If you have ever walked through your local arts and crafts store, you will no doubt have come across a shelf filled with wood burning pens.
But if you have ever thought about getting into the hobby, you might be wondering if you can forgo the cost of a new pyrography set in favor of something like a cheap soldering iron, which you might already have laying around.
Can a soldering iron be used for pyrography? A soldering iron is not necessarily recommended and is not ideal for pyrography. Unlike pyrography pens, soldering iron tips are, in most cases, made from copper or iron and are not pointed in the same ways a wood-burning pen is.
Using a soldering iron for pyrography will damage the tips quicker and limit your range of achievable effects.
While it is possible to use a soldering iron for pyrography, you will definitely want to invest in a proper wood burning kit (something like this) if you intend to pursue the hobby frequently.
If you have a cheap soldering iron gathering dust somewhere and you just want to use it as a way to test your hand at wood burning, we’ll give you some pointers.
Before getting started, be sure that you know the basics of pyrography. Head over to my main pyrography page for important guides, tips, and recommended equipment.
How to Use a Soldering Iron for Wood Burning
Experimenting with pyrography by using a soldering iron can give you a start, but keep in mind that you should expect less than ideal results from using it.
If you do intend on using a soldering iron for the purposes of creating wood burning art, then consider following these quick tips before you fire it up:
- Find the pointiest tip you can: Like a pyrography pen, soldering irons have interchangeable tips. Using sharp and pointy soldering tips will give you the most control and range of effects depending on what you are attempting.
- Make sure your iron is hot enough: Not every soldering iron heats up to the same temperature, meaning that if you have a particularly low wattage iron, it will take quite a bit longer for you to make any visible marks, so be prepared to wait or find something more ideal.
- Clean your tip regularly: Since soldering iron tips are not made from nichrome the way that wood-burning pens are, ash and wood material will gather on your iron’s tip pretty frequently and will prevent you from actually burning the wood. Cleaning the tip with a steel brush will alleviate this.
- Test your technique on scrap wood: Using a soldering iron as a wood-burning tool will inherently give you less control of the shape of your lines, so it is best to test things on scrap wood first.
- Replace the tip when soldering: If you do end up using a soldering iron for your pyrography project, you will want to replace the tip if you intend on doing any soldering with it, as the tip will oxidize and become incapable of wetting with solder.
Once you have considered all of the above, the only thing left for you to do is to decide what you want to burn into your wooden object of choice.
You will likely want to pencil your design onto the wood as a guide. (Stencils are great for this step!)
Freehand pyrography does not allow for many mistakes and using a soldering iron for the job is not the most ideal either.
But if you can become proficient with an iron, you will not regret upgrading to a real wood burner.
Wood Burning Pen for Beginners
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If you’re interested in getting started with wood burning, check out our Pyrography Beginner’s Guide.
How are a Wood Burner and a Soldering Iron Different?
Although wood burners and soldering irons may appear to be practically the same product on the surface, there are actually quite a few nuanced differences, some more obvious than others.
- They’re designed for different purposes. A soldering iron is, as you may have guessed, designed for soldering and not for burning wood.
- Wood and solder burn differently. This is an important distinction because solder melts at a lower temperature than wood burns, making the majority of soldering irons less ideal for pyrography.
- The tools heat differently. Wood burning pens get a fair bit hotter than a soldering iron, and usually, they even come with adjustable thermometers, making them far more versatile for pyrography.
- Wood-burning pens have a variety of tips. There are dozens of different pointed tips, blades, and other carving implements, which greatly enhance their ability to be used for fine detail work, unlike a soldering iron.
- Wood–burning pens have tips made of nichrome, which are more durable and accumulate less debris as they go.
The act of using a soldering iron tip for pyrography will oxidize the copper or iron which it is made from, as it will be running “dry.”
This will wear out the conductivity of your tips quicker than normal and render them fairly useless.
How to Plan Your Pyrography
If you are just getting into the hobby of wood burning, there are a few things to consider before you start marking up your “canvas” with irremovable burns.
Aside from deciding what implement you will use for your wood-burning project, the primary thing you need to think about is what type of wood you are going to be working with, as every species of tree produces a surface that is unique to work with in many different ways.
First, as a matter of safety, you want to make certain you are not burning any treated wood.
Whether it be varnish, stain, or manufactured boards, such as plywood or MDF board, burning any of these will release toxic fumes.
If you absolutely must use treated wood, it is highly recommended that you sand down your board to the bare wood and conduct your pyrography in a well-ventilated area.
Also, know that different woods will burn in their own unique ways.
The density of different species of timber will determine how hard it is to create marks on the surface.
The amount of heat it takes to burn your board will also vary, and some wood will even spew sap as you burn them with your pyrography tools.
Read through my article, “The Best Wood for Your Pyrography Project,” for more details and an in-depth look at the wood options available.
So, with all of this in mind, whether you are new to wood burning or even if you are a seasoned pyrography artist, it never hurts to think ahead and plan accordingly.
Also know that you can purchase precut squares of wood, like this 36-piece pack on Amazon.
They’re so affordable and perfect not only for practice but for making small projects, such as ornaments and coasters.
Is Pyrography Still Around?
If you have read this far because you are curious about the art of wood burning but are wondering if it’s still an art people take part in, we’ll help clear things up.
Pyrography, also known as wood burning, among other colloquialisms, is the art of creating designs on wood with a hot implement, a technique that dates back to the early 17th century and has continued to endure till this day.
The term pyrography has its origins in Greek and, when translated, literally means “writing with fire,” which is a fitting – and pretty cool-sounding – descriptor.
Before the modern amenities of today, wood burning would be accomplished by heating a metal poker to the desired temperature.
As one can imagine, this was a lengthy process due to the constant need for reheating the poking implement.
However, technology has come a long way since then, and while some still like to practice the old poker work style of wood burning, we do have the invention of the soldering iron.
Modern professionals and hobbyists can experience the advantages of today’s pyrography pens. Without the pioneering technology of the soldering iron, artists would still be using hot needles.
Pyrography is alive and well today and is enjoyed by many.
A quick search of “pyrography” on Pinterest, for instance, will get you all kinds of great inspiration for getting started.
Once you’re all fired up for your first projects, head over to my pyrography page to make sure you have all of the tools and information that you need.