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As woodburning artists it can be tempting to add our unique art to a wide variety of wooden surfaces. However, before we fire up our burners it’s a good idea to double check the safety of what you’re burning.
In this post I’d like to talk about the importance of burning on unfinished wood only. Now before you roll your eyes about reading another post about safety, let me share a concern of mine. Almost every day I see artists sharing work-in-progress photos that show them adding color to a woodburning before the burning is complete. If you like to add color to a pyrography, I strongly suggest that you wait until the entire burning is finished before doing so. Burning over or next to any paint, or pigment can be incredibly dangerous because they can contain a number of harmful chemicals and/or metals such as zinc, lead and cadmium, just to name a few.
Be wary of burning on old lumber that was used outdoors. Materials that were used to create decks, fences, etc may have been stained or otherwise treated with chemicals. Even though wood fades with age and sunlight, those chemicals will remain and can easily be inhaled when burned. Some of the common chemicals used for treating wood include arsenic and chromium.
Also be careful when burning orchard woods such as cherry or apple. If the orchards were sprayed with pesticides then those chemicals will remain in the wood and release very hazardous fumes. Particleboard, plywood or other composite wood products are often held together with glues that may contain cyanide. Furniture is often made of composite wood, so be careful when burning on cabinets, desks or other units.
Remember that wood smoke is made of fine and ultra-fine particles that can easily penetrate deeply into your lungs and even enter the bloodstream. That smoke will carry along any toxic fumes that are burned, so play it safe and only burn on unfinished, unstained and uncolored wood.
For more information, visit this comprehensive article on art material safety:
Lora Irish also has some great information on toxicity in pyrography:
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