Woodburning can be a great skill to master, as it has a number of different uses in woodworking projects. You can burn your initials into the handles of your tools to easily identify them, can sign larger woodworking pieces with your name or a symbol and you can even create wholly original artwork with nothing but woodburning. If you’re just getting into woodburning, here are a few things to keep in mind to make your next woodburning project a success, regardless of its size.

Right tool for the job

Given their similarities, you might be tempted to use an old soldering iron or similar piece of equipment as a makeshift woodburning pen. While this might work with some woods, you won’t get anywhere near the level of precision and detail as you’d get with a real woodburning pen. You should also get tips that are designed for woodburning, as they’ll hold up against the heat better than other substitutes. You can use different tips to create different line thicknesses and patterns, so don’t be afraid to pick up a few extra tips of different sizes or shapes for your project.

Choose the right wood

The wood you use will greatly affect the end result of your woodburning project. Softer woods like aspen or pine that have little grain are your best bets for easy burning. You can burn into hardwoods, but it will take more time and effort to create your end result.

Transferring patterns

Print out or draw your pattern, then use transfer paper to transfer it to the wood you’re going to burn. You don’t have to transfer the entire pattern; instead, transfer only the key lines necessary to create the design you want and fill in the details once those are burned in. This will prevent you from having too many stray marks on the wood that are difficult to erase or otherwise remove once you’ve burnt everything in.

Follow the lines

Move your woodburning pen in the direction that the lines would normally take using nice even strokes. Don’t try to force the stroke; let the point of your burner tip just barely make contact with the surface of the wood. The speed of your stroke determines how dark the line will be, with slower strokes being darker than faster ones.

Move from background to foreground

Start in the background of your project image if you can, working forward from there into the foreground. This ensures that close-up objects in your image won’t be obscured by objects that should be farther away. Your foreground objects can then overlap your background as needed if some of your lines end up overlapping.

Work in layers

If a line is too light, you can always darken it later. If it’s too dark, however, there’s nothing you can do. Make your initial lines light, then come back and burn additional layers wherever you need lines to appear in darker tones. This not only helps to prevent mistakes, but it also gives your final images more depth than they would have if you tried to do everything on a single layer.

Clean your tools

As you burn wood, the tip of your woodburning pen will accumulate carbon. Lightly brush it with 320-grit sandpaper or a similar abrasive to remove the carbon and prevent it from staining the wood you’re working on. If the pen is on and the tip is hot, make sure that you brush it quickly; if it’s in contact with the paper for more than a second it could catch the sandpaper on fire.

Mind the heat

Woodburning pens get hot, so you need to watch out for burns and heat-related damage. Never touch the pen anywhere other than the grip surface until it has completely cooled down. If you need to remove or otherwise touch a hot burning tip, use a small pair of pliers to do so. If you’re changing tips, insert the new tip with pliers as well since it may heat up quickly. You can place hot tips in heat-resistant glass, ceramic or metal bowls while they cool.

Practice, practice, practice

Use samples of the same wood you’ll be working with to practice before you start on your next project. This not only gives you a chance to see how easily the wood burns, but it also lets you try out new techniques or woodburning pen tips before you start working on your project. Taking the time to practice gets you used to the wood and keeps you from making mistakes that could ruin your project piece.