How to Make Burn Marks in Wood on the Lathe


Surface embellishments on your woodturning projects, like pyrography, which is the burning decorations on wood, or carving, can elevate your creativity to a new level, affording you many options to enhance your design. However, you don't need to spend hundreds of dollars on specialized tools or gadgets to achieve the same effect. A little wire combined with the spinning friction from your lathe can yield stunning results.

Things You'll Need

  • Skew chisel or parting tool
  • 1-inch diameter dowel
  • Hand saw
  • Hand drill with 1/4-inch drill bit
  • Wire
  • Wire cutters
  • Cut a small groove into the surface of your project using the point of a skew chisel or your parting tool where you would like your burn marks to appear. The skew chisel has an angled blade with a sharp corner tip. The parting tool is knife-like and is used to part wood off the lathe when completed. These grooves will allow the wire to seat against the surface of your project and not skate around.

  • Cut two pieces from the dowel about 3 inches in length.

  • Drill a hole through the dowels in the middle of the length.

  • Cut a 2-foot length of wire using your wire cutters.

  • Thread the wire through the drilled holes and rotate the dowel until the wire wraps around the dowel a couple of turns. Repeat this step for the other dowel with the other end of the wire.

  • Turn your lathe on and adjust to a medium-fast speed based upon the diameter of your project.

  • Hold the dowels in each hand and pull the wire tight across the surface of your projects, but not too tight.

  • Guide the wire into the grooves you cut in your project and continue to apply downward pressure with your hands until smoke starts to curl up from the surface of the spinning piece.

  • Lift the wire using both dowels. Turn off the lathe and check your piece for the desired effect. If a more prominent burn mark is wanted, repeat the procedure with slightly more downward pressure.

Tips & Warnings

  • Continue to use the above techniques until all of the burn marks on your project are completed. Vary thickness of the wire to create different effects. Create your burn marks before applying finish to your project, because the heat generated may mar or disfigure the final finish.
  • Read and follow all manufacturer's guidelines and safety protocols for your lathe.
  • The wire can get extremely hot during this procedure. Take all necessary care to protect your arms and hands from coming in contact with the heated portion of the wire before it can cool.

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