A good wood burning project starts with the right pyrography stencil. You may be familiar with stencils used for various other art and craft projects, but the type of stencil you use in wood burning is a little different.
Unlike what you may think of when you hear “stencil,” a pyrography stencil is more of a pattern than a tool.
What are pyrography stencils made from? A pyrography stencil is something you create by tracing an image onto a piece of wood. You may use a variety of materials for creating the stencil, including graphite paper, carbon paper, metal, and even plastic.
Wood burning is a relaxing and interesting craft. Whether you want to do it as a hobby or you want it to be a money-making venture, you will likely want to start your design off using a stencil.
There is a lot to know about creating and using pyrography stencils if you want to become good at this craft.
You can draw images and designs right onto the wood if you would like without using a stencil, but this is time-consuming, especially if you want to transfer a complex image or design. It is much easier to use a premade physical stencil.
A premade physical stencil can come in a variety of materials. The most common are plastic and metal. If you use this type of stencil, you will need to trace them onto your wood. You can use a regular pencil to do this.
Caution: Do not try to hold the stencil and burn the wood at the same time as you would in other crafts, such as painting. This is dangerous and puts you at risk for burns. It could also damage the stencil.
There are many metal and plastic stencils you can order or customize yourself. If you are not sure whether to choose metal or plastic, here is a chart that compares the two:
|Hard to store
|Easy to store
|Not as easy to find
|Can be found readily
|Not as customizable
The different physical stencils available are almost endless. Metal stencils are most often used for creating lettering (like these), but you can also find them for various types of designs. Plastic stencils are more likely to come with customization options.
Popular Premade Stencils
Another type of stencil is one you create yourself using graphite paper. Essentially, this is nothing more than a traced pattern. You will use a printed design and graphite paper, which transfers the stencil on the wood.
This is a good option if you do not want to bother with a physical stencil due to storage issues or other personal preferences. It also gives you the ability to be more creative with your designs.
The graphite paper you will use has one side coated with graphite that, when pressed, will transfer your pattern onto the wood. This side is darker than the other side so that you can easily tell them apart. You only need a few tools to create your stencil:
- Graphite paper
- Tracing tool or stylus
- Pattern or design on plain paper
Start with the graphite paper. You want to lay the dark side or transfer side directly on your wood piece. Secure it in place with a couple of pieces of tape, which will prevent slipping.
You will now need a pattern or design printed out on a regular piece of paper, such as the ones found in this woodburning pattern book. Lay this paper on top of the graphite paper and secure it with tape.
Make sure you use tape, such as masking tape, that will not tear the papers or harm the wood. It just needs to hold the papers in place, so they do not shift as you work.
The next step is tracing the design or pattern. You can use pretty much anything to do this, but make sure it has a dull tip. A sharp tip will tear the paper because you will need to use some pressure to ensure the graphite transfers to the wood. Using your tool, trace over every line, and detail in your pattern or design.
When you finish tracing, remove the papers and begin your woodburning. This video shows the process of transferring an image onto wood using graphite paper.
You may wonder if you can use carbon paper instead of graphite. You can, but carbon is not the best choice for wood. Here is a table that provides a comparison of the two options and gives insight into why graphite is a better choice.
|Hard to erase
|Cleaner to work with
|Can stain wood
|Leaves ink residue
As you can see, carbon provides a messier option that could damage your wood and make it difficult to create a clean final project. Graphite is much easier to work with because it uses the same substance as a pencil lead.
It gives you more control and precision when working with it. Plus, it is easy to clean up.
We highly recommend:
You can certainly use carbon if you want. It is easier to find and usually less expensive than graphite paper. Many woodburning enthusiasts use it with no problem.
However, as a beginner, you will likely find graphite is easier to work with.
Choosing Patterns and Designs
As you begin to look for patterns, designs, and physical stencils to use in your woodworking, you will want to ensure that you choose them carefully. There are generally two points to keep in mind:
- Your skill level
- The wood
Always choose a design idea that suits your skill level. If you are a beginner with the craft, then you need to find simpler and less detailed designs. Anything with small details, such as fine lines or lots of shading, is best left to more advanced woodworkers.
Tip: Sticking with projects suitable for your skill level helps to keep you engaged and allows you to see early success. That’ll motivate you to keep going!
You also need to think about the size and type of wood you will use in your project. In general, you will want to use a pattern that fits the wood nicely.
It should leave enough room for a bare edge around the piece but avoid too much empty space. At any rate, you don’t want to end up with a pattern that is way too big or too small for your wood.
Sometimes, the wood you want to use will inspire you. A good example is a piece that looks as if it has water ripples on it, which could inspire you to create a water scene of some kind.
Don’t be afraid to let your wood talk to you and give you ideas of what design to create.
You can use almost anything to create a stencil. This includes photographs of people, animals, and places. These can allow you to create realistic images in your woodworking projects.
This article from Woodworkers Journal offers some great tips and advice on using photos for woodburning projects.
Choosing what to create is often the hardest part of pyrography. Take your time choosing a design, image, or pattern. As long as you ensure that whatever you choose suits your skill and wood, you should be good to go.
Get Your Project Started
Learning how to create a pyrography stencil is one of the first things you will do when learning the craft. You need to make sure that you understand the process so that you can more easily transfer patterns and designs.
Luckily, it is very easy to learn how to do using graphite paper. So, gather your supplies, find a pattern or design, and create your first pyrography stencil.