Working With Wood Grain

by L. S. Irish

There is a large variety of wood species that make wonderful backgrounds for your wood burning. The most common are Basswood, White Birch, and White Pine. These three woods can easily be purchased from craft and hobby supply stores in pre-cut, pre-routed shapes, and as unfinished furniture. Butternut, Walnut, and Mahogany are also favorites of wood burners, however, they are not commonly found in pre-cut shapes. These latter three woods can be obtained through wood working supply stores as lumber stock.

Each species of wood has it’s own properties when burned depending on the softness or hardness of the wood, the spacing of the grain, and the saw cut direction of each particular piece. Softer woods as Basswood and White Pine burn more easily than harder wood species. A wood burning on Basswood done at the same tool temperature setting and stroke pressure will be much deeper in color tone than that done on White Birch. The width of the burned line will also be thicker on softer woods compared to the tight lines burned into a harder wood.

Basswood

Basswood

Each type of wood, soft or hard, has unique advantages to the finished project. If you want a dark toned, dramatic wood burning chose a soft wood. Basswood can be burned to a rich black coloring and white pine achieves a very dark chocolate tone for it’s deepest colors. If, instead, you wish to create a wood burning with a wide range of color tones use a hardwood as your burning surface. A hardwood as White Birch allows for extremely pale coloring so adjusts to more complex shading schemes.

Light Birch

Light Birch

The width and darkness of the grain of your wood piece also effects the finish of your wood burning. Finely grained woods as Basswood and White Birch show very little color changes in a burned line. Because their grain is so closely packed and there is little color change between the grain lines, these two woods provide a clean even surface for your work. However, with White Pine the grain lines are very distinct both in width and coloring. As you burn across the grain of White Pine you will see your burned line change in color tone as well as in width. This can easily be adjusted by lightly re-burning the pale areas of the line, bringing them down to the darker tones of the grain areas.

White Pine

White Pine

Wood boards can be cut from the tree log in several ways. Plain grain wood is cut from the old growth rings and runs vertical with the growth of the tree rings. End grain wood is cut horizontal to the tree and so includes the central heart section outward to the bark. Growth rings close to the heart of the tree are darker in appearance and usually wider than the outer growth rings. Heartwood contains a higher sap content than outer growth ring wood. Plain grain wood therefore has a finer and lighter in color grain pattern thus creating less distortion in your wood burning.

Sapwood Pine

Sapwood Pine

The natural coloring of the wood species also determines the final effect of your burning project. White woods as Basswood and Birch will allow a greater color range in tonal value to your work than Butternut or Mahogany.

It is suggested that you avoid wood burning any wood that has been pre-treated with preservatives as pressure treated lumber. These preservatives are toxic and can be released into the air as you work. Painted wood also can release toxic fumes when burned as many paints include lead, cadmium, and other heavy metals in their composition. Aged pieces of wood can carry molds and fungus deep within their fibers. As a general rule it is best to work with clean, fresh, un-treated wood as your wood burning background.