Finishes:
Sealing Woodburning Projects For Long Lasting Art

Sealing woodburning projects is the best way to make your pyrography art stand the test of time.

What's the big deal about finishes?

The truth is, burns tend to fade over time. They fade faster with time, sunlight and use.

You'll want a different finish depending on the project you're doing. For example, you'll use a different sealant for wall art or jewelry than you will for a food-safe cutting board or wooden spoon.

So now that you're done burning, it's time to finish strong! (heh heh, see what I did there? #punnerd)

Here's a list I made for you of different woodburning finishes based on the project you're working on, along with some pros and cons to each one.

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General Finishes for Sealing Woodburning Projects

These finishes are great for wall art, jewelry, and other general pyrography projects.

It's best to have something that will protect your work from sunlight coming in the windows (a.k.a. UV protection). But some of those finishes yellow over time.

You also want protection from fingerprints (especially if you sell your stuff at an art show or craft fair where people might touch it with their greasy hands... ewww).

FYI - While I prefer the matte finished look, high gloss finishes tend to be tougher and more durable.

That said, here are some great options for sealing woodburning projects.

Spar Urethane (liquid or spray):

  • comes in a range from matte to glossy finish
  • UV protection
  • great for heavily used indoor/outdoor items, like furniture
  • some kinds yellow over time

Polycrylic (liquid or spray):

  • comes in a range from matte to glossy finish
  • doesn't yellow over time
  • great for heavily used indoor items, like furniture
  • no UV protection

Polyurethane (liquid or spray):

  • comes in a range from matte to glossy finish
  • great for heavily used indoor items, like furniture
  • yellows over time
  • no UV protection
Resin:
  • smooth glassy finish
  • thicker finish protects artwork more than other finishes
  • some have UV protection
  • yellows over time

Furniture Wax:

  • smooth matte finish
  • no UV protection
  • must be reapplied on occasion, especially for heavily used items, like furniture

Danish Oil:

  • matte finish
  • no UV protection
  • may need to be reapplied on occasion, especially for heavily used items, like furniture

Clear Spray Paint:

  • quick and easy to apply
  • doesn't yellow over time
  • comes in a range from matte to glossy finish
  • matte finish may dry cloudy (especially over paint)
  • less protective than other finishes
  • no UV protection

Outdoor Projects

When sealing woodburning projects that will end up outside, just remember that burns are not match for the sun.

In other words, they fade faster.

Most finishes crack pretty fast in the weather too.

These finishes do pretty well. Reseal it every year for the longest lasting protection.

Wood Deck Sealer:

  • comes in a range from matte to glossy finish
  • UV protection
  • water resistant (if you seal the whole thing!)
  • penetrates wood
  • yellows over time
Spar Urethane or Spar Varnish:
  • comes in a range from matte to glossy finish
  • UV protection
  • water resistant (if you seal the whole thing!)
  • some kinds yellow over time


Food Safe Finishes

I burned a lot of wood spoons and cutting boards when I first started out.

When sealing woodburning projects for the kitchen, start with an oil first. This penetrates the wood to protect it from long term use and prevents cracking.

Then add a water resistant coating to the outside. It's like adding a shell to keep the water out.

Step 1: Oil

Generally, you should let oil dry for 15-30 minutes before adding another coat, wiping it off, or continuing to Step 2. Unless it's tung oil. That takes 7-8 hours between coats and 2-3 days for the final coat.

I like to add 2-3 coats.

Butcher Block Oil:

  • usually petroleum based

Mineral Oil:

  • cheaper than most oils
  • petroleum based

Walnut Oil:

  • plant based
  • once dry, it doesn't go rancid like other cooking oils do
  • some people are very allergic

Tung Oil:

  • plant based
  • matte or satin finish
  • very strong when fully dried
  • long drying time
  • some people are very allergic
  • must be 100% pure (no solvents) to be food safe

Step 2: Conditioner

These are best for creating that "shell" for keeping the water out.

Plain waxes must be combined with an oil, or they won't penetrate the wood enough to stay on and protect it.

Let these conditioners sit about 15-30 minutes before buffing off.

Carnauba Wax (food grade) & Oil:

  • plant based
  • darkens the wood
  • may have to combine it with the oil yourself

Beeswax & Oil:

  • more natural based
  • darkens the wood
  • may have to combine it with the oil yourself

Butcher Block Conditioner:

  • ready made
  • darkens the wood
  • usually petroleum based


Mixed Media

Some finishes don't play nicely with other mediums. Here's what I've learned works best.

Watercolor:

  • Varnish is best. Polycrylic is next. Spar urethane and polyurethane yellow over light colored paint.
  • Use a spray varnish to prevent smearing. You can apply a liquid varnish after if you want.
  • No matte finish, it dries cloudy.

Acrylic:

  • Varnish is best. Polycrylic is next. Spar urethane and polyurethane yellow over light colored paint.

Gouache:

  • No finishes! Gouache doesn't like it.
  • Framed with glass that doesn't touch the surface is the best protection

Colored Pencils:

  • Varnish is best for archival quality - but be soooooo careful with this! If you "paint" the varnish on with a brush, it will eat away at your color and smear all over the place. Use a spray varnish made for oil paints. Apply in extremely light coats, starting and stopping wayyyy off the wood so it doesn't pool up and smudge your color. Do at least 4-5 very thin coats before applying thicker coats. Once you can touch it without color coming off at all, you can add liquid varnish with a paint brush.
  • Spray Archival Fixative is next best for sealing woodburning projects with colored pencil. Test first since fixatives can react unpredictably with different kinds of pencil wax/oil.
  • Don't use matte finish, it dries cloudy.


Other Finishes

If you're like me, you want to burn things other than wood! Here are my suggestions for sealing woodburning projects that aren't actually wood.

Leather:

Paper:

Gourd:

Bone:

Cotton Fabric:


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