Best Finish for Wood Burning & Pyrography 2023 [Updated]

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The Best Finish for Wood Burning & Pyrography 2023 (How to Seal Burnt Wood)

Pyrography is the art of burning images onto wood surfaces. Artists use a range of tools and wood types when working, and usually apply different finishing products when the burning process is complete. There are many finishes available on the market today, and each has its pros and cons.

While finishing products are not completely necessary, most pyrography projects benefit from the protection they offer. It is in your best interest to familiarize yourself with the products available and know their strengths and weaknesses so you can choose the best one for your project.

Walnut Hollow Deluxe Woodburning Kit with Woodburning Pen, Patterns, Color Pencils and Instructions
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Walnut Hollow Deluxe Woodburning Kit with Woodburning Pen, Patterns, Color Pencils and Instructions
  • This set has all a beginner needs to learn Woodburning (Pyrography) including a reusable Pen, and...
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  • The simple instructions teach you how to use the Points (tips) for bold outlines and subtle shading

How to Prepare Wood for Burning & Finishing

man sanding wood before wood burning
You should make sure to sand down your wood before applying heat and finishing. Ivan Radic CC BY-SA

Before you can apply a finish, you need to properly prepare your project. Start by sanding down your wood to a 220 grit. Then, wipe the sanded surface with water and let it air dry. Repeat this process again depending on the type of wood used and your personal preferences.

Most woods commonly used in pyrography should be sanded and rinsed twice to ensure a smooth surface for finishing. Make sure to prep your wood in this way before burning, because sanding over artwork can damage or alter its appearance.

Considerations Before Applying a Finish

wood burning design on prepared wood
When applying a finish to wood, ensure you follow the tips below for the best results. National Rural Knowledge Exchange CC BY-SA

1) Put your finishing product in a bowl before using

Dipping your brush directly into the can of finish will contaminate the entire product. If your brush has been used on wood previously, some of that wood’s color may have soaked into the bristles of the brush and will cause discoloration to the finish if dipped into the can directly.

Work with small amounts in a clean bowl to prevent contaminating your entire supply of finish.

2) Make sure your work environment, finishing product, and wood are warm.

 Most sealants/finishes will require warm temperatures to properly set and dry. Read the label of your product to see what temperature is required. Make sure that the room in which you are working is warm, as well as the finish itself.

If you store your wood finishes in a garage or shed that gets cold, bring the finishes inside to warm up before using. 

Warming your wood surface will also be beneficial to the setting process and prevent any bubbles from forming on your work.

3) Use one finishing product at a time and apply in thin layers.

 When in doubt, it is best to follow the instructions provided on the label of your finishing product. Two basic tips to always follow, however, are to not mix finishes and to work in thin coats.

Take your time when choosing and applying a sealant or finish to ensure that you are using the right one for your project with the right technique. The chemical compositions of different products do not mix, so use one per project. Apply multiple thin coats of product instead of one thick, goopy layer to get better results.

4) Work in a well-ventilated area.

Finishing products are made of strong chemicals that are potentially damaging when inhaled. Work in an airy, open space to avoid health risks. 

If you are concerned about inhaling fumes, or have any preexisting health conditions, wearing a mask is also a good idea. 

Spray On vs Brush On Products – What’s Best?

man finishing wood with clear coat
Both spray on and brush on finishes have their advantages and disadvantages. Scott Brown CC BY-SA

 Some of the types of products listed below come in spray or brush on varieties. Both work well for pyrography projects, so choose what will work best for you. While sprays are more convenient, they can be more expensive, so if you do a lot of wood burning, invest in some brush on cans of finish instead.

Spray on products can also cause pooling and unevenness when sprayed incorrectly. Even, steady sprays will prevent these issues. Overall, the money you save will make the slower process of brushing on finish worth it in the long run.

Here’s a video with some great extra tips for applying spray on finish:


Spray On Advantages:                                                      

  • Convenient                                   
  • Good for small projects

Spray On Disadvantages:

  • Less cost-effective
  • Requires good technique to avoid pooling

Brush On Advantages

  • Cost effective
  • Easy to control application and amount of product used

Brush On Disadvantages

  • Time consuming to apply

Best Type of Pyrography & Wood Burning Finish (Pros & Cons)

1) Lacquer

AQUA COAT Clear Lacquer, Water-Based Wood Finish (Gloss)
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AQUA COAT Clear Lacquer, Water-Based Wood Finish (Gloss)
  • Aqua Coat Clear Lacquer forms a hard, stain-resistant film with exceptional clarity and mar...
  • Extremely clear film, VOC compliant, fast drying, easy sanding, ready to use, water clean up,...
  • This product may be thinned with water and forms an excellent finish that can be re-coated in 30-60...

If you are looking for a product that provides a durable finish, lacquer is a great option. It should be applied with a lacquer thinner at first, and then can be built up. Lacquer has a fast drying time, can be brushed on or sprayed on, and is easy to find at hardware stores.

It has a strong smell, so work in a ventilated area. This product does age over time, so keep that in mind when choosing it. Luckily, aged lacquer finishes can be sanded down and new lacquer can be reapplied easily.

Learn more about lacquer here.


  • Easy to find lacquer and lacquer thinner at local stores
  • Fast drying time
  • Durable
  • No sanding required


  • Strong smell
  • Can age over time
  • Requires several coats
  • Should be used with a lacquer thinner

 2) Oil

Tried & True Danish Oil – Pint – All Natural, All Purpose Finish For Wood, Food Safe, Solvent Free,...
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Oil is a durable finish that accentuates natural wood grains. Common types of oils for pyrography projects are Tung, Danish, lemon, walnut, and mineral oil. Oils are applied using a brush. Allow the oil to set and then wipe the excess with a cloth. The oil will need to set overnight before applying another coat or using the item.

Oil finishes are great for keeping wood moisturized, and are commonly used for practical items that come into contact with food, like cutting boards. Mineral oil is a great choice for cutting boards because it is non-toxic and can handle high heats without going rancid.

To learn how to finish a cutting board with oil, watch this tutorial.


  • Brings out the natural look of all woods
  • Easy to apply
  • Affordable
  • Safe for kitchen items


  • Doesn’t seal the wood from dust and oil
  • Will need to be reapplied occasionally
  • Sets overnight

 3) Shellac

Rust-Oleum Zinsser 304H 1-Quart Bulls Eye Clear Shellac
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Rust-Oleum Zinsser 304H 1-Quart Bulls Eye Clear Shellac
  • This product adds a great value
  • 1 quart
  • Seals, preserves wood, art, Statuary & metal

Shellac is made from the secretions of a female Lac bug, so this product is considered a natural finish. It is therefore very safe to use because it doesn’t contain harsh chemicals. Apply shellac in a thin layer and let it set for 45 minutes. It is then okay to apply another coat or two.

This product is good for any pyrography project that is not exposed to heat. Otherwise, the shellac will discolor the wood. Avoid using this product on coasters and cutting boards.

For helpful tips and tricks about applying shellac, check out this video.


  • Safe and natural
  • Easy to use


  • Shouldn’t be used on items exposed to heat

 4) Polyurethane

RUST-OLEUM 200031 Waterborne Diamond Polyurethane Scratch and Stain Protection, 1-Gallon, Gloss
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RUST-OLEUM 200031 Waterborne Diamond Polyurethane Scratch and Stain Protection, 1-Gallon, Gloss
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  • Elegant design and Finish
  • The product is manufactured in United States

Polyurethane is one of the most common wood finishing products. It comes in spray on and brush on varieties and in a wide range of formulas. High gloss, gloss, and semi-matte finishes are the most popular and are appropriate for most pyrography pieces.

Water-based and oil-based options are offered and both are a good option depending on your personal preference. Polyurethane can give wood a yellow hue, so keep that in mind when choosing this product.

To use polyurethane properly, brush on a thin coat, let it dry for three or four hours, sand, and apply another coat. Three coats usually does the trick for pyrography projects.

Tips for applying polyurethane can be found here.


  • Provides a tough, durable finish
  • Lasts a long time
  • Many varieties for different needs


  • Sanding is required between coats
  • Several coats are required, each with lengthy drying times
  • Can give projects a yellow hue

 5) Paste Wax

Trewax Paste Wax with Carnauba Wax, Clear, 12.35-Ounce, Ideal on Hardwood Floors, Fine Furniture,...
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Paste wax is an affordable product that provides a natural finish for any type of pyrography project. Paste wax is applied with a clean cloth. Rub one light coat onto the surface and let it dry. As it dries, buff into a sheen and apply another layer if needed. Be careful not to apply too much wax or the wood will take on a cloudy appearance.

This method of finishing is very customizable and allows for a lot of control. It is easy to apply thin coats when using wax and the finish ends up looking very minimal and natural. Use paste wax if you want to accentuate the wood without taking away from its natural beauty. 

For advice on using this product, check out this video.


  • Easy to customize
  • Affordable
  • Offers a natural, minimal finished look


  • Time consuming to apply
  • Requires buffing
  • Can be overapplied and difficult to remove

6) Nothing!

The easiest and most cost-effective option for wood finishing is using nothing at all. This is not recommended for most pyrography because the artwork will get damaged over time due to oil transfer from fingers, dust, and moisture loss.

However, if you have a simple project and you are not worried about damage, skipping the finishing process will save you time and money. 


  • Easy
  • Cheap


  • Pyrography will get damaged over time due to oil, dust, and moisture loss.

1 thought on “Best Finish for Wood Burning & Pyrography 2023 [Updated]”

  1. Hi,

    I am making a nameplate using pyrography, to hang on the outside of my house. What would be the best finish option to make it sustainable in all weather conditions? Thank you!



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