Crafting involves a wide range of art forms, of which, pyrography is one, and today’s article is all about this art, in particular. So, what is pyrography? It is a free-hand art style of making impressions on wood or any other materials by burning the material surface. These burn marks are engraved with a controlled application of pyrography pen; also known as wood burner pen.
History of Pyrography
Pyrography is the art of burning decorations on the surface of wood or other materials like leather by using a wood burner pen with a controlled pressure. This art form is also known as pokerwork/ pyrogravure/ wood burning.
Pyrographer Robert Boyer surmises that pyrography is one such form of art that dates back to the prehistoric period. This is the time when early humans started creating designs with the burnt remains of fires. This art form was quite familiar in China since the Han dynasty. At that time, this art form was recognised as “Fire Needle Embroidery”.
The pyrography machine was invented in the Victorian era, which kindled a deep interest in art and crafts among the people then. And, it was then when the term “pyrography” originated. Before this nomenclature, the art form was most commonly known as “pokerwork”. In the 1900s, Alfred Smart; a Melbourne architect, found the fact that water-based color can be used on wooden surfaces by pumping vapors of benzoline via a hot hollow Platinum pencil.
The process of pyrography was further improvised by the addition of shading and tinting, which were otherwise impossible previously. In the early 2000’s, the arrival of electric heated wire wood engraving machines for pokerwork further developed the process of wood burning art to a greater level.
In that era, pyrographic accessories like Art Nouveau pyrography glove boxes and other related works were quite popular. Pokerwork is a traditionally-established folk art in several parts of the European continent, including Poland, Flanders, Romania, and Hungary followed by Argentina and some parts of South America.
Tools Used in Pyrography
The conventional art of pyrography is performed using a hot metal pen-like tool. However, considering the current era, we will check out the modern pyrography tools which can be differentiated by 3 primary categories.
Depending on the type of the burning tip used, the range of temperature followed, and the intensity of pressure applied on that iron pen, a variety of designs and decorations can be created. After burning the design on the material surface (wood), it can be colored as well. A number of shades and tones can be accomplished.
Solid-point Pyrography Burner
Solid-point wood burners closely resemble a soldering iron. The burner includes a solid tip of brass which is electrically heated and operated at a certain temperature.
Wire-nib Pyrography Burner
Wire-nib wood burners come with a range of temperature controls. The nib of the burner is heated by directly passing the electric current through it. Certain models of pyrography pen have interchangeable nibs which allow to achieve different designs and effects.
Laser cutters, though the name suggests the tool to be a cutter, it actually scorches the material surface instead of slicing it through. Most laser cutters offer software advantages applying which image files can be imported and transferred onto the wooden piece. Certain systems of laser are way too sensitive to perform pokerwork on paper-thin cards or paper.
A Step by Step Process to begin Pyrography
Step 1: Requisites
Wood, cut to a preferable size (In this pyrography process demonstration the Pine wood has been used as it is softwood and easy to burn)
Sandpaper, for finer grit, 320 grit is good for softwood
- Wood Burner Pen
- Colored Pen
- Graphite Transfer Paper
- Tape and Scissors
- A dummy image to burn it on the wood surface
Step 2: Prepare The Wood
After cutting the wood to the desired size, check the wood thoroughly if any marks or dents are there on it. In case you find even the tiniest dents or nicks, take a wet piece of cotton cloth and place it on top of the defect. After that, press that damp cloth by using a heated clothing iron. Keep going with this process until the defect on the wood gets raised. Then leave the wood to air dry.
Next, sand the wood until a smooth surface is achieved.
Tip: Wrap a flat wooden block with the sandpaper and then sand the workpiece. This will ensure an even surface after sanding.
Step 3: Transferring The Dummy Image (For users who cannot draw free-hand)
Print out the dummy image and cut the Graphite Transfer Paper in a way that it matches the size of the image printout and tape that image on the graphite paper. Make sure to keep the transfer-side down.
Take a bright marker or sketch pen and simply trace the printed image on the carbon paper.
Step 4: All Set To Get Started
Lightly shift the image printout from the carbon paper and the image is successfully transferred to the wood. In case you notice any unnecessary mark on the wood, then sand it away gently with a sandpaper.
Step 5: Safety And Technique
This is the most crucial step where the proper selection of the nib burner has to be made. Then heat up the pen.
- Keep the room properly ventilated where the pyrography will be performed
- Keep the workspace clean and make sure there is nothing inflammable close by
- Keep emergency first aid box (must contain burn ointment) and chilled water nearby
- The “Flat” side of the burner nib is mostly used for burning gentle curve lines, thick lines and shading
- The “Blade” side of the burner nib is applied to do finer detailings on the wood. This part might cause deep burns on the wood if done improperly
Step 6: First Burns
Start with the pyrography focusing on that part of the image which is easy and fast to do. Focus on the intricacies later after completing the easier part of the image on the wood. This strategy will be quite time saving.
Step 7: Details
After completing the basic lines, now proceed with the more complex part of the image. This part basically varies from one person to another; how they want to move with the process detailing. Also, the amount of intricacies or details needed depends on the type of image chosen for the pyrography. Take the process easy and slow, and concentrate on each part at a time.
Tip: Use the blade side of the burner nib to perform the finer details.
Note: While performing pyrography on the Pine wood, you will notice both dark and light parts on its grain. The darker portion of the grain is harder and vice versa with the lighter grain of the wood. So, be very careful with the process while continuing over the same line till the time it is dark enough to match the remaining part of the task.
Step 8: Preparation For Shading
After completing the basic lines and detailings, prepare the wood for shading. In case you find any shallow burn marks on the wood, use a 320 grit sandpaper and lightly sand the entire surface of the wood. Then clean the sawdust to get a clearer view of the lines drawn with the burner pen.
Now, it is time to begin with the shading!
Step 9: Shading Part 1
Firstly, decide the portion where the shading has to be done and then get started. Secondly, decide how dark should be the tone of the shading in different parts of the work.
Is it wood burning or fire art or writing with fire?
Pyrography is simply the art of etching designs, patterns, portraits etc. on wood or other materials by using burn marks.
Nibs, Tips, or Points? Which one of these is the correct term?
All these terms are used to refer to the solder-iron like wood burner pen that is used in pyrography to draw the burns on the material surface. However, different brands use different terms to indicate the same tool. For example; Walnut Hollow term the wood burner head as “point”, PJL Enterprises, Razortip, and Colwood term it as “tip”. But most professionals prefer calling it “nib”. So, technically all the three terms are correct.
At what temperature does the wood burn?
It depends upon the type of wood you are using for your pyrography project. If it is hardwood, then it will burn at higher temperature and softwood at low temperature.
Is it safe to burn on a painted wood surface?
Never practise pyrography on painted wood because on burning the chemical (of the paint) reacts with the burn and releases toxic gas. Although some professionals prefer owning this path anyway, most people have reported headaches, breathing issues, etc.
Keeping up with this practice for a long time might affect your body with adverse effects. So, even if you follow this process, make sure to do that in a well-ventilated room for fast passage of air and a mask that could protect your respiratory system from harmful chemical particles and hazardous fumes.
Since the time of its beginning, pyrography has been recognized as a global form of art that has improvised its way over decades to fit into the needs and preferences of people from time to time. This art is practiced almost everywhere across the globe as artists from the early prehistoric time to the medieval era to the current century had used and is still in use to add beauty and details to almost any everyday/decorative items you can think of. Pyrography had, has and will continue to have its significance in the world of diverse cultural arts of people around the world.