Choosing the right wood for your pyrography

There is right and wrong wood - and it has to do with safety but also what you are trying to achieve with your pyrography.

There is right and wrong wood - and it has to do with safety but also what you are trying to achieve with your pyrography. Woodburning Pyrography isn't just for wood but the material still matters nonetheless.  Some material is toxic when burned and can cause serious damage.  I am going to share some woods I see commonly used - woods I have used but also some things you need to keep in mind! 

What can you burn on?

  • Basswood is soft and has very little grain.  
  • Italian poplar is another nice wood and wonderful for framing your work when it’s complete.  
  • Birch plywood is good but more challenging due to the heaviness of the grain. 
  • Willow wood has a smooth grain and your wood-burner will 'sink' into the wood.
  • Maple another light grain wood and smooth to burn on.
  • Aspen is another wood where the grain is almost unnoticeable but it can have some color variations.
  • Cherry similar to Aspen has color variations but is a light grain wood that can make some stunning art. 
  • Birch has a light smooth grain but can still be a challenge to work with. 
  • Pine is a challenging wood to work with due to its grain 
  • Hickory and Ash are super tough to work with due to the grain but I have made some really cool pieces with it. 
  • Sassafrass is a new wood to me and I use it for my coasters and ornaments and I absolutely love it. It's a bit challenging to work with similar to Birch. 

 Here's the thing some of the woods I mentioned above are definitely great to work with but some of them need some extra precautions! 

Wood Toxicity

One thing to keep in mind is the fine wood dust when you are sanding - I will talk about this more in my next post - but in some cases, the resin can emit harmful fumes when burning.  Which can lead to some health complications down the road like asthma or increase the risk of more serious illnesses, such as nasal cancer.  Some wood has mold which can also trigger allergic reactions.

Some woods that I mentioned and are listed as toxic (ash, beech, birch, and maple) are because of fungal contamination rather than the wood chemistry itself.  

However, woods such as cedar or pine contain resins that emit toxic odors when burned and may cause serious respiratory problems when inhaled.  If you really want to use some of these woods, be safe about it and maybe do it outside, wear a mask and gloves. 

Wood Toxicity - check out this link

But there are some materials that should NEVER be used for pyrography 

It needs to be said because people will dare fate, but don't burn on 

  • pressure-treated wood because it's soaked with chemicals that are super dangerous to wood-burners and wood-workers! 
  • spalted or medium-density fiberboard (MDF) is not safe to burn because they are loaded with chemicals and formaldehyde.
  • any type of plastic, acrylic, plexiglass because again they have chemicals that will emit fumes that can cause serious harm.  
  • any type of treated wood:  stained, painted, sealed with a finish. The only way you can or should remove all the traves of the stain, paint, and sealant, sand it down.

And then there are some materials that can be really fun and interesting! 

  • Gourds can be fun to work on but the curve and smooth surface can be a bit of a challenge.  
  • Leather is another nice material, but you must ensure that you are only using leather that is oil/vegetable-tanned.  
  • Tagua nuts, also known as “vegetable ivory”,  are fun and interesting to use. I love creating jewelry with them. 

And the wrap this up the only thing I can say is that if you are unsure of the safety, do some research and don't rely on other people.  

Categories: Pyro 101