Wood burning is an age-old craft and, more recently, a commercialized art form that earns thousand of people a livelihood.
As a result, professional pyrographers are constantly seeking new ways to improve their craft. Better strategies translate to higher quality work and, ultimately, greater return for your labor.
We believe one way to do so is to use the best pyrography wood. These woods might be more expensive and even difficult to source. However, the return on investment is worth the trouble.
To this end, we’ve created this guide of the best wood for pyrography to help upcoming and seasoned pyrographers understand the common pyrography woods, what sets them apart, and why they should seek them. Let’s dive in.
What’s the Best Wood for Pyrography?
The best wood for pyrography is any soft hardwood or softwood with light colors. It also helps to find wood with unobtrusive grain that enables smooth and even burns. As a result, poplar and basswood are some of the best choices. Willow wood or aspen wood are other great options.
Factors to Consider When Choosing the Best Wood for Wood Burning Art
You can use pretty much any wood for pyrography. However, the best wood types for wood burning share the following five qualities;
Light-colored woods are the most popular among pyrographers. Why? Because they offer the best contrast, ensuring the highest visibility of details. Unfortunately, darker woods can blur the artwork.
A beautiful wood grain provides a beautiful background for your artwork. However, you don’t want overly pronounced grains as they may interfere with clarity. Instead, smooth wood surfaces with subdued grain patterns tend to produce the best results.
Avoid treated wood
Unfortunately, burning chemical-treated wood exposes wood burning artists to harmful fumes that can cause a wide range of health issues. Moreover, the chemicals may harm the environment.
So, only consider untreated, chemical-free woods. That rules out engineered wood products, such as MDF and plywood.
Cost and accessibility
Pyrography woods can be expensive and even difficult to find. So, we recommend two tips. First, always work within your budget. Don’t go beyond the budget even when seeking alternatives.
Secondly, consider cheaper, more accessible woods if you’re a beginner. Only season pros need the absolute best woods.
Finally, you should consider your personal preference. For instance, among lighter-colored woods, which one do you prefer? Yellow? Cream? White? Also, what type of woodcut do you prefer? Boards? Wood slices? Live edges?
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15 Best Wood for Pyrography
The following are the best 15 pyrography woods, according to our experts. We’ve started with the top of the cream. However, all fifteen are good options.
1. Willow wood
Willow is arguably the best wood for wood-burning art if you’re a beginner. It is soft and easy to burn. We also love that willow is a soft wood with a very light grain that’s almost invisible.
Yet, it’s a strong hardwood! More importantly, willow has almost white sapwood. However, be warned that older willows have a light brown to pale reddish heartwood.
So, it’s best to go with younger woods. Fortunately, even younger willows retain their color, unlike some woods that darken with age.
- It’s a strong, durable hardwood
- Smooth, flawless surface
- An attractive, near-white sapwood
- It’s hard to source
2. Aspen wood
Aspen is almost similar to willow wood. It is a soft hardwood with a smooth surface that makes drawing and burning easy. This means you don’t need to apply too much heat. Additionally, aspen retains its color when you seal it.
The main downside to aspen for wood-burning art is color variation. Though not always bad, color variation can be distracting and confusing in pyrography. For this reason, we recommend aspen slabs as they have the least color variation.
- Subdued grain patterns
- Attractive white color
- Soft, thus easy to burn
- It tends to have color variations
Many seasoned professionals consider basswood the best wood for pyrography, and you can understand why. It’s a pale white to light brown wood that doesn’t darken with age.
More importantly, basswood has the most uniform color of any wood. Indeed, you cannot separate the heartwood from the sapwood. Also, you’ll rarely find knots or defects in basswood, and we love that basswood is soft and easy to work with.
The only downside is that basswood’s texture isn’t as flawless as willow and aspen. So, it requires much more prep work than the first two wood types.
- Attractive white color
- Basswood doesn’t darken with age
- It’s easy to source
- The grain texture isn’t as smooth as you’d wish
4. Poplar wood
Poplar is a hardwood. So, it’s strong and durable. However, it’s a soft hardwood ideal for wood-burning art. Another advantage of using poplar for pyrography is its color.
It’s typically white or creamy yellow and evenly colored. Also, poplar has a minimal grain that makes wood-burning fun.
However, it’s best suited for beginners because of a few natural drawbacks. For instance, it isn’t uncommon to find mineral streaks in poplar, which can be inconvenient. Finishing poplar is also easy due to its low density and even texture.
- It has an attractive white or creamy yellow color
- It’s affordable and easy to source
- It’s soft with minimal grain
- Often has dark mineral streaks
5. Cherry wood
Cherry wood is another good wood choice for wood-burning artists. It’s a strong hardwood that’s ideal for durable art. Cherry wood also boasts even smooth wood grain that’s fun to burn.
However, it has a few downsides that professional pyrographers quickly point out. For instance, cherry wood has a strong color variation that ranges from medium to dark.
This makes it difficult to bring out detailed designs. Additionally, cherry’s hardness often means you need more heat to burn the wood.
- Strong and durable
- Smooth wood grain
- Easy to source
- Lacks color uniformity
6. Maple wood
Hard maple wood is strong, durable, and highly resistant to wear. So, it’s another good option for art pieces. However, what truly sets it apart is the lack of grain. It’s very smooth to burn.
In addition, maple is light, nearly white wood with excellent color consistency, making it the best wood for sign making. Although the heartwood can be darker, few maples have much heartwood.
The main downside is its hardness. Since it’s very hard, you must burn it at high heat. Also, sugar maple is expensive.
The difference between hard maple and soft maple lies in their respective levels of hardness, with hard maple being notably denser and more durable than its softer counterpart.
- It’s strong and durable
- Gauge resistant (easier to fix mistakes)
- Excellent color consistency
- It requires high heat to burn
7. Pine (yellow or white)
Both white and yellow pine are commonly used for wood-burning art. However, white pine is a better choice because it offers better color consistency. On the other hand, yellow pine has high color variation.
Nevertheless, you can use yellow pine for lettering work. However, consider white pine to burn patterns, portraits, and highly detailed designs.
Whichever the choice, pine is readily available and highly affordable. Moreover, pine is a softwood that burns smoothly.
- Soft and easy to burn
- It has a light color with smooth grain
- It’s an affordable, common wood
- Yellow pines have intent color variations
8. Balsa wood
You probably saw this one coming as balsa is the softest wood in the world, with a density of o.1 kg to 0.2 g per cubic cm (100-200 kg/cubic meter).
In fact, it’s one of the few wood types you can burn deeply with ease. Additionally, balsa has minimal grain and offers a consistent pale reddish brown color that works well for many pyrography projects.
However, it comes far down on the list because working with it is difficult. For instance, because it’s too soft, pyrography pens easily gauge and sink into balsa boards. This can affect the quality of your artwork.
- Soft and easy to burn
- Has minimal grain
- It’s very affordable
- Balsa boards are difficult to find
Birch is a hardwood that boasts many wood-burning qualities but falls short in almost as many areas. It’s a strong wood that makes lasting artwork.
Additionally, birch is a light-colored wood with minimal grain. It’s also popular among pyrographers because it’s readily available and easily burns.
However, it has two main downsides. First, birch wood boards exhibit a color variation that complicates the pyrographer’s work. Additionally, it tends to splinter when burned deeply.
- It’s a strong hardwood
- It burns readily
- It’s light colored with minimal grain
- Birch readily splinters when burned deeply
Ashwood is light-colored wood that grows throughout the east coast of the US. It’s also readily available in Canada. The beige to light brown color makes it an attractive choice for fine furniture.
Also, don’t forget that it’s hardwood that offers valuable durability. These reasons make it a good choice for pyrography too. However, it’s not without downsides.
For instance, ash has a rough grain pattern that makes the pyrographer’s work difficult. Specifically, the fine light veins are difficult to burn through. Additionally, you need strong heat to burn through ash.
- It’s a strong, durable hardwood
- It comes in attractive beige color
- It offers excellent color consistency
- The rough grain is a big letdown
Beech is a hardwood, pale cream, often with a pink or brown hue. So, you can already tell it’s a good candidate for wood-burning art.
Additionally, it’s a strong wood that lasts many years with good maintenance. Its straight grain pattern and even texture are other important attributes that make it good for pyrography.
However, beware that beech produces sap when burned, which can interfere with your art. Additionally, some beech boards have a “dash” grain pattern that many pyrographers don’t appreciate.
- Strong and durable
- Attractive light color
- Has the ideal straight grain pattern
- It oozes sap when burned
Some wood-burning artists stay away from cedar. However, it’s not necessarily a bad choice. For instance, cedar’s pinkish-red color isn’t too bad a choice for wood lettering.
Moreover, cedar transforms to a lighter grey or silver color when dried. It also has the straight grain pattern pyrographers love.
The only downside to burning cedar wood is that it produces toxic fumes that may irritate the nasal membranes. Indeed, burning cedar wood can trigger reactions in asthmatic patients.
- Strong and durable
- It’s a beautiful wood
- Uniform color
- Produces toxic fumes
13. Walnut wood
Walnut is a gorgeous hardwood that woodworkers love for its strength and durability. Therefore, many pyrographers have used it at least once for their artwork.
Unsurprisingly, it takes burning well, producing clear images. Moreover, walnut is easy to burn. You can imprint your patterns with low-level heat.
Unfortunately, it has a major drawback – the dark color. Walnut darkens when finished. So, you lose most of the fine details once you finish the art. Even the paler areas get very dark after finishing.
- Walnut is a gorgeous wood
- It has a fairly good grain
- Burns with ease
- It darkens when finished
14. Pacific Albus
Pacific Albus is a good alternative to balsa and basswood as it’s almost as soft. The only reason it’s way down on the list is it’s difficult to find. Nevertheless, it’s a soft wood that burns with ease.
So, you can easily create embossed lines, divots, and grooves on Pacific Albus. It also has minimal grain and attractive light color. Above all, it’s an inexpensive wood that doesn’t produce resin when burned.
Unfortunately, it’s rare in the US. Very few stores have it. Additionally, it’s easy to gauge the wood as it’s very soft.
- Very light color
- No sap/resin when burned
- It’s a very soft wood
- Not readily found
Jelutong is comparable to the Pacific Albus. It has all the qualities of a good pyrography wood. For instance, it boasts straight wood grains that pyrographers love.
Additionally, Jelutong has a low density, comes in an almost-white color (including the heartwood), and only darkens slightly with age. Above all, it’s soft and readily burns.
Unfortunately, it’s rare and hard to find. Very few lumber yards in the US have Jelutong in stock. So, you may have to source it online.
- Soft and easy to burn
- It has an all-white color
- Boasts a straight grain pattern
- Not readily available
Interesting Read: How to Stop Sap Coming Out of Painted Wood
Wood Burning Types Considerations
Can you burn pallet wood?
Yes, pallet wood is an option for wood-burning artists – if it’s chemical free. But unfortunately, it isn’t easy to verify whether pallet wood has been chemically treated or not.
So, our advice is to find out from the supplier. Burn it if the supplier confirms that it’s untreated. Otherwise, avoid it and find an alternative.
Can you use reclaimed wood/repurposed wood for pyrography?
No, do not burn on reclaimed or finished wood as these wood products typically contain chemicals. Burning the chemicals in finished or reclaimed wood can release toxic fumes that may harm humans and the environment.
The same applies to repurposed wood. You don’t know whether the wood is chemical-treated. So, it’s better to be cautious and avoid such wood.
How do you prepare wood for Pyrography?
You can purchase already prepared pyrography wood from popular craft stores in your area. Otherwise, you must personally prepare the wood before you commence burning images.
Begin by sanding it with 60-grit sandpaper and wipe off the dust using a damp cloth. Then gradually follow up with finer sandpapers until you reach 220-grit sandpaper. Grit 60 to 100 to 150 to 220 would be a good progression.
What are the Best Tools to Use for Pyrography?
You don’t need special tools to make wood-burning art. Instead, you only need the wood and a wood-burning pen or kit.
The wood-burning pen is vital as it’s what heats up and burns images on the wood. So, you want a specialized pyrography pen that allows you to include all the intricate details in your work. We recommend solid-point burner pens or universal-tip pens.
Otherwise, for normal writing on wood, buy the best paint pens for wood, especially if you’re a beginner.
Safety Precautions When Burning Woods
Pyrography is generally safe. However, be warned that that produces smoke, some of which can be toxic. Moreover, the hot pen poses some dangers. So, consider the following safety tips;
- Always wear a mask, even when working on naturally non-toxic wood.
- Make sure the working surface is stable and comfortable to prevent accidents.
- Keep the pyrography pen on a stand, away from flammable items.
- Don’t touch the hot tip of the pyrography pen. Use other means to feel if it’s hot.
- Remember to turn off the pen before you switch to another task.
- Work away from children and pests. Also, keep the pyrography pen away from kids.
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Where to buy wood for pyrography?
The best place to buy pyrography wood is at the local store. Many local craft stores always have a few on hand. Alternatively, check popular online stores. For instance, Amazon and Etsy often have pyrography boards and blanks in stock. You can also check out online art stores and hobby stores, such as Fire2Art and Pyroprint.
Can poplar wood be used for building a sauna?
Yes, poplar wood can be used as a wood for sauna building. It shares similarities with Aspen and is well-suited for sauna benches and interiors, offering knot-free surfaces, non-splintering properties, and no resin secretion, providing a comfortable and safe sauna experience.
Is maple a suitable wood for making countertops?
Yes, maple is a highly suitable wood for making countertops. Its durability, hardness, and resistance to wear make it an excellent choice for both professional installations and DIY projects. As one of the best wood for countertops DIY, maple can withstand daily use without compromising its structure when properly maintained and sealed.
Next, is wood a conductor or insulator? Read our guide to find out.
Although pyrographers can work with nearly every type of wood, not all wood types produce good results when burned.
Therefore, for serious projects, you want to focus on tried and tested wood species that industry experts recommend. Willow, aspen, basswood, poplar, and balsa are some of the best choices.