Last edited 05 Nov 2020

The Art of Pyrography



Pyrography is the process of applying heat to wood can burn marks and decoration into wood. By using basic tools such as a soldering iron this method can create works of art from timber.

Sometimes referred to as Pyrogravure, pokerwork or wood burning, by controlling the application of heat with such tools as a poker, a broad range of tones and shades can be applied to a piece of wood.


The history of the wooden art

The term means ‘writing with fire’ and combines the Greek pur (fire) and graphos (writing). The art of burning wood can be practised using specialised tools and equipment or a metal implement simply heated from fire, or even a magnifying lens concentrated by the sunlight. It began in the 17th century, and became increasingly popular by the 19th century, in a crude form of pokerwork.

During the Victorian era, the pyrography machine sparked huge interest in the woodcraft, therefore the term was coined. As time progressed, the 19th century saw an even bigger curiosity for the art, and in the 20th century, the electric pyrography hot wire wood etching machine further automated the process.

Woods and pyrography

This method works best with fine grain woods such as lime, beech or sycamore, which are also best for beginners of pyrography. For safety reasons, pyrography shouldn’t be practised on pressure treated woods or composite materials such as plywood or MDF.

Essentially you can use any wood for a pyrography project, although soft woods will burn at lower temperatures, while harder woods will only take to alteration from higher temperatures. A key point to make a priority is to prepare your wood accordingly. If it is a raw piece of wood, you will need to sand it suitably depending on the way you want the grain. It is much easier to burn with the way of the grain.

By varying the tip, the temperature of the iron, or the way of applying it can achieve many different effects on the wood. In most pyrography, after the wood is burned, it is usually coloured. Lighter hardwoods, like sycamore, basswood, birch and beech are a common wood to be used as the fine grain is not obtrusive.


Characteristics of wood in pyrography

The wood you choose in pyrography can change the finished effect. From the hardness, to the grain, figure, texture and colour, the classification of wood will differ your art. Softwood burns faster than hardwood, so they don’t require the pen to be as hot to burn.

The grain is the direction of the fibres in the cells of the wood - it is important to sand with the grain. It is a key factor, as it can cause deviation with using a woodturning pen unless pressure is applied.

The figure is the natural design or pattern visible from the cut surface of the wood. This should always be taken into consideration when planning your pyrography design. The texture of the wood can also change your planning.

Whether a beginner or an expert, you should avoid creating intricate designs on uneven or coarse wood textures. Wood-burning should simply enhance the natural beauty of the wood, so try not to hide the natural texture, or grain if possible.

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--G&S Specialist Timber 14:48, 10 May 2017 (BST)

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