Wood burning on carvings

Wood burning on carvings
In this blog we want to share with you about all you need to know about wood burning on carvings as well as provide you with useful tips on how to improve your carvings with this wonderful form of art.

Wood burning on carvings

Wood burning is the process of burning the outer layer of wood using a soldering iron or other heating equipment to create a decorative ornament or highlight the contour of a carving. This is usually done on wood or sometimes leather.

First, let’s go over some of the basics of wood burning. When working with a wood burning tool you should keep in mind that working with it requires patience. Wood burning is a process that takes a significant amount of time if you’re going to do a good job out of it. Otherwise, the outcome will look rushed and not look as good.

This, of course, depends on what tool you are using to burn wood. Some tools that heat up to lower temperatures take even longer than what we described above, while the best tools that can reach 1400 degrees in 8 seconds will save you some time.

The process you will undergo is divided into 4 sections that you follow every time you want to make anything regarding a wood burning:

  • Planning your work
  • Adjusting power or warming up the iron
  • Burning
  • Shading

Planning your work

Planning how you burn wood can be very different, this depends on the style of your carving and your pattern. For now, we will concentrate on the fact that you should plan your wood burning and not necessarily go into detail of what exactly you should plan.

There are mostly three ways you can go about planning your wood burning carving:
  • Draw it with a pencil/marker
  • Transfer a printed/drawn design onto your carving
  • Choose an area to freestyle on
Drawing with a pencil or a marker is the best way when you want to add a design that is simple such as writing, shapes, or shadows. Sometimes you don’t even need to draw out every little bit of the pattern, instead, you can mark the borders and freehand the rest. However, if you are new to wood burning it’s better to draw everything you are planning to burn.

When it comes to transferring a pattern onto the wood the most common way to do it is with graphite paper. Transferring a pattern is best when you want to trace the exact copy of something onto your wood carving, this often may be a pattern that you found on the internet or maybe a photograph you have printed out.

Finally, if you don’t want to draw on your carving and know exactly what you will be burning, you should still plan out a rough plan in your head and maybe set some ratios on the wood to help you freestyle. This method works best if you are familiar with wood burning and have enough experience to be comfortable with freehand.

Adjusting power or warming up the soldering iron

The name of the tool is used for wood burning is a soldering iron. They come in two different forms, the economic version that heats up to the temperature the manufacturer sets, and the professional version which lets you set the desired temperature.

The economic version of the soldering iron also takes longer to heat up and reaches a lower temperature than what is usually convenient for wood burning.

The high-tech version of the soldering iron that lets you choose the heating usually warms up faster and is, therefore, more safe for the objects around it.

After you’re done heating up the soldering iron test it or a scrap piece of wood to make sure it reached the temperature you wanted. If you are using an adjustable soldering iron be sure to play around with temperature and find the one you feel most comfortable using.


Here comes the best part of the process! As mentioned before wood burning requires some patience, therefore try to concentrate on creating the best possible result and not the best possible result in 30 minutes.

With your soldering iron will come different attachments, work out which attachment is most suitable for your work and after you’ve warmed up the iron you are ready to touch the wood with the soldering iron for the first time.

Tips to keep in mind when wood burning:

  • The longer you hold the soldering iron in one spot the darker this spot becomes, therefore try to evenly distribute the time pace at which you are moving the soldering iron.
  • Temperature impacts the color of the burned wood.
  • Higher temperature allows you to work faster as the wood reaches the desired shade in a smaller period of time. However, if the temperature is too high this will force you to rush and make mistakes such as curvy lines and uneven areas that will take a long time to fix, so try to find the optimal solution.
Now that you know a little more about wood burning mechanics try it out for yourself. For your first time, you are aiming at creating an even color and straight lines that don’t wable on the border.

If you planned out the carving as we recommended in step one, go ahead and trace the design with your soldering iron. Start on any spot and slowly move the iron across the design.

The motion when wood burning is different to when you are drawing with a pencil. Instead of multiple strikes you slowly pull the soldering iron only coming back if the color is not shaded enough.


Shading the wood using a wood burner is quite an advanced technique but it’s best you start implementing it in your work (where suitable) as early as possible.

The reason that shading is so important in wood burning is that it adds more volume and an extra layer to the carving, in other woods, burning wood without shading is only half the job done.

To shade wood using a wood burner (soldering iron) you need to highlight the left or right contour of your design towards the middle. However, you want to only highlight from one side otherwise the shading will turn your design too dark

What it means to only highlight the left side or right side is basically picking a preferred side to leave a shade, while the opposite side will be untouched. It is important to remember that shading is done towards the center of the pattern and not outside of it.

The best way to choose between the left or right side is by looking at the grain of your carving. Ideally, you want to shade in the direction of the grain, however, most of the time that can not be done, therefore try to pick the side that is closest to the direction of the grain.