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Home > Craft Topics > Craft Introductions > Pyrography

The Craft of Pyrography

The Craft of PyrographyIntroduction to Pyrography

The art of burning patterns in wood, technically known as Pyrography, can be used to produce a wide range of effects. It requires some specialized equipment, but this is quite compact – just one of the reasons for it’s growing popularity amongst amateur craftspeople.

Origins of Pyrography

The craft of Pyrography dates back to when iron tools were first forged in fire. Examples are to be found most parts of the world. During the Victorian era, the craft was popularised, with patent machines and equipment for sale through department store catalogues. Nowadays, an electrically heated ‘poker’, rather like a soldering iron, with interchangeable heads, or a hot wire machine, is applied to the wood, scorching a pattern on the surface. Often known as poker work, the craft gained its more technically sounding name ‘pyrography’ (fire writing), during the height of it’s popularity in Victorian Britain.

Basic techniques of Pyrography

Patterns in Pyrography may be figurative or geometric, folksy or historical, flowing or regimented. The machines used are particularly adept at producing repeated images, with slight variations of depth and intensity of colour, so that the pictures and designs are based on minute carvings, building up to create an image with texture and depth.  

The starting point for Pyrography is an unfinished wooden surface. This is often a ready made ‘blank’ – such as a box or a keyring – or a piece of furniture either new or stripped of an old finish. When used purely decoratively, to make pictures for framing, for example, some pyrographers prefer to work on thin sheets of veneer.  

The pattern can be heavily burned into the wood to create ebony-black images, or more lightly scorched to create a softer image.  

Designs can be simple, geometric grids or more intricate representative images. Often the shape of the item being decorated will suggest a motif; simple square boxes look good with a grid pattern of squares and triangles, for example, On the other hand, a bread board could be decorated with an ear of wheat.  

Skilled craftspeople combine lighter and darker tones in the creation of images. The type of machine and attachments used will affect the detail and precision of the work. The most controllable machines have fine attachments and remain at a constant temperature.  

Pictures on veneer may be left unfinished, and put behind glass to protect them from dust and grease. Wooden plaques and boxes may be varnished with gloss, silk or matt polyurethane varnish. This gives quite a different character to the wood, making it smoother and darker toned.  

Cheese boards and other food related items usually have a more natural finish of olive oil rubbed into the grain. This brings warmth to the wood and protects against marks.  

Oiled and wax-polished finishes are sometimes used on more traditional pieces. If you prefer to highlight areas with colour then designer’s gouache paint can be used.

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