Ways to burn letters in wood to create plaques

Updated July 20, 2017

Custom-made wood plaques can be a nice way to display a name or sign and can be made without too much time or effort. You can buy pre-cut plaques at craft stores or if you have the proper wood cutting tools you can create your own from wooden boards. You can burn letters in the wood using a wood burning pencil tool or letter attachments.

Prepare the Wood

Before burning letters, begin by sanding the wood. Sand all surfaces, moving with the grain of the wood. Start with coarse grit sandpaper and then use a fine grit sandpaper for the second sanding. When properly done the wood should feel soft and smooth with no rough edges or splinters. After sanding, wipe the wood off with a damp paper towel to remove all the dust. If you plan to stain your wood you will want to choose whether to do this before or after wood burning. If the stain is very light it can be applied after wood burning because the colour will not cover up the letters. If the stain is dark it might be best to stain first so you can ensure that your letters are dark enough to be seen. If you have an extra piece of scrap wood, test the stain and letter colour to decide if you should stain before wood burning or after. All paint and varnish should be applied after wood burning.

Wood Burning

Wood burners consist of a metal blade that when heated creates an indent and burns a darker colour in the wood. These tools are handheld and fairly inexpensive. Be sure to only hold the wood burner by the handle and never touch the tip, as the metal becomes extremely hot. Because of the ability to use the wood burner like a pencil, a wood burner allows for more flexibility in the creation of a design as you can control the size and shape of the letters. Draw out your letters or design on the wood before you begin burning. Use a pencil so you can erase if needed and so the lines will not be seen after the burning is done. Use a ruler to make sure your line of letters is straight and even. To adjust the shade of the letters, hold the wood burner into the wood for longer amounts of time for darker letters and shorter time for lighter letters. Press harder for deeper letters and lighter for shallower letters. It is best to begin with light pressure since you can always go over lines again to make them darker. One drawback to a wood burner is that it works best with straight lines. To successfully create curves, use just the point of the wood burner and slowly drag the point along the curve. Some wood burners also come with rounded attachments to facilitate creating curved lines.

Letter Imprinting

Wood burners can also come with alphabet letter sets. These are individual letter attachments that are added to a wood burner to imprint letters into the wood. This technique can take away more of the human error and make the letters more uniform and professional looking. However, with an alphabet set you will not be able to control the size or shape of the letters. Use the same wood burning techniques with letter templates as with the wood burning pen.

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About the Author

Valerie Powell is a recent graduate of Ithaca College in New York with a Bachelor of Arts in writing. Her past writing experience includes a team-created grant proposal for a non-profit publishing company, an editorial internship at a small publishing company in London, England, and various articles published online for eHow.