Wood Burning A Black Background

The following is a short tutorial for all you wood burners out there, on how to burn a black background.  There’s much more to it than just rubbing your burning pen back and forth all over (as I would have thought).  Read on and learn some tips on proper wood burning technique.  

Wood Burning A Black Background

Burning a black background is quite simple, but produces a lot of smoke and can add a few extra hours of work to a piece. The key is to be patient and take your time. (It’s also a good idea to use a respirator or work in a well-ventilated area.)

I use the Walnut Hollow Creative Versa-Tool wood burner and the shading point. Lay the point flat on the wood move it back and forth, very slowly, in small half inch sections. Working in smaller sections helps to hold the heat in the wood and keeps the point from cooling down too fast.

Go in the same direction as the wood grain if possible. Keep moving the tip back and forth until the wood gets very black then move over to a new section.

Don’t use too hot of a setting or you can scorch the upper layers of wood, causing irreparable damage. (I use the high temp setting on the Versa-Tool but other burners may be too hot on their highest setting. Experiment on a scrap piece of wood first to dial in the temp.) Just be patient and keep the burner moving at all times, keeping a soft touch. If you press really hard then you’ll dent the wood and bend the tip.

The burner will cool down a lot after a few minutes of black burning and you will see some carbon buildup as well. If you set the burner to the side and wait 5 minutes, it will regain optimal temperature and most of the carbon will burn off on its own. I usually use two burners and switch back and forth between them so I always have a hot burner ready to go.

Also, the type of wood plays a large factor in creating a nice black background. In my experience, it is almost impossible to get a good black on Pine. My preference is Basswood for making smooth, dark backgrounds. And as always, sand the wood until super smooth before burning.

Woods Commonly Used For Carving

  • American Mahogany
  • Apple
  • Basswood
  • Black Walnut
  • Butternut
  • Cherry
  • Dark Red Meranti
  • Holly
  • Padauk
  • Pau Marfim
  • Persimmon
  • Purplheart
  • Red Alder
  • Soft Elm
  • Sycamore
  • Yellow Poplar
  • Zebrano


We have only one readers’ comment this time around.

spandexsplinters commented on my last post on Fitting a Baseball Hat on a Head and said: “This is super helpful! Thanks”

I‘m glad you found the information useful.  I hope more people did.

Let the chips fly!  Tell your wood carving friends and spread the word about Wood Chip Chatter, and don’t forget to click the ‘Comment’ button at the bottom of the page to send in your questions and comments so we can keep Wood Chip Chatter active and keep the conversations going! 

And remember, we need your photos!  I’m sure you all have some terrific carvings to share and photos of your carvings will help to liven up the blog’s appearance and make it more interesting.  Perhaps we can start a carvers photo section!  Email your photos to carverbobk@woodchipchatter.com

Keep a sharp edge and keep on carvin‘!

Someone told me half of all car accidents happen within a mile of your home.  So I moved.

Published by carverbobk

I’m a self taught award winning wood carver who has been carving since I was a teenager. I enjoy instructing other carvers, especially beginners.

2 thoughts on “Wood Burning A Black Background

  1. Bob,

    Thanks for the information on wood burning and the different kinds of wood to burn on. I’m also new to wood burning my carvings so this information is helpful.

    Bob Nesbit


  2. Bob , I enjoyed your article on wood burning but I am curious that under the species of wood commonly carved I don’t see Alder listed. I began my journey in carving by taking classes from Jim Ploegman a Master carver who specialized in Northwest Native Carvings. Many of the projects we carved were out of Alder. We would always prize green Alder for carving of bowls and masks inspired by the carvings of the First Nation’s People. When we get fresh cut Alder we would wet it down and bag it in plastic bags and freeze them to keep them wet between carving sessions.

    This procedure of carving wet wood necessitated a method of drying the finished project. We would use the following method. See the separate email.

    Liked by 1 person

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