire Needle Embroidery.” The art developed particularly from the 17th century onward in the West.
  • In the 19th century, François Manuel-Perier adapted a surgical cauterizing instrument to make the first pyrography tool. Pyrography subsequently became a very popular art form and remains so to this day among artists and weekend hobbyists alike.

© 2018 Bede

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Bede le Venerable profile image
      Author

      Bede 2 months ago from Minnesota

      Thanks much Dolores. Michael’s probably have boxes; I used boxes from Hobby Lobby. They sell them on Amazon, but sometimes the quality control is erratic, which is why I prefer to shop at the store.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 2 months ago from East Coast, United States

      Wow, Bede, I love this! I would never think to use those pencils on wood. I have everything but the wood box! Must head to Michaels to find one!

    • Bede le Venerable profile image
      Author

      Bede 2 months ago from Minnesota

      DDE, I encourage you to try it! The one temperature wood burning tools are amazingly inexpensive, and if you sell some wood burnings, then you can invest in a better model. Thank you for your comment.

    • profile image

      DDE 2 months ago

      Great ideas to try on wood. I would enjoy this type of creative work.

    • Bede le Venerable profile image
      Author

      Bede 2 months ago from Minnesota

      Thanks Vickie, I hope you are inspired to give it a try.

    • profile image

      Vickie Reynolds 2 months ago

      YEs this is cool

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, feltmagnet.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://feltmagnet.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)