Pyrography is an incredible art of creating designs and patterns on wood pieces by burning them on a wooden surface. The designs are etched on the wooden surface with the help of heated tools. These tools have various nibs or tips, which are suited for specific styles. Since the tips are used to etch design by burning wood, which is an organic material, carbon is naturally formed as a by-product. This carbon absorbs most of the heat produced. It is essential to clean these tips as carbon residue from burning the wood sticks to the tip of the heated pen, which decreases its efficiency.
How to clean wood burning tips ?
If the carbon that I talked about above is allowed to be accumulated, it causes the tip to make askew burns. I will discuss 7 such methods about how to clean wood burning tips correctly.
1. Using Leather Strop and Aluminum oxide
Many pyrographers prefer this method to give their tips a shiny, like-new look. A strop is a surface used to polish the edge and work off any scratches left behind by the sharpening stone. They are often made of leather. It comes in many variations. To clean the tip of wood-burning tools, a strop with rougher or suede leather on one side and smooth leather on another side is usually used.
Aluminum oxide is a white crystalline powder that can be found in a number of minerals occurring in nature. It is also broadly used as an abrasive. Aluminum oxide is used as a gift to clean carbon accumulation.
To clean the tip, put some aluminum oxide powder on the suede side, and rib the tip until it becomes clean. To get a sparkly effect, rub the tip on the smooth side as well with aluminum oxide. Cleaning the tips with a leather strop and aluminum cleans the carbon accumulations and polishes the tip. It can be used for all types of tips.
2. Using a Honing cloth
Many pyrographers prefer to use a honing cloth. A honing cloth is very similar to fine sandpaper; the honing cloth is only a finer version. It can be used to clean up carbon build-up from burning wood which gets accumulated on the tooltips. It cleans the tips without scratching and damaging the tool nibs.
You can get a pretty decent cleaning with a honing cloth. It doesn’t give a fabulous polished shine one can get by using a leather strop, but it still works well and is way cheaper, therefore, preferred by many. You can clean the carbon build-up by simply rubbing the dirty parts of the tip on the honing cloth till it’s clean and shiny.
3. Using Paraffin Wax
Paraffin wax is a white, translucent hard wax which consists of straight-chain hydrocarbons. This is a fairly new method used for cleaning wood-burning tips. It is best suited for rounded ball tip styles and to clean heavy build-up from dark backgrounds. It can easily be purchased online or from any local hardware shop.
To clean the tips, increase the heat level of your wood-burning pen. You can increase it to levels 9-10. This will burn off any loose material. Then dip the tip in the wax while the tip is still hot. Allow the wax to burn off, which will rid your tip of the carbon build-up. Once the tip has cooled down, wipe off any residual wax. If there is still some carbon build-up that is too stubborn, use a leather strop with some aluminum oxide to get rid of it.
4. Using a Knife or Razor
Many pyrographers also use razors or knives to clean their dirty wood-burning tips. They use it to scrape off carbon build-up on wood-burning tips. However, this method can be time-consuming and takes a lot of patience. This method is recommended for straight or flat edge tip styles as it doesn’t work well for rounded tips like ballpoints or flow tips.
For cleaning the carbon residue off the tips, use the knife or razor across the edge, gently and carefully scrapping the carbon off the tip. It is best if the knife or the razor can be secured to a sturdy surface. This will make the process hassle-free without stabilizing the knife and the tip. It is not one of the safest methods to use for build-up cleaning. Therefore, one must ensure that the knife or razor is not too sharp as it can damage the tool and injure the person handling it.
5. Using Steel Wool
Steel wool or scouring pad is an efficient, cheap and easily available solution to get rid of the stubborn carbon accumulations from wood burning, therefore recommended and used by pyrographers. It is important to get rid of the carbon residue that accumulates on the wood-burning tips as it absorbs most of the heat and causes the tip to tarnish the patterns and design efficiency. Steel wool can be used while cleaning solid point tips as it can be a bit too harsh for the sleek wire nibs.
It is very easy to use; you just need to rub the nib on the scouring pad until the carbon build-up comes off. Do it with gentle hands because if you are being too harsh while cleaning the tips, the steel wool can damage the tips. It is recommended to use finer steel wool, as it will be less abrasive on the fragile wood-burning tip.
6. Using Brass Bristle Brush
Brass bristle brushes are also used by many and even recommended by the manufacturers of many renowned wood-burning pen companies for removing carbon build-up on wood-burning nibs. Brass bristle brushes are recommended for solid point tip styles as the bristles are way too harsh for the sleeker wire nibs.
To clean the build-up, simply rub the solid point nibs along the brass bristles. Remember to do it gently, as putting pressure can break the nib. Make sure to use t a soft brass bristle brush and not a stainless-steel brush, as it can damage the nibs.
7. Using Jeweller's Rouge
A jeweller’s rouge is a polishing compound used for achieving high shine on precious metals like gold and silver. It is made from finely ground iron oxide mixed with tallow which acts as a binding material. It is recommended by many to get rid of carbon accumulation on their pen tips from wood burning. If you, too, want your wood-burning tips to get nice and clean, a jeweller’s rouge or any polishing compound can be used.
Wood-burning nibs are very delicate as they are made with fine metal. Therefore cleaning the nibs using a jeweller’s rouge is a good idea as it is less abrasive and safe for the pen tip. Any other polishing compound can be used in place of the jeweller’s rouge. A coarser green rouge can be used for daily cleaning, and a finer red rouge to give a shiny finish. This method should be done carefully as incorrect use of jewelry’ rouge can decrease the lifespan of the tool.
Now that we know the correct methods that should be used for cleaning the wood-burning tips so that you don’t damage your delicate wood-burning tips and can work with them for a more extended period of time, there are some methods which should not be used as it can harm your tips, reducing its longevity and quality of functioning.
5 Cleaning Methods to avoid
Most pyrographers are guilty of using sandpaper or sand blocks to clean their tools when they start with wood burning. Sandpaper clears the tips moderately faster, but it also eats away the metal, making the tip thin, changing its shape, and causing micro gouges. Thinning of metal changes the way the particular tip burns.It also makes it difficult for the tip to glide smoothly.
The worst thing people do is use sandpaper of higher grit to get rid of the carbon residue quickly. A sand paper of higher grit not only scratches at the nib but also decreases its lifespan. If you want sandpaper, don’t use a heavy 80 grit. Instead, use finer 220-grit sandpaper.
2. Emery Boards
Emery is a grayish-black granular mineral formed of corundum. An emery board is a thin, long strip of cardboard with emery or emery paper glued to them, making it abrasive. It is used by manicurists for shaping and smoothing the nails during manicures. Due to its abrasive nature, many pyrographers use it to remove carbon build-up from the wood-burning nibs.
Using an emery board or file for scrapping carbon residue is not a good idea as it is very abrasive in nature and not suited for working with delicate pyrography nibs. It can leave scratch marks on your tips and can even remove the metal of the tips, distorting its shape and functioning. It is harsher than sandpaper, and it’s totally unsafe to use on hot wood-burning tools.
3. Using high heat
Pyrographers often crank up or increase the heat of the pen to the maximum. The high heat aids in the peeling and loosening of carbon build-up from the pen tips, which eventually cleans the tips. Though this method is practiced by many, it is not a good method to follow for cleaning your pyrography tips regularly.
Wood burning tips are made of fine metal. Cranking up their temperature on a daily basis to clean the carbon residue reduces their life expectancy and efficiency. Such high heat passing through a fine piece of metal can burn out the circuitry. Therefore it is better to avoid cleaning your delicate tips with this method.
4. Tea strainer
At times it becomes difficult to clean the carbon residue off the nibs. In such cases, a tea strainer is used by many pyrographers to clean large chunks of carbon by rubbing the dirty tip on the tea strainer mesh. Even though it does the job, the majority of experienced pyrographers do not recommend this method as it often damages the tooltips. The tea strainers are extremely abrasive and scrape the metal off the tips.
Cleaning the pyrography tips with a tea strainer on a daily basis can remove metal, leading to thinning and reshaping of the metal nibs. This changes the way a particular tip burns as each tip is styled to burn a certain way.
5. Cleaning with a Wet Sponge
Many often prefer a wet sponge to get rid of carbon build-up on wood-burning nibs. Using water and a sponge to clean the metal tips can seem simple and harmless, but in reality, it is not the case.
This method is used by many as it is identical to cleaning a soldering iron. Using water and then scrubbing the fine metal of the wood burning to get rid of carbon build-up, if used on a daily basis, can lead to rusting of the metal nibs, decreasing the longevity and functioning of the nibs. Therefore, it is better to not use water for cleaning your dirty wood-burning nibs.
I hope this article helped you understand how to clean your wood burning tips without messing them up. I have more guides lined up like this below, do check them out.
It would be helpful to note that cleaning your wood-burning nibs is essential. Carbon is not a good conductor of heat. Therefore carbon buildup will not allow the heat to travel to all parts of the tip consistently, which will not produce the desired results. A clean tip will give you a more consistent and clean result. Therefore every pyrographer needs to know how to clean wood-burning nibs in the proper way without damaging them. Cleaning the tips helps to preserve their integrity and increases the longevity of the tooltips. For additional care, make sure your burner has good airflow and is free of dust.
Wood By Wright ASMR. (2018, March 22). How do you use a strop? | Leather and buffing compound choices [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezwU5FO4GDg
Aluminum Oxide: What it is & Where it’s Used. (n.d.). https://www.ceramicsrefractories.saint-gobain.com/news-articles/aluminum-oxide-what-it-where-its-used
Nikesh.Patel@cooksongold.com. (2022, February 10). What Is Jewellers Rouge? | The Bench [Video]. The Bench. https://www.cooksongold.com/blog/learn/what-is-jewellers-rouge/