Wood burning is an artistic technique that lends itself well to creating attractive, do-it-yourself home décor projects. With a little talent and a scrap or two of wood, you may already have the right tool in your toolbox to get started on your project.
With the correct tip and temperature settings, a soldering iron can undoubtedly be used for wood burning. Soldering irons can heat up to between 500 to 800 degrees Fahrenheit and often come with various tip alternatives, making it a highly capable wood burning tool.
With that said, a soldering iron is not explicitly designed for wood burning, so you may need to make some adjustments or purchase attachments to make this tool work for you. We’ll give you everything you need to know to tackle your next wood burning project.
How to Choose and Adjust Your Soldering Iron for Wood Burning
A soldering iron is a tool generally used for melting solder and applying it to metals that are to be joined. There are various types of soldering irons made for specific jobs, such as soldering electronics or joining sheet metal. A simple soldering iron or soldering pencil will work best for wood-burning, as it will provide you with the most control and smallest tip size.
The primary adjustment you will need to make to your soldering iron to use it for wood burning will be the tip. Basic soldering iron tips are made of copper or iron and are not designed with the shape or edge needed for detailed lettering or drawing. Many soldering irons come with alternate tips that can be switched out easily.
A hot knife tip works best for wood burning. The sharp edge provides you with the most precision and focused heat, giving you accurate control when burning. If your soldering iron did not come with a hot knife tip, you could buy one from nearly any home improvement retailer, or you can make one yourself.
If you cannot buy or make a hot knife tip, most soldering irons come with alternate tips that will work reasonably well. However, you may run into a few issues, such as:
- Melting: Soldering iron tips are not designed for the extended surface contact required for wood burning. Be prepared and keep multiple tips handy while working on your wood-burning project. You don’t want to be left with a melted tip and only half of your project completed.
- Lack of precision: If you don’t have a hot knife tip, try to use the smallest alternative tip you have available. You want the tip to resemble a pen since you are essentially drawing a burned design into your wood. Larger tips will be clunky, and you’ll lose the precision you need for crisp design execution.
- Uneven heat: Soldering tips are designed for quick heat hits on small targeted areas. The tips are intended to be the hottest on the top edge of the tip, which works well when you can hold the heat at a perpendicular angle. For wood-burning, your tip will hit the surface at various angles, so you may find certain parts of the tip burn hotter than others.
Having your soldering iron prepped and ready is the first step to a successful wood burning. With some trial and error, you will find the soldering iron tip that works best for you and your project requirements.
Tips for Successful Wood Burning with A Soldering Iron
Because soldering irons are not inherently designed for wood burning, it is unlikely your tool will include instructions on how to best use it for a wood burning project. Use these simple tips to set yourself up for wood burning success with your soldering iron:
- Use the right temperature. You want the tip to be hot enough to burn the wood but not so hot that it chars or gouges the wood. Different types of wood will burn at different temperatures, so be sure to test your heated soldering iron on scraps of wood to determine the best temperature for your project.
- Use slight pressure to burn the surface. Using little pressure will give you the control you need to execute intricate designs. You should not have to press down hard or hold your soldering iron in place for long for the wood to burn appropriately. Adjust the heat and/or tip type if you find yourself pressing hard to get the burn look you want.
- Clean your tip. Burned wood material and ash will build-up on your tip throughout your project. Periodically scrape the tip with a metal brush to clear off the debris. This scraping will maintain the edge of your tip and ensure even heating temperatures from start to finish.
- Practice, practice, practice. Do not expect to be able to execute flawlessly on your initial attempt. You will need to develop the correct handling techniques and learn how your tool will perform best. Practice with multiple pieces of scrap wood before burning on the final surface.
With a little patience and trial-and-error, you’ll be well on your way to completing any wood burning project with your trusty soldering iron. If you find yourself taking on many wood burning projects or being drawn to the art of wood-burning as a hobby, you may want to invest in alternate tools designed specifically for the craft.
Pros and Cons of Wood Burning Pens
There are tools designed specifically for wood burning. If you are a beginner or have a one-off project, there is no need to purchase a specific wood burning tool to get the job done. But if you plan to make wood-burning a permanent hobby or integrate the craft into your work, you may consider purchasing a wood-burning, or pyrography, pen.
There are some benefits (i.e., pros) to using a wood-burning pen versus a soldering iron:
- Designed for wood surfaces. Unlike a soldering iron, a wood-burning pen is intended to be used on wood surfaces. The heat settings and tips provided with your standard wood-burning pen will work well on any wood surface you choose, and you will not have to make any adjustments to the tool itself to be successful.
- Nichrome tips. Most wood-burning pens have nichrome tips, rather than the standard copper or iron soldering iron tips. The nichrome tips do not deteriorate as quickly when used on wood surfaces, so you will not need to replace your wood-burning pen tips as often as you would for a soldering iron.
- Higher heat. Wood-burning pens tend to burn hotter at 750 to 1050 degrees Fahrenheit than soldering irons that heat to 500 to 800 degrees Fahrenheit. The hotter temperature means the wood surface burns at a very slight touch, allowing for precise maneuverability.
The main downside, or con, to using a wood-burning pen is that it requires you to purchase a new tool with a limited range of use. With some wood-burning pens costing upwards of $100, you may end up with an expensive dust collector sitting in your toolbox. Try out wood burning with your soldering iron before investing in a wood burning pen.
If you are interested in wood burning, a soldering iron is the right tool to get you started. You can practice and hone your skills while learning the correct heat settings and tip techniques—all without having to invest in any supplies other than wood. A soldering iron is fully capable of producing high quality; wood burned pieces you’ll be proud to display.