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Make New Wood Look Rustic With a Torch!

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Burned wood finish with tin accent walls

Burned wood finish with tin accent walls

How to Burn Wood With a Torch

The method is quite simple: burn the wood with a propane torch, lightly sand it, and then properly seal the wood with a clear coat. What could be easier than that? Starting with a bright shiny new board, you'll have a rustic masterpiece in three steps.

As you can see from the photo above, this burned finish results in a beautiful, rustic look. The burning creates an interesting and bold look without the messy problems of stain. Each board is also just slightly different in appearance due to the grain of the wood. The results will knock your socks off!

Fire It Up

You will begin by using a propane torch to lightly burn the board of your choice. I recommend a soft wood, like pine or poplar, for the best results. Keep the torch moving so as not to burn a big spot on the wood. You will see portions of the grain begin to turn brown. Try to keep the browning as even as possible, although this isn't too important.

The most important part of this step, aside from obviously being very safe with the torch, is to not burn any large spots anywhere. If you have one thing on your mind during this step, it should be to keep the flame moving!

Lightly burn the entire board, and don't forget the edges. Take a look at the entire board once you're finished burning, and look for light spots. If you notice any, burn back over that area a bit, to help match it up to the rest. Be sure and let the board cool off a bit before moving on to the next step.

The flame of a propane torch

The flame of a propane torch

Burning a board with a propane torch

Burning a board with a propane torch

This Is the Same One I Use on My Projects

Now Let's Smooth Things Out

After burning the entire surface of the board, you must lightly sand the wood. Using a fine grit sandpaper, sand over the all the burned areas. This will help to even out the burned areas a little, and the resulting finish will be more appealing.

If you are only working on a small project, sanding by hand, maybe with a sanding block, should be fine. On larger projects, however, you may want to think about using a power sander. They can make short work of any sanding project, and they will save you some sore muscles in the process.

After sanding the board, use a damp cloth to remove the dust that will be stuck to the finish. This dust will be black, from the soot coming off during sanding. Make sure the board is not getting very wet and is completely dry before you proceed.

You may notice some soot spreading onto lighter areas, and this is fine. It will help improve the final look and will be sealed into the finish in the last step.

Sanding before sealing is an important step towards getting a stellar finish. Be sure you don't skip over this crucial step.

Sand a burnt wood finish with fine sandpaper.

Sand a burnt wood finish with fine sandpaper.

Keep the End in Mind Now

A little extra step you should consider at this point is your cut ends. What will you be creating with your board or boards once the finish is complete? You may plan to cut them in the process or put a routed edge on them. If so, you may want to complete those steps now.

Before you start with the clear coat step, making your cuts and burning those ends is a wise decision. You don't want to start assembling your project, only to realize that your finish work is not yet finished.

Take a look at the photo below, the board with the routed edge. On this rustic key holder, the router work was done before the finishing process. Not a real drastic thing, as it could be fixed later if necessary. But definitely something to keep in mind.

Rustic key holder with burned finish

Rustic key holder with burned finish

Protect Your Work With a Beautiful Clear Coat

The last step in this easy process is the clear coat. I prefer a water-based polycrylic applied with a sponge applicator. The cleanup is easy with a water-based product. Just a little soap and water, no eye-burning mineral spirits or anything like that to contend with.

Coat all the surfaces of the wood with poly, making sure not to use long, light strokes. Most of the time, two coats will do the trick. Just use your best judgement on the final finish. If you want it bright and shiny, use a high gloss poly and several coats. If you want it super rustic, use a flat poly and two coats.

Once the polycrylic is dry, your board is ready to craft your next masterpiece. This is a really great look if you are crafting rustic home decor. A great choice for projects large and small, this torch-burned look is a winner!

Clear Coat Options

Clear Coat TypeProsCons


Easy cleanup, low odor

Slightly less durable


Durable and long lasting

Difficult clean up

Oils (linseed, etc)

Penetrates the wood better

Messy, difficult clean up

No Finish


Not practical

Water based clear coat for burned wood finish

Water based clear coat for burned wood finish

Window trimmed with torch burned pine boards

Window trimmed with torch burned pine boards

Questions & Answers

Question: I have a tv stand that is already built that I was hoping to try this on. My problem is I can't do it outside other than on my screened 3rd floor balcony of my apartment. Can this be done safely that way or is there a torch that would be safer to use or to use indoors without setting off smoke alarms?

Answer: Doing the work inside is a no go, as it creates a ton of smoke. I would recommend finding an outdoor location where you can safely do the work without the risk of a structure fire. While your plan is to only slightly burn the wood without setting it on fire, accidents can happen. Safety first, having a fire extinguisher around would be a good idea also. Let me know how it turns out.


Jason from Indianapolis, IN. USA on November 30, 2018:

I’m going to do a reindeer bust for my daughter. It will be from scrap pine. I tend to prefer oil based polyurethane. I clean up brushes outside. In winter, I will run heater is storage shed and apply finish there. Nobody gets fumes and it dries nicely.

You do not mention virtues of clear lacquer. It dries fast and comes in Matt, satin and gloss and is optically clear.