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Tool Review: Colwood Detailer Woodburner
By Jeff Fleisher

I was first exposed to woodburning (aka pyrography) many years ago as a member and future president of the Northern Virginia Carvers. A nationally known pyrographer, Kathleen Menendez, was in our club and she created an online museum of work from international pyrographers. The museum still exists today and is known as the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art. Here is an example of her work, a close up of part of a clock face.

Needless to say, many of us tried our hand at pyrography/woodburning. That is where I first learned about the various Colwood Woodburning Systems . I've been using the Colwood Detailer Woodburner for many years now.

The Detailer is a professional quality pyrography tool that can burn extremely fine lines for very detailed work or broad shading for blending areas together. The Detailer has a heavy-duty solid-state 37-watt temperature controller with a rotary dial for continuous temperature control. The system comes with an ultra-flex hand piece cord, a replaceable-tip hand-piece with cork-lined grip, and five detailing tips, all in a plastic carrying case. The included tips are: 3/16" round (D), 1/8" tight round (J), 1/4" large point (B), .076 writing tip (C) and a 3/16" bent tip (S) for shading. The Detailer accepts all of Colwood's optional hand-piece and tip selections, which I will discuss further. All components are made in the USA in their plant in Farmingdale, NJ.

There are two types of pens in the Colwood Woodburning System, a Fixed Tip Pen and a Replaceable Tip Pen. Colwood's handles are manufactured from a molded phenolic material, which has excellent insulating properties. In addition, the gripping end of the pen has a cork grip. This plastic/cork combination keeps the end of the pen cool while in use. You can use either type of pen with The Detailer.

In a Fixed Tip Pen, the body of the pen and the tip are all one piece and do not come apart. The tip is permanently attached to the handle. This was Colwood's original tip system and its main advantage is that you don’t have to wait for the tip to cool down before switching to a different tip. Just unplug the whole pen and replace it with a different pen.

The Replaceable Tip Woodburning Handpiece contains a single pen and multiple tips that plug into the end of the pen. You simply insert a tip (called a tip bushing) into the replaceable tip handle to change the style of tip to be used.

The replaceable tip system provides a more cost effective approach to woodburning. One handle accepts all of the tip styles. The one downside is that you have to wait a short period of time between tip changes for the tip to cool down. The Detailer kit comes with a tip-puller so you don't cut or burn yourself when removing the tip from the handle. Some of the tip points can be sharp!

All tip styles are available in either the fixed tip or replaceable tip configuration.

Above is a graphic showing the different styles of tips available. The numbering scheme identifies the type of tip which you will be able to look-up on Highland's website. Why so many tips? There are straight edge tips for drawing fine lines for extreme detail for bird's feathers, flat end tips for shading, angled tips for writing calligraphy and many others.

The Detailer Kit comes with everything you need to get started in woodburning.

As you can see in the picture, this kit uses a replaceable tip and comes with a tip puller.

There is a clip on the top of the unit that holds the handle when it is not being used. Therefore, you do not need to turn off the unit when not in use for short periods of time while working on a project. Although the tip heats up fairly quickly, it is nice to keep it on so you do not have to wait for it to reheat.

The tip puller is very easy to use. I would normally grip the puller in one hand and the handle in my other hand to pull the tip out of the handle.

Using a Woodburning Set

This review is not intended to teach you how to create a masterpiece but I think it is important to understand a few concepts. It also depends on what you are trying to achieve. If you are a bird or waterfowl carver then you will want to know more about creating very fine lines grouped very close to each other to create the feathers on wings. When you look at a life-like carving of a bird, each feather is drawn first with a woodburning tool before it is painted. If you are interested in making pictures, learning how to shade an area becomes very important. Finally, you can use the tool to write letters or label parts of a piece of furniture, which I’ll explain later.

Below are a couple drawings that I did with my Colwood Detailer Woodburner!

I’m not an artist but if you apply some basic rules you can create pictures like this as well. I saw a picture that I liked and did an initial outline of the major features. This was followed up with adding shading using both a straight edge tip for fine lines grouped together and then a tip with a flat end for more broader shading. Here are a couple of examples:

The four lines on the far left are made with a straight end tip with uniform pressure and speed as you move the hot tip on the wood. If you move too fast, as shown in the 5th line from the left, you will start out fine but then the tip starts to cool and the line gets lighter. When this happens you automatically start to slow down and it warms up and you get a line like the 6th from the left. It is dark solid, light and then dark again. If the overall tip is too cool between lines then the whole line may be light as well, as shown 2nd from the right. Finally, if you stop and start you can inadvertently get a light-dark-light-dark pattern. Therefore, it is best to practice maintaining a uniform pace with uniform pressure and to practice with different tips because they all act differently depending on size and shape. It is true with curved lines as well and even short lines when establishing a shaded area.

One way to make a shaded area is to change the density of short lines drawn:

You can also shade by dragging a larger, flat surface across the surface of the wood. This gives you a smoother shaded appearance.

Besides the 'conventional' uses for a woodburning set, as I've shown, there are other uses as well. For example, many woodturners will sign the bottom of their bowls using a signature tip. This type of tip lets you create a thinner line while drawing straight or curved (i.e. lettering). Here is an example of a bowl I turned and signed with a signature tip.

There are even tips small enough to let you create a signature using script instead of block letters. I'm not very good but you get the idea!

I also use my Colwood Detailer when labeling parts while building a piece of furniture. Sometimes I may have parts that need to go together after staining/finishing and this helps to easily identify them. Here is an example of the end of a maple board that I've labeled with the letter 'A' and an up arrow. It could be the end of a shelf for a cabinet. On the left is the label in pencil and on the right it is burned using the Detailer.

Either label looks fine now, but you cannot read the pencil label after staining whereas the burned label is still very easy to read. I have the unit sitting on a shelf in my shop so plugging it in and using it for this type of application is very fast and easy.

In summary, Colwood's Detailer Woodburner is a professional quality woodburning (pyrography) system that can be used for any woodcarving, woodturning or woodworking application. It maintains a hot tip extremely well and has a quick recovery time. If you are interested in learning to use a woodburning set I highly recommend watching some online videos and purchasing the Colwood Detailer Woodburnerplus a starter book such as the Pyrography Workbook, by Sue Walters.

Find out more and purchase the
Colwood Detailer Woodburner

Find out more and purchase
Colwood Tips and Accessories

Jeffrey Fleisher has been a woodworker for approximately 20 years and a professional woodworker for the past 6 years. He is the president of his local woodturning club, the Woodturners of the Virginias and past president of the Northern Virginia Carvers. You can see some of the furniture he has made at www.jeffswooddesigns.com. He can be reached by email at furnmkr@gmail.com

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