I've been doing pyrography now for almost 18 months and I thought I'd tell you what I've learnt about finishes. Lots of money can be wasted on finding the right finish for pyrography so here's how I got on.
When I started doing pyrography, I did a bit of research and bought three books on the subject in an effort to give me a good grounding. I did some of the exercises in the books and followed the advice of the authors wherever possible. When it came to finishes, Danish Oil was what they recommended, because it is colourless and they said that it would bring out the beauty in my pyrography work.
It was a bit on the expensive side, so I purchased the smallest can I could get and gave it a try. I tried it on a book marker that I'd done some grasses on and I was disappointed. I paid about £14 for that tin of Danish Oil and about £13.95 worth of it is still left in the tin.
I like my workspace and I'm not taking the risk of having it burnt down to the ground because I forgot to flatten out a piece of oily cloth.
Another oil that I tried was chopping board oil. When I started pyrography I, like many others, went down the kitchenware route. I burnt patterns onto wooden spoons, egg cups, and chopping boards etc. These items need to be finished with chopping board oil because it is safe for items that come into contact with food. I still have most of that left in a tin too because I've stopped doing kitchenware items, and to be honest the finish wasn't anything to write home about. One of my chopping boards can be seen below.
Anyway, after giving up on the oils I decided to give good old-fashioned varnish a chance to shine and when compared with the oils I was very impressed. It dries quickly, gives a really nice glossy finish and it protects my pyrography work. I don't know if it is just me, but people seem to have got very snobby over the use of varnish. They seem to think that it's just something that sailors use to coat the bottom of their Yachts. My advice would be give it a try a see the results for yourself.
I use Ronseal quick drying gloss varnish, which dries in 1 hour, so my usual three coats can be done in half a day. The brush I use can be cleaned easily with soap and water so no nasty chemicals are involved. If you want your work to really shine, give your work a light sanding with some fine sandpaper before you apply the last coat.
You can get Ronseal varnish in various shades and besides the clear gloss I also use light oak where my wood needs to be warmed up a bit. I wouldn't go any darker than light oak because if you do it will cancel out some of your pyrography work.
Here are some tips about the use of varnish.
Work quickly and always brush it on in the same direction as the grain on the wood.
I apply several thin coats rather than a couple of thick ones.
Lastly, before you put the lid back on the can, take a piece of kitchen towel and wipe any varnish off the lid and from around the rim on the tin. The reason for this is because if you don't, the next time you open the tin, little bits of dried up varnish will drop into your tin and these will be transferred onto your work. The net result is that you will have to chuck the tin away before you have used half of it, due to it being full of bits. I know this is true because it happened to me. At £8 for a small tin chucking any of it away seems like a daft option, but there again I've always been as tight as a drum skin.
In my next post, I'll explain my use of colour. Why use it at all and when do acrylics give better results than watercolours.