The Basic Wood Burning Tool

toucan burning by Lora IrishThere are three basic styles of wood burning tools – one temperature units, rheostat temperature units, and variable temperature units.  In this article by Lora S. Irish, we will look at each style, how each wood burning tool controls the tonal values of your burnings, and which style is best for you.


Wood burning can greatly enhance your carving project.  Used to create fine line detailing or sepia tones of shadowing, with just one tool and a few basic strokes this craft will open a new dimension to your finished work.  There are two styles of wood burning tool – the one temperature tool and the variable temperature tool.  In this tutorial we will take a brief look at both styles.

Once you catch the “burning bug” you will soon discover that the complete design can be created using just this tool.  Wood burning is a lot more than just dark brown outline on a piece of wood.  From pale golden shading to dark textured areas, there is a wide range of coloring that the burner will make.

The Toucan Family burning, right, is a fun beginner’s project and is  worked using a Walnut Hollow Versa-tool and an end grain basswood plaque.  This rheostat tool has a full range of temperature settings from very pale cream tones to chocolate black.

A wood burning is created with five elements – the wood burning unit, the pen tips, the media on which you are working, the pattern or design you will burn, and the art style you will use to create the design.  Lets look at the pyrography systems first.

Choosing your first wood burning tool

There are three styles of wood burning units – one temperature tools, rheostat-controlled tools, and variable temperature tools.  Which you chose depends on both your interest in this craft and your pyrography budget.

versa tool universal tipOne temperature burning tools

One temperature burners are very similar to soldering irons.  The solid interchangeable tips are made from brass and screw into the front end of the burner.  When this tool is plugged into the wall outlet it heats to a single temperature – high.  The most used solid brass tip is called a universal tip.  This is the tip shown on the burner, shown below, and can be used for both fine line work and shading work. The other common solid tips that are available for this style of wood burner are  the calligraphy tip used for lettering, the flow tip used for large area fills, the cone tip used for detailing, and the large shading tip used to add shadows.

Rheostat burning tools

Walnut Hollow has taken their one temperature burning tool and added an adjustable temperature rheostat to the cord.  This tool uses the same interchangeable brass tips as the one temperature tool which can be used to shade and detail any pattern or design.  With the rheostat you can control the heat settings from very pale cream tonal values to dark chocolate blacks.   The rheostat dial uses a color code for your heat settings from pale yellow to dark red.

optima ball tip wood burning toolVariable temperature burning tools

Variable temperature burning tools use a thermostat controlled base unit into which a pen cord is attacked.  The burning pens – either fixed tip or interchangeable tip pens – are then attached to the cord.  This places the thermostat unit on your work table, leaving you to hold just the weight of the actual pen.  Variable temperature units have a very wide range of heat setting, well beyond what we commonly use in our pyrography.



Celtic knot patterns by Lora S IrishCeltic One
Celtic knot patterns, Celtic animal patterns, Celtic corners, and of course the Celtic cross, contains line designs, centerpiece motifs, corner patterns, arches, and even the Celtic cross.

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