This article will help you navigate the basics of a woodburning machine, while helping you select the right machine for you! We know that learning a new skill or upgrading an old machine can be intimidating, so we’re hoping that this makes things a little easier on you.
What is Wood Burning (Pyrography) and What Can You Use It For?
Pyrography, also known as Woodburning, is a free hand art form that quite literally burns the design onto various materials, such as wood or leather. The burn marks can be used for solid line work, shading, or even light denting to create texture. The term itself means “to write with fire,” if that gives you a better idea! This beautiful art form can incorporate things like water color painting, acrylic painting, resin, and more. We encourage you to explore the beauty that is this art form.
Why do you carry Colwood?
Bear Woods stocks Colwood for a number of reasons; but put simply it’s owed to the quality of their machines, as well as the versatility! It doesn’t hurt that they are also user-friendly and are available at some very reasonable price points.
Did you know that in 1979 Colwood became the first major manufacturer to produce the Fine Nichrome Wire Woodburning tool? Well, it happened, and they named it The Detailer!
Similar brands, such as Razortip, Detail Master, etcetera, may have something similar, but Colwood was the first. Colwood has also managed to consistently dominate the woodburning world through innovation and consistent quality. With Colwood also offering five (5) control units, all complete with their own distinct features to satisfy all skill levels, they are available to everyone from novice to professional.
Each of their units include a solid state controller, and ultra-flex cord as standard equipment. Those things might sound like gibberish right now, but that basically means that the cord doesn’t just lay there getting in the way. The cord also delivers a steady power flow to the inserted tip. The “guts” of the machines are all housed in a custom cold rolled steel enclosure rather than a generic, off-the-shelf plastic box that can easily be melted. Although each machine comes with somewhere to lay your drawing tool down, Colwood also understands that sometimes accidents do happen after all. One of the best parts about Colwood is that all their units are manufactured and serviced directly in their factory. That means that should your machine need any repair, there is far less of a waiting period. We here at Bear Woods appreciate that kind of value-add for our clientele!
How do woodburning units work?
Simple! Okay, maybe not as simple as saying or writing the word simple, but we’ll hopefully break it down enough to where it will be.
Modern day woodburners are typically all constructed in the same manner. A transformer provides the power to the machine, and is controlled by a knob similar to what you would find on a dimming light switch. The knob controls how much power moves between the machine and the hand piece cord, where the burning pen and tip are attached. This all plays into what we like to call the wattage controversy. Although many manufacturers have made misleading claims regarding wattage on units, Colwood has done numerous tests and can confidently say that their machines all use less than 45 watts of power; including the units that claim to deliver 130 watts max.
Simply put, wattage is power. Generally speaking, more is better than less; but the logical question to ask is how much wattage does one person need with a woodburner? Lucky for us, colwood took it upon themselves to investigate further. The below is taken directly from the Colwood website:
“We conducted an experiment in our shop using a wattmeter, a detailer with 18 gauge cord, and a “k” tip (small point). Several feather barbs were burned on a piece of basswood with the detailer’s control knob set to 3. We were able to burn a nice, crisp “toast” colored barb. The wattmeter registered 10 watts! Next, we set the detailer to full power. The “k” tip glowed a bright orange, the basswood burned a burnt black, and the feather barbs looked horrible. The wattmeter registered 27 watts. With respect to woodburning, we feel that wattage rating is severely overrated. You should chose a woodburner that has the features that you require, and a price tag that fits your budget. Colwood’s wide selection of control units, and hand piece cords make it easy for you to accomplish this while satisfying all your artistic needs.”
At the end of the day we fully agree with Colwood in stating that you should be shopping for a machine that has your desired features artistically rather than straight power.
What are some things I should look for when buying a Colwood woodburning machine?
Although the majority of todays woodburners operate the same, there can be a wide range of differences between the units themselves. Machine cost can vary from $45 all the way up to well over $200, primarily depending on the features and output. We’ll explain a few things we think you should know while shopping for a Colwood burner.
Its very important that you evaluate your burning style while shopping for a machine, or if youre a novice, what style of pieces youd like to work on. If youre somebody who puts a lot of pressure on your tips while burning, or like to run your machine hot, youll want to look at a heavier duty style burning pen that can withstand that level of use. The same rings true for wanting to do more detailed work you would want to find a machine capable of using finer tips to achieve the thin strokes you’re looking for!
The Colwood machines that we offer all come with replaceable tips, so they unplug from the pen itself. These can be a less expensive investment for beginners, and are offered in both packs and individually. You might be looking at all the tips wondering which to buy, and what their uses are dont worry! Youll receive a very handy chart with purchase that explains what the purpose of each tip is, as well as what the names are in case youd like to order new ones down the road. The tip kits that come prebuilt by Colwood have been laid out with their most popular and common-use tips, so they’re a great start for a beginner who isnt quite sure what to be looking for. You are able to grow your tip collection as you get more skilled with your machine. Don’t be nervous to try your tips any-which-way either! You’ll find you get a different look using a tip inverted for example, so experimenting (gently) is encouraged.
Do you remember that ultra-flex cord we mentioned previously? Well not every manufacturer uses that the way colwood does! We consider the ultra-flex cord to be a no-brainer add-on to these machines since it improves how easily they move, and how consistent the flow will feel during use.
The colwood machines are lightweight, easy to use, and are economical. Whether you pick up The Detailer, or The Super Pro II, you’ll find that Colwood packs a serious punch with either machine!
Usage & Technique Basics
Although we dont claim to know it all, the following is some basic information to get you started with your machine for technique and basics.
A lot of woodburning can be done at a lower temperature, so there isnt a lot of reason for smoke (or sometimes fire) to come off of your piece. Working at approximately 700f/371c will give your work a nice toasted look for example. Depending on whether or not you burned too hot, paint might not adhere to the wood properly from the pores of the wood being sealed shut. Being mindful of this will make a world of difference if youve got plans to add to your piece after burning! Burning at a lower temperature will not only help avoid residue and build-up on your tips, but it will help to eliminate full pore closure.
There are definitely situations that will arise where youll find you need extra heat (increased power) to undercut or relieve a carving detail. For that reason, a cut may require as much as 1500f/815c. Doing projects like feather inserts will utilize higher temperatures in order to accomplish the deep slotted cuts needed on the pre-shaped feather inserts.
Cleaning your tips is one of the easiest ways to improve the longevity you get out of them! Your colwood burner kit comes with both 600 and 800 grit paper and is complete with instructions on how to clean your tips with the provided materials. A general rule of thumb is to stay away from coarse emery cloth or sandpaper unless you specifically want to go through tips quickly. These grit stages have been selected because they will remove build-up, but will not remove or damage the metal of the tip itself, and is still enough to redress a dulled tip.
If you’d like to try to keep the tip clean while you’re working, without having to stop and sand, then keeping a spare piece of denim handy from an old pair of jeans or a jacket is an option. You will need to make quick passes with both sides of your tip over top of the denim to avoid any burning or any build-up from the fabric getting on the tip. This is just a quick solution to keep your pen clear, proper cleaning protocols are still recommended to be followed.
Have you ever tried to write a cheque (old school, we know!) without any part of your hand touching it? Tough, right? Woodburning is similar in the sense that you will need to create a surface anchor with your little finger or side of your hand while you add texture to your piece. The contact between your hand and your work surface is necessary to add stability and control while placing your burning strokes. If you’re wobbly or not grounded, you’ll have a much harder time lining things up, even with existing stroke placement.
If you don’t feel a pull or any friction on your stroke, there is a good chance you’re running your machine at too high of a temperature. An easy way to know this for sure is if your surface shows as more of a black char than a middle brown toasted colour. Alternatively, if you are experiencing what you feel is too much of a pull, you likely need to turn up the heat on your machine. A good gage is whether or not your stroke is just a light brown mark where it begins, and nothing more than a tool mark at the end. If this happens, gradually increase the temperature on your machine until you feel more of a fluid pulling than anything. Having a spare or scrap piece of wood handy that is the same type as your project piece is beneficial to check, adjust, correct, or practice your burning techniques before you burn onto your carving.
If you’re working with higher temperatures or still getting a fair bit of smoke, try holding your pen (hand piece) at an angle to keep the heat away from your fingertips as it can get uncomfortable very easily. Although there are some artists who prefer to wear gloves, it is ultimately a personal choice to do so.
Woodburner Use & Safety
The following are some general basics for using your Woodburner, as well as some safety tips we feel are important.
Don’t use excessive pressure when texture burning – work to learn to adjust the heat setting rather than stressing the pen and tip
Check your owner’s manual for any important start up information or cleaning information (full machine instructions are sent with your purchase)
Use care and common sense in how you clean and/or resharpen your pen tips – using the materials provided in your kit or with your machine is advised. Using a stone, low grit sandpaper, or a harsh abrasive will have the tip worn out in no time!
Always keep your unit out of reach of children and pets – these machines burn HOT and can cause some serious harm
Try and make yourself comfortable while burning – the more relaxed and comfortable you are, the better quality work you’ll put forth and you’re less likely to walk away with minor strains or pains from sitting/burning
Always work in a well-lit environment with as much ventilation as possible – although you’re working with wood, smoke can still be harmful to you physically and being able to see your project means you’re less likely to make mistakes or burn yourself
Turn the unit OFF when it is not in use, especially if you are leaving the machine unattended for any period of time – not only will you avoid a fire hazard, but you will prolong the life of your tips (most burners will fully heat back to their original temperature within a matter of 30 seconds, there is no real reason not to turn off your machine!)
If the unit begins to make noise, turn it off, allow the pen to cool, and change pens if you have a spare – this can usually mean the pen has shorted but if the noise persists after a new tip please contact Colwood to discuss potential repair or replacement (details on the warranty are provided at time of purchase)
We hope that this information has helped you feel more confident in your product selection and encourages you to dive right in! The information in this article is written as recommendation only – we encourage you to do additional research and implore you to work safely.