The art of wood burning, also known as pyrography, is an art form that uses specialized heated tools to burn intricate patterns, designs, and images onto wooden surfaces. Though this particular type of art has popped up as a new trend in recent years, pyrography can actually be traced all the way back to ancient civilizations. There is evidence of pyrography in places like ancient Egypt as well as some tribes in Africa around the same time. They would use pyrography to decorate their tools, common-use items, and figurines. With the invention of electrically heated tools in the 20th century, this form of art became easier than ever. Today, it’s become so popular that anyone can go to their local crafting store and dive into the hobby for themselves.
If you’re someone interested in trying your hand at pyrography, keep reading to see what tools and materials you’ll need, the best types of woods to use, and common techniques to consider.
Tools and Materials:
As previously mentioned, pyrography requires specialized tools that all the artists use to control the use of heat to burn wood. These tools are usually pens and tend to come in two versions: a solid-point or a wire-nib.
Solid-point pens are the cheapest option as they are the more basic of the two. These seem more like a soldering iron than a pen, with an oversized feel to them due to them having the machinery instead of an exterior machine powering them. Solid-point pens usually only have two heat options because of the small machinery inside of them, but you can sometimes find some fancier ones with more settings. These pens tend to take a long time to heat up, switch heat levels, and cool down, so projects will generally take longer with them.
Wire-nib pens are a pricier option, but for good reason. They’re more comfortable to use, with a thinner handle that handles more like a true pen. Since these have machinery on the outside, they’re able to have more advanced heat settings, allowing for a much more controlled burn. They also heat up, switch heat temperatures, and cool down much faster. Another great part of these pens is that the nibs are interchangeable, and the choices are broad, allowing you to have different shapes and sizes, and even nibs that are designed specifically for shading.
The Best Wood to Burn:
The type of wood you choose to use for your pyrography art is essential for the success of your project. You'll want to pay attention to qualities such as color, grain pattern and texture, and wood density. One essential thing to keep in mind is to use chemical-free wood, as those chemicals can make you very sick as you begin burning.
Though what wood you use will come down to what works best for your specific project, these are the woods that tend to produce the best results:
Due to its lighter color and smooth surface, Birch is a favorite of many wood burners. It's also a soft wood with an even grain, so it's an easier wood to work with.
Though some beginners may struggle with Maple due to it being a harder wood, it's not as hard as other options and has a smooth, consistent grain that helps ease the way. Maple is an excellent wood for more intricate designs as they show very well on it.
Because of how popular and easy to find Pine is, it's a common choice for wood burning. It's light color and soft grain is a lot like Birch, and is great for beginners. One thing to keep in mind is that pine has resin and will need to be completely dried and seasoned before you can use it.
With its bold coloring and unique smell, cedar makes beautiful art that really stands out. It also has a soft texture that makes it easy for all levels of artists to work with.
As with Birch and Pine, the light color and smooth grain of Basswood make it a popular wood to work with. It's a softer wood with a fine grain that gives artists an opportunity to make very detailed designs.
There are plenty of techniques an artist can use in pyrography. It all depends on what they're hoping to accomplish. Though some are obviously easier than others, each technique takes practice to master.
Just like many other forms of art, line work is the basis of any wood-burning project. It's important for the artist to be able to make precise, controlled lines with their burning pens. It's suggested to start with simple shapes and straight lines before slowly building to more detailed patterns and outlines. If you're working with a pen that has interchangeable nibs, fine tips are best for line work. This technique is the first one a new pyrographer should tackle, getting a good foundation before trying to build up to other skills.
A more advanced technique, shading requires the artist to apply or remove pressure, vary speed, and change temperatures, to create depth in the design. Shading can also be used to add varying colors and tones to an art piece as well as provide a realistic edge to the work.
This technique is relatively simple in theory. Using different nibs, levels of pressure, and temperatures, the artist creates a series of dots that can make up an image or design, or just add texture to an already existing work. This isn't simply adding polka dots, however. It takes a considerable amount of practice to be able to control how the dots will appear. It's also best to only try this technique with the equipment you are familiar with, as every pen and nib will react differently to the changing variables required for stippling.
Though not technically a wood-burning technique, many pyrographers will use oil pastels, paint, or watercolor pencils to add color and detail to their wood-burned art.
Despite being centuries old, the art of pyrography is still popular - and for good reason. It's a unique, captivating form of art that turns the ordinary into something rustically beautiful. Whether you're doing it just for fun or to create high-quality art to sell to others, all you need is some tools, wood, and a well-ventilated area, and you're on your way to participating in an ancient tradition of artistic expression.