I never thought I’d try out woodburning. I must have passed the section with woodburning supplies a dozen times in Michael’s, and always thought, “That’s wayyyyy out of my league.” Surprisingly, as it turns out, this recent project was totally in the realm of possibility with some careful planning and a strong exercise in patience, which was kind of a great life lesson for me, an impatient person.
The idea was inspired by getting our new kitchen table. I’ve never bought my own before, having always received hand-me-downs from family. In our first house, for the first time, I really wanted to pull the trigger on a table I could call my own and really use for the long-haul. Short story: After days of comparison shopping and going back-and-forth (honestly a million times) in my head about what would work best in the space, with the plastic chairs, plopped between the kitchen and living room, and under the existing light fixture, and then waiting a few days before buying to be really, really sure, I settled on a small, 48″ raw wood box-frame table from West Elm.
I love it, but it requires a little more care than past tables (i.e., like actually taking care of it with stupid stuff like coasters and chargers). I have salt and pepper shakers and small votives, and because this was a table with a wax finish, it can be scratched and rubbed off without much elbow grease. Not ideal, but I pretty much fell in love with the other aspects of the table and was willing to deal with the extra care it would need. Ain’t she cute!?
To give this stuff a surface to rest on, I tried out the other trays I had around, and sadly all were too big for my little table. They didn’t even leave room for real dinner plates to fully rest on the tabletop. And uh, last I checked, that’s pretty necessary, since a table is meant for eating and not storing all my knickknacks. Rather than buying a new tray, I thought I’d try my hand at making my own in my effort to fill my home with more meaningful items.
After first considering Mod Podge and fabric or paper over wood, I went a different direction once in the store and grabbed the woodburning tools — in anticipation that this would end up hardier and last longer. Here were my supplies:
- Rectangular basswood plaque
- Woodburner detailer
- Minwax pre-stain conditioner
- Minwax stain in Driftwood
- Minwax polyurethane
- A pencil to trace on my script
- A short, natural bristle brush
- Mineral spirits for clean-up
- Cardboard to lay the wood on for staining
- A piece of black felt to glue on the bottom, or four little foam circle pads to place in the four corners to stand it up on the table and protect the table’s finish
- Mod Podge as the adhesive brushed across the bottom
- Two handles of your choice (mine were from Menard’s) and a drill to do pilot holes
Here’s how I made it:
First, I found the phrase I was looking for in a nice calligraphy to trace onto the board. I could have probably printed it out and traced it for real, but instead I kind of eyeballed it and drew it on myself, adding extra thickness lines where the script should be thicker. (Plus, my printer didn’t print it, so there’s that.)
Next, I plugged in the woodburner detailer and let it heat up. It heats to 750 degrees, so I wore an oven mitt while I used it. This obviously hampers your ability to hold the tool as easily as a pencil, but even through the mitt, it was hot. I practiced writing words a few times on the back of the board. It’s not like paint, where you could feasibly paint over it, and I knew there was a time commitment to this, so if I eventually screwed up on the last letter after spending an hour carefully burning the whole design, I knew I’d probably break the board karate-style (j.k. I can’t break boards). After I really felt like I could handle the tool and create the letters, I moved onto the front and worked on the traced lettering.
It helped to actually follow the directions with the tool, which were to go very slowly and apply light pressure. I essentially let the weight of the tool work its magic without pressing down into the wood. I found it easiest to “write” at the same angle I normally do when writing with a pen, but create continuous lines where I didn’t pull up the burner and instead created one long, clean line until I hit a turning point or curve. This helped create smoother lines. I didn’t take any photos of this process because I was too busy making sure my fingers didn’t burn off (I did lose a strand of hair that fell onto the burner; not a fun smell), but it was similar to drawing in that I did all the outlines and then “filled in” the thicker parts of the script.
Once this part was done — there might have been a little jig in my living room once I finished it — I moved on to conditioning, staining, and sealing. This was pretty straightforward. I brushed on a thin layer of conditioner, let it sit for a few minutes, and rubbed off the excess with a paper towel. Then I brushed on just one coat of stain (I didn’t want a dark finish since that would ruin the nice contrast of the burn), and again wiped off excess with a paper towel. I waited a couple hours for that to dry, and then brushed on one coat, then a second coat of polyurethane for protection. A third coat would have made it more shiny, so I stuck to two to retain the weathered look.
Once it cured after about 8 hours, I measured where the handles would go and drilled pilot holes to put the screws through, then screwed on the handles themselves, tightening the screws with the drill. Then I brushed a layer of Mod Podge onto the bottom of the tray and pressed the felt sheet (cut to fit and not overlap the sides) into that and let it dry. The little foam circles I added to the corners raise it up about 1/4″, but the single layer of felt wasn’t truly enough to protect the table from the screws that stuck out of the bottom, so you could make a judgement call on doing either two layers of felt or the foam circles, probably not both like I did. #hindsight