The Gourd Reserve
Exploring Gourdiculture since 1991

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The $20 Temperature Controlled Woodburner
by Dan Dunkin

So you've wanted to try your hand at woodburning, (also known as pyrography), but the $10 pens at your favorite superstore are just too hot for woodburning on Gourds. Your alternative is to spend $75 - $300 on a professional temperature controlled woodburning pen. Not anymore... Before I go on, let me make this little disclaimer... this tutorial requires wiring up a switch and creating an electrically safe temperature controller for your basic $10 woodburning pen. Although we have made one of these, and it was using this that made our determination that I wanted to do woodburning, then and only then did we invest in excess of $200 on a good woodburning pen and controller. We can only show you how we did this, the safety of the device lies solely on the person who constructs one of these, so we recommend if you don't know what you are doing, then please seek a friend or professional that does. We are not responsible if you get shocked trying this, but done properly there should be no danger of shock.

First a list of what you need to buy:

  • Basic woodburner w/accessory tips
  • Short 12 gauge two prong extension cord 

    (not the cheap appliance extensions, get a good one 10 - 12 gauge, and the ground wire is not necessary as your wood burner doesn't have one either.) If you don't buy a plastic electrical box, and choose to buy a metal one, then you need a three prong cord and the ground wire must be fastened securely to the box to ground it out.
  • Three 12Ga wire nuts
  • One plastic electrical box & cover
  • One light dimmer switch, (rated for 100W)
  • Total cost approx $20, (maybe less depending on where you buy and sales available)

    When purchasing your light dimmer switch, there are two basic types, the type that have a push on/off function, or the type that either slide to the off position or turn to the off position. Do not buy the push on & off type, these type woodburner's take a few minutes to heat up and cool down and there will be times you will wonder if you actually turned it off or not, and other times it will get bumped and turn off. You won't know if it is on or off until you discover the burning is not consistent. If the switch must be turned to be on or off, any question as to the status is a quick glance away.

    Step 1) The plastic electrical box has tear out holes at the top and bottom, you need one opening at the top, and one opening at the bottom. (some come already open with wire clamps, these are OK too).

    Step 2) Take your extension cord, and with a pair of wire cutters, cut it in half. Think about where the box will be setting, and how much room you need for the plug in for the wood burner, and allow about an additional 8 inches of extension cord on each end. Strip off about 4 inches of the insulation from the extension cord. Inside you will see two wires, most likely they are either red and white, or black and white. Strip about 3/4, (three quarters) of an inch, from each of the four individual wires exposed after stripping away the extension cord insulation, exposing the actual copper wire inside.

    on steps 3-6 below, please refer to the image below showing how our controller was assembled.

    Step 3) Feed one cut end of the extension cord through the top hole in the electrical box from the outside in, so the stripped wires are inside the box, and the plug or socket end of the extension cord is on the outside of the box. Feed the other cut end from the other half of the extension cord through the bottom hole in the electrical box in the same way, with the socket or plug on the outside of the box. (see image below)

    Step 4) Tie a knot in each end of the extension cord, it is hard to see in the image above, but you can see that both ends of the extension cord are tied in a knot. This prevents the wires from being pulled loose from the wire nuts, or from pulling the wires out of dimmer control.

    (note, when twisting wires together in the next steps, they should be twisted clockwise, the same direction the wire nuts will be twisted on)

    Step 5) This is the tricky part, your two black wires, one from each end of the extension cord, these are reconnected back together. Do this by twisting the wires together, then screwing a wire nut on them tightly. Your dimmer switch will be connected inline with the white wires.

    Step 6) Now connect the two wires from the dimmer switch to the remaining wires from the extension cord. At this point there should be one white wire open from each of the two ends of the extension cord, (or in other words, two white unused wires). These two wires should be attached to the two wires coming from the dimmer switch by twisting the ends together, then screwing a wire nut securely to them, again see the above image.

    Step 7) Now you are ready to screw the dimmer switch in position in the box. Take caution that there are no exposed bare wires from any of your wire nut connections, and it is best to try to separate the wire nuts apart from one another for added security from electrical shortage. Once the switch is inserted into the box, there should be two screws and two holes on the switch should line up with the holes in the plastic box. Tighten securely. (see next image)


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