The Super Pro
Important Note: In 1979
Colwood became the first major manufacturer to produce the fine
nichrome wire woodburning tool -- The Detailer. That's correct!
-- before Razortip, Detail Master, Nibsburner, Optima and some
others that have fallen by the wayside. Contrary to information
being posted around the Internet, mostly by individuals with
their own agendas, Colwood's tip wire has always been made from
Precision, Versatility, Control, and Service - Qualities that describe
Colwood's full line of woodburning tools and accessories. Colwood offers five control
units with their own distinct features to satisfy all skill levels - the novice to the
professional artist. Each unit includes a solid state controller and ultra-flex cord as
standard equipment. The "guts" of all our units are housed in a custom
"cold rolled steel" enclosure; not a generic, off-the-shelf, plastic box
susceptible to melting by misplacing a handpiece or cracking if accidentally
dropped. All our units are manufactured and serviced right in our factory. Thus, we can
ship virtually every order and repair within 24 hours.
The Wattage Controversy
How Woodburning Units Work
Virtually all of the modern woodburning units are constructed in the same manner. A
transformer provides the power and is controlled by a device not unlike a light dimmer
that passes the power to a handpiece cord where a burning pen and tip are attached. The
transformer's purpose is to step down the voltage to a usable level that is regulated by
the controller that passes the power through the cord to the handpiece and tip.
There has been a lot of misleading information concerning wattage on woodburning units.
Many manufacturers make high wattage claims that are false. We have tested many of these
units and have found that they all consume less than 45 watts of power, including the
units claiming to deliver 130 watts max.
Simply put, wattage is power; and generally speaking, more is better than less. The
logical question to ask is how much wattage does one need. To answer this, we conducted an
experiment in our shop using a wattmeter, a Detailer with 18 gauge cord, and a
"K" tip (small point). Several feather barbs were burned on a piece of basswood
with the Detailer's control knob set to 3. We were able to burn a nice, crisp
"toast" colored barb. The wattmeter registered 10 watts! Next, we set the
Detailer to full power. The "K" tip glowed a bright orange, the basswood burned
a burnt black, and the feather barbs looked horrible. The wattmeter registered 27 watts.
With respect to woodburning, we feel that wattage rating is severely overrated. You should
chose a woodburner that has the features that you require, and a price tag that fits your
budget. Colwood's wide selection of control units, and handpiece cords
make it easy for you to accomplish this while satisfying all your artistic needs.
Below is an excerpt from the Power Carving Manual review of woodburning
tools. Pay special attention to the section concerning wattage.
Woodburning Units Details and
As children many of us had the opportunity to use the soldering
iron type of woodburning tool. Mine
first came as a Christmas gift from my Grandparents the kit included six or
eight preprinted plaques, paints, and the burner. Sadly, I never saw it again
after I burned (destroyed) all the plaques and decided to launch a career by
doing some redesign on the side panel of a hutch.
These were fine for rough detail, but as the need for finer detail arose,
new machines were built with sharpened wire tips that could burn much finer
lines with far more control than the old time units.
One of the first units used a light bulb to vary the temperature output.
Just screw in a higher wattage bulb for more power!
Next came units controlled by a rheostat.
These units used a simple rheostat power controller to vary the voltage
to a transformer, and thus vary the heat to the burning pen.
Today, most (if not all) of the newer generation woodburning systems use
an electronic circuit to more evenly regulate power output.
The circuitry is similar in operation to a lamp dimmer, except that a
transformer (primary side) takes the place of the light bulb.
The control circuit varies the level of AC voltage to the transformer.
The secondary of the transformer is connected to the output jack of the
burner, which is where the burning pen is plugged in.
The burner transformer is unique in that most units only generate around
2 volts AC to the burning pen. But
even though the voltage is low, the current to the pen can be as high as 20 or
more Amperes! This high current is
needed to heat the resistance alloy (most use Nickel-Chromium wire) of the
Although most of todays woodburners function basically the same, there
are many differences between units. Units
can vary in price from $45 to over $200, depending on features and power output.
It is important to choose a burner that fits the way you burn.
If you burn hot or put a lot of pressure on the tip, you will need a
heavier duty style of burning pen that can handle this kind of use.
Conversely, if you are creating a World Class miniature piece, you would
want to use finer, more delicate tips that will allow the degree of detail that
competition at this level requires conceivably up to 125 or more lines
(strokes) per inch!
There are also burning pens I call medium duty that can cover a
wide range of uses. These pens have
tips that are not TOO big or TOO small, and in the right hands, can accomplish a
wide range of burning techniques.
Another consideration is whether to buy a fixed tip (tip permanently
soldered into pen) or a replaceable tip (tips unplug from pen) style of burning
pen. A replaceable tip pen can be a
less expensive initial investment if you want many different tip styles, but can
possibly cause problems in the future as the connections get loose or corroded.
If you buy a fixed tip style, look for a high quality silver soldered
tip to pen joint, for the best possible electrical connection.
Should this be your choice, you may want to check to insure that the
manufacturer offers a tip replacement service so you dont have to replace the
whole pen when you wear out a tip.
When you buy a new woodburner, dont waste a lot of money buying 20
different styles of burning pens! Your
salesman should steer you to 2 or 3 pens that fit the style of burning you wish
to do. Beware of the salesperson
that tells you that you need a great many different styles or shapes of
pens you know whose benefit that sales pitch is for!
You will soon find that you are using two or three tips constantly, and
any others are just special use tips that are used once or twice a year.
This illustrious advice coming from one who has to have two or three full
sets of everything!
There are many different ways to use a burning tool.
I know of one artist who creates beautiful flatwork (pyrography) pieces
using only 2 different tip styles. Trees,
grass, fur, plants, shading, etc., all done with two tips!
She might use one upside down and backwards to achieve a certain effect
of technique, so dont be afraid to try something new!
A major consideration to any unit is the cord that runs between the
control box and the burning pens. Some
units have stiff, clunky wires that can impede a smooth workflow.
Other units have very thin, flexible cords. The quality and size of wire
used in these connecting cords varies greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Before you purchase a unit, try as many as you can so you get a better idea of
what will best work for you.
If at all possible, test several different brands to find the unit that
works for you in all categories quality, economy, function, and
Most burning can be done at lower temperatures
there is no reason for a
lot of smoke (or fire!) to come off your work!
About 700 degrees F will give a nice toast to your work. In some cases, if you burn too hot, paint adhesion can be a
problem, as the pores in the wood are sealed shut. Burning at a lower cooler temperature will also tend to avoid
residue and build-up on your tips.
However, there may be situations where you will need extra heat (power)
to undercut or relieve a carving detail and such a cut may require as much as
1500 degrees or more. If you plan
to do feather inserts, the unit has to deliver the extra power necessary to
accomplish the deep slotted cuts required to accept the pre-shaped feather
To clean tips, use factory recommended methods, and stay away from coarse
emery cloth or sandpaper, unless you wish to buy new tips often!
One method used to clean and restore tips is a cleaner pad that has very
fine abrasive (600/800) grit bonded to both sides of a foam core pad.
This is fine enough to clean your tip without removing metal, and is
still enough to redress a dulled tip.
Another method is a leather strop to sharpen and buff out an edge.
The strop can be treated with a bit of Neats foot oil or a very small
amount of polishing paste or extremely fine honing compound.
Use care, too little is better than too much when it comes to burning
tips. Work the tip cold, and with
tip on its side, use gentle draw strokes with a finger lying over the upper side
of the tip to support it.
As I burn, I keep a piece of old used denim trouser leg (faded) on a flat
surface nearby and occasionally wipe my hot burning tip quickly from side to
side on it, and this action keeps the pen clear and buffs as I work.
Dont dawdle as you do this wiping action from side to side, or you
will char the cloth, build up residue on the pen tip, and suffer the smell of
For control and accuracy, you must always establish a surface anchor or
fulcrum with either the little finger or the side of the hand while you
texture. I use my little finger to
the extent that I have developed callus in much the same way a guitarist or
violinist develops a hardened or callused fingertip through contact with the
strings of his instrument. This
contact with the carving surface is imperative to exercise the control necessary
to place a stroke with respect to width, length, direction, and relationship to
previously place strokes. To better
understand the need for this concept, try writing a check without any part of
your hand touching the surface of the check.
If you feel no pull or friction on your stroke, chances are you are
running at too high a heat setting. You
will know, because the surface will be more black (charred) than the middle
brown (toast) color you should achieve.
If you feel an inordinate amount of pull or friction on your
stroke, you are probably operating at too low a temperature setting. If the resultant stroke is just a light brown mark where the
stroke begins, and nothing more than a tool mark at the end of the stroke, you
may want to consider an increase in your temperature setting.
Hold the pen (handpiece) at sufficient angle as you burn to keep the
rising heat from going directly to the fingers this gets uncomfortable very
Always have a scrap piece of wood (of the same kind used in the carving)
at hand to check, adjust, correct, and practice your burning strokes before
you attempt any burning or texturing application to the carving!
Woodburner Use and Safety:
Dont use excessive pressure when texture burning learn to adjust
the heat setting to make it work you for instead of stressing the pen and tip.
Check the owners manual or with the manufacturer to find out whether
it is recommended that the unit be turned to full power to condition new
tips or to burn off carbon some recommend that you do, others recommend that
Use care and common sense in how you clean and/or resharpen the pen tips.
If you use a stone, sandpaper, or a harsh abrasive, you will wear out the
tip prematurely, and in some cases, modify or hinder its former use.
Use a leather strop or bugging wheel with fine polishing rouge, and learn
to work at the lowest temperature necessary to achieve the result you want.
Always keep the unit out of the reach and away from children.
Tips are sharp and very hot, and will burn skin and flesh easier than
Whenever you burn, assume a comfortable and relaxed position, with
respect given to arm, head, body and leg position.
For example, if you begin to feel stress in the back of your neck, change
the angle you are holding the work, or adjust the heat of your seat to relieve
Always work with sufficient quantity and quality of light.
Use a shadow light (a strong light to the left of the work if you are
right handed) that creates a shadow with each stroke, making it easier to place
and register strokes.
Turn the unit OFF whenever you leave it not only will you avoid a
fire hazard, but you will prolong the life of the burning tip.
Most burning units will heat the tip to operational temperature in less
than thirty seconds time well spent when considering the possible
alternatives that could occur by not turning the unit off.
If a unit begins to make noise or buzz, turn it off, allow the pen to
cool, and change pens. Usually, an
occurrence such as this is indicative of a shorted pen.
If the noise continues with a new pen, you should contact the
manufacturer to ascertain the cause of the problem and/or make arrangements to
return the unit.
Keep wood scraps available to check heat settings and to practice
strokes. To maintain uniformity,
the test piece should be the same type of wood as the carving you are, or will
be working on.
One major difference that can be found from one woodburner to the next is
the method of connection between components the control unit, the cord, and
the pen. Connections can make a
great difference to the efficiency and effectiveness of a woodburning pen.
The two most common connections are both audio plug and jacks.
They are the standard headphone plug and jack, or the phone (RCA type)
socket and jack. Of the two, I
prefer the RCA connector over the large headphone jack because the RCA connector
has more actual surface contact for size than does the headphone connector. Some manufacturers permanently affix (by mechanical or
soldered connection) the cord to the power unit and connect the other end to the
pen by means of an RCA/phone connector.
Whether texturing, clarifying details in hair, fur, feathers, fish
scales, or just highlighting carving cuts, find a woodburning tool that feels
comfortable and operates in a manner that produces the exact and/or desired
result that you want. Explain your
requirements to woodcarving suppliers, salesmen, or vendors and ask for
assistance to achieve what you desire as a result of your type and style of
Talk with people who use woodburning tools to a greater extent than just
casual or sporadic use to include pyrographers (people who create decorative
pictures and design with woodburning pens) as well as woodcarvers.
Wherever possible, try a burning tip or pen before purchase what may
come highly recommended by one may not be comfortable in grip or function for
Each of the units featured was connected to a digitized wattmeter to
ascertain the amount of power the machine would generate with a burning tip
turned to full power. The wattmeter
drew a constant 121 volts on the same circuit, so every unit was given exactly
the same input.
I was not completely convinced that the manufacturer who claimed their
unit produced more than 130 watts was entirely accurate when the machine seemed
to function no better and no hotter than other machines I detailed or textured
I hate to go out on a limb, but I think wattage rating is nonsense!
All the units featured were within 3 watts from highest to lowest.
I would rather be told about features and function than be misled about
power. I dont care what the
rating, as long as the unit performs to the standard that my style of carving
and texturing demand of it. As a
user/consumer, I am not concerned with claims of high power when I find that the
measurement came from within the circuit, across components, or across the
transformer leads. As a user, I am
interested in the capability of the unit to deliver to the tip o the burning pen
the power necessary to accomplish what I am doing or want to do.
Unless the industry agrees to a standardized method of measuring all
units such as a wattmeter measurement using a standardized pen/tip, what
good are comparative ratings?
Yes, if the same company manufactures several models, I would like to
know the duty rating assigned to each by that company.
Such terminology as heavy duty, medium duty, or light duty would satisfy
me completely, and Im willing to be it would satisfy the majority of
woodcarvers and pyrographers as well.
For the most part, (as can be seen by each of the wattmeter readings for
those units tested) the units tested produced readings within one or two watts
of each other. So how does one
select the best unit? Consider the
following when selecting a woodburning unit: Response of heat to the tip the unit should bring the tip quickly to
the level of heat that you desire.
Continuity of heat to the tip every time you stroke with the pen,
heat is drawn from its tip to the surface of the carving.
The unit you choose should produce a consistent and continual source of
heat without high and low prolonged peaks of indiscriminate power which make the
texturing process uneven and untidy. Units
like this make it virtually impossible to regulate and/or produce the detail in
the extreme that todays carvings demand.
Recovery of heat to the tip should be as instantaneous as possible.
It makes texture burning a chore when the use must either continually
pause or re-stroke because the unit doesnt recover quickly enough to
facilitate his stroke cadence. (In fairness to any of todays woodburners, the unit can
usually be fitted to your stroke cadence by adjusting the heat setting or as
a last resort, you can adjust your cadence with faster or slower stroke
Power sufficient to accomplish the extremes of cutting, detailing, or
texturing that the users style of carving and burning dictates.
Comfort with prolonged use, the burning pen should remain cool in the
grip area, and afford comfort with respect to holding ability and size to the
hand of the user.
Features the three features that any unit must have are: a separate
ON/OFF power switch, a well defined and divided temperature adjustment knob, and
just as important, an indicator light that tells me if the unit is on or off.
If and when the telephone, grandchildren, visitors, or my dog interrupts
me, I want to see at a glance that the unit is OFF.
The last thing I do after I have turned off the lights in the studio at
the end of the day is to scan the work surfaces for a red or green pilot light
that will tell me I have left a unit on. All
other features (depending on the manufacturer) are appreciated, and in most
cases, gladly received conveniences.