Pyrography is one of those hobbies that I have watched others try with a wistful expression. I wanted to create beautiful signs and fill my house with rustic wood-burned images. I don’t know exactly why, but its also something that I never got around to trying. Instagram and Pinterest are loaded with beautiful creations made by artists who swear it’s not as hard as it looks and yet here I was. A Wood burning virgin. Terrible right? I thought so and if this blog has been good for anything it’s pretty great for pushing me to try new things. This month I finally took the plunge and gave it a go! Here are a few pyrography tips from a first timer!
And don’t worry! Despite my historical record with the glue gun I managed to do both of these pieces without burning myself! If I can manage it then I’m sure you can too!
Learn Something New with Kristin
Feature 7 – Pyrography Tips from a First Timer! Get your Burn on.
What is Pyrography?
In a nutshell, Pyrography, also commonly known as wood burning is the practice of creating designs with the application of heat. Although many materials can be used the most common is wood (thus the most commonly used wood burning moniker). The word Pyrography means ‘Writing with fire’ and comes from the greek works pur meaning fire and graphos meaning writing.
Historically it has also been known as Pokerwork and Fire Needle Embroidery. The art of pyrography has been practiced by many cultures and can be traced back in time until the start of recorded history. The craft reached its highest popularity in the 19th century but has continued to be very popular with artists even now.
Pyrography Tips – What Equipment Do I need?
Thankfully this is a craft with a very low starting cost and few essential materials. Of course, if you find that you really enjoy the process there are a variety of more expensive tools that you can get. For this project, however, I stuck to the bare basics with a few optional items, one to make my life easier and one because I like color. there are many tutorials online which might offer some reviews and pyrography tips from more advanced artists as well.
- A Wood Burning Tool – I picked up a fairly cheap version off of Amazon. It came with quite a few tips and worked very well although I have heard that the more expensive sets give you a smoother burn.
- Wooden Slabs – Again I got these off of Amazon, they come in various sizes and shapes. Since I was fairly convinced this might end in complete disaster I ordered two slabs of wood – one to practice and one to make out my actual intended project. It turned out that I didn’t really need two so I ended up with two finished pieces. I’m not complaining at all!
- A Pencil – Any Pencil, even one stolen from your kid’s backpack.
- Graphite Paper – I bought this to make my life a bit easier. The goal is that you trace your design using this paper to transfer the lines to your wood. If you feel confident free handing your design, however, it’s not entirely necessary. The lines it created were fairly light and I had to go back over them with a pencil in the end anyway.
- Paints for Color – Although many wood-burned pieces are not painted if you want to add some color to yours some sort of paint will be needed. After a bit of experimenting on the back of my wooden slabs, I found that watercolors worked very well. They tinted the wood but remained light enough that the wood burned lines were still visible.
- Wood Stain – If you want to stain your wood. I did not, I left mine raw because I liked the lighter coloration. However, if you do use a stain then it’s recommended that you choose a shade which won’t completely obscure your design. (Thanks to Taylor Tries for this tip, her woodburning tutorial on Youtube was extremely helpful during this venture!)
Pyrography Tips – How do you actually do it?
Despite my worries, the art of pyrography turned out to be fairly straightforward. At least if you’re just sticking to the basics. There are some fairly advanced techniques that I left for the moment – such as shading with different colors by adjusting your heat. Since this was my first time I kept it simple. Just outlines and a bit of filling in. Here is the process I followed and some pyrography tips I learned along the way!
Step 1 – Create your Design
For me, this meant sitting down at my computer. I used photoshop to create my design and plan out the art/font I wanted to use. I printed this out at full size (based on my wood slabs). If you feel confident in your abilities (I’m terrible at fonts! Thus the tracing) then you can easily free-hand your design straight onto your wood or a piece of paper for tracing as well.
Step 2 – Line your Design up on your Wood & Trace
If you elected to print your design or draw it on a separate piece of paper then this is the point you will be transferring it onto your wood. Lay your design out on your wooden slab to make sure everything fits nicely! Keep in mind any knots or imperfections in your wood as those will affect how well your wood burned lines can be seen. Choose the side of your wood that you like the look of the best.
Once you are happy with the placement of your design its time to use your graphite paper to transfer it. Lay the graphite paper dark side down against the wood, place your design on top and then trace it with a sharp pencil or pen. Depending on the quality of graphite paper you buy you might have to press quite hard in order to get lines you can see. I found this part actually hurt my hand after a while so make sure to take breaks as needed and if you are afraid of your design moving around a bit of tape works wonders to keep it in place.
once your design is fully transferred pull off the graphite paper. Use your pencil to darken any lines you can’t see well. I ended up going over a fair bit of my design just to make it easier later on. I used a pencil so that it was easy to erase any mistakes I made.
Step 3 – Prepare & Practice
Make sure that you have a safe place to work. The burning tool gets very hot so make sure you not working near anything that can get pushed into it or where someone might accidentally knock into it. My Woodburning tool suggested that I tape the holder to my workspace to keep it from moving. This seemed like a good safety precaution to me!
Let your tool heat up for the recommended amount of time. If you want to test and see if your tool is ready – or just make some lines to get the hang of things then you can use the back of your wooden slab (this is why I didn’t need two pieces.) If your tool comes with several different tips then it might be worthwhile to take some time and try them out. I started with the universal tip but ended up switching to the tapered tip a few letters in. The tapered tip worked a lot more like a pencil which I found much easier to work with. I did switch back to the universal tip when filling in my letters on my second piece however and many people like it more.
Use whatever tip suits your drawing best – just make sure you let the tool cool completely before changing tips. Changing tips while the tool is warm/hot will damage them and probably burn you.
Step 4 – Get Your Burn on!
Now that you have played around a little bit, picked out the tip you like best and found a safe workspace its time to start burning things. You can adjust the shade of your burn by adjusting the temperature of the tool if your tool has that capability. A Lower temperature will give you a lighter brown burn. A higher temperature will give you a deep black/chocolate brown line.
When I first started I found that I was moving the tool too fast and pressing too hard. This made my lines somewhat shaking and my hand/knuckles start to hurt, much like they do if I press too hard while coloring/drawing. It can also happen if you tense your hand too much. To solve this I found it easier to turn my tool up to maximum heat and move it slowly over my lines. Be patient and go slowly, let the tool do the work not your hand!
Outlining my design was fairly straightforward once I learned to be patient and slow down. I found that my rounded piece of wood was easier to get smooth lines on then the rectangular one – which I think has something to do with the wood grains. It is much easier to burn with the grain than against it so keep that in mind while designing.
I also found that it was far less awkward to turn the wood as needed rather than try to force my hand into awkward positions to trace certain lines. It’ much easier to burn pulling down then pressing upwards. This is especially true while burning curves.
Step 5 – Stain & Paint if Desired.
Once you have burned in your design you can stain or paint it as desired. Make sure you are completely done burning before this step however as burning stain and paint probably aren’t all that good for you!
Step 6 – Display your Art!
My pieces were designed to be medal holders for our running so we will be adding hooks and something to hang it on the wall with but you can also just lean it up on a shelf or put it in a plate stand if you want! Whatever you choose to do display your project with pride!
Pyrography Tips – Final Thoughts
My foray into wood burning to be both fun and productive. I enjoy the pieces I made and look forward to creating more! It would be fun to figure out some of the more advanced techniques or see how it can be used on pieces other than flat wood. I expect that wood burning is a craft that could become rather addictive as time went on because once I figured out the simple pyrography tips I shared with you in this article I found it pretty relaxing to sit and work on these while listening to music.
Unfortunately, I don’t think I can recommend this as a suitable activity for kids. While I did let my oldest attempt one line on the back of my wood slab I was far too nervous about her burning herself to let her try it any more. Perhaps if you have a very patient teenager it would work.
Let me know if these Pyrography Tips from a first time helped you out!