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The Basics of Pyrography

What is Pyrography?

Pyrography is the art of decorating wood, leather, gourds, or paper with burn marks from a heated tool or pen. Pyrography comes from the Greek words "pur" meaning fire and "graphos" meaning to write. It is an ancient art form and has been practiced in variety of cultures.

What tools or items do you need to get started in Pyrography?

I have put down a list of basic items needed below. All of these items can be purchased separately at your local craft store. For beginners, I suggest purchasing a wood burning kit (everything is usually included except the Mask/Eye Gear/finger guards) to make it easier.

Items needed to begin Pyrography:

*Pyrography Unit/Wood burner (With tips or pens)

*Pyrography Transfer Paper (Graphite or Transfer Carbon Paper)

*Sand paper





*Mask/Eye Gear/Gloves or Finger Guards

The first thing is I recommend when starting Pyrography Art is Safety!

Pyrography Art is a wonderful and relaxing Art, but there are some precautions that need to be adhered to. It can be a dangerous Art if proper procedures are not followed. I am not a safety expert and I highly recommend researching Pyrography before deciding if this an Art choice for you. However, I have been doing Pyrography for over twenty years and these are some guidelines that can help you get started.

First off, Pyrography Art is not for children. I recommend it should be for teenagers 14 years (with Adult Supervision) or older. Wood burners in Pyrography can get very hot and burns can occur and you will want to be sure you are taking proper safety precautions before proceeding. Always read your instruction manuals with your Pyrography units and follow manufacturer instructions. Also, proper safety approved masks and eye gear should always be used when doing Pyrography. Also, some Pyrography Artists do prefer finger guards or gloves. In addition, fans should be used to blow smoke away from you while you are burning. You should NEVER burn on wood that has been pressure treated, painted, stained or has mold. (You may add color to wood after burning...but never before).

What type of machine do I use?

You will need a machine that produces heat or what is referred to as a wood burner. To try Pyrography, you will need a basic standard burner. There are two types of main burners or styles: Interchangeable Pens (Fixed Tip Pens) or Pens with Interchangeable Pen Tips (Replaceable Pen Tips). There are many wood burners to choose from and the price ranges from around $20-$200 and up.

If you are just starting Pyrography, I recommend a Pen with Interchangeable Pen Tips. These burners tend to be cheaper in price and are good to purchase to see if you do enjoy Pyrography Art. The wood burners I highly recommend for beginners are the basic burners in wood burning kits with mostly everything included. They have options and functions for hobbyists, crafters, and artists. You can find these pretty much at any local craft shop.

As you progress in Pyrography and become more advanced, I would seriously begin to look into Fixed Tip Pen Burners. Instead of interchanging pen tips, you change actual pens and the tips are fixed. These burners heat up much more quickly and have variable heat control. They help create beautiful burned artwork and there are a variety of pen options to choose from. The burner I highly recommend for more advanced Pyrography projects is Colewood's Wood Burning Tools and Kits. The one I like the best is Colewood's Detailer Burner. I find these burners are quick, efficient and are fabulous for detailing and burning work. Again, you can purchase all the items in a kit or separately.

What is the best wood to burn for Pyrography?

Again, there are many options to choose from. My favorites woods to burn on are Basswood, Birch Wood. Some will say Pine but to me, it is a harder burn and I do not recommend Pine for beginners. If you are looking for any type of wood, be sure to check and research the toxicity levels. Some woods are better to burn than others and some are just down right dangerous. Again, your local craft store will have many different types of wood and wood sizes for Pyrography to choose from and would be my choice if you are unsure about which wood to use and especially for the beginner.

If you are not burning free hand, or creating your own Art Designs, you will need the following items:

Graphite/Carbon Transfer paper-This can be purchased at your local craft store if not in a kit.

Patterns-If you purchase a kit, patterns are usually included. If not, there are many Pyrography Pattern Books that have patterns available for personal use. Finally, there are some online sites that do offer free wood burning patterns. Be sure before burning any pattern, you have permission to burn or copy the Artwork if you do not create your own. Many books and sites allow patterns to burn for personal use but not for commercial. I have listed a few books/references for your information below to help with your finding patterns and designs. Again, most of these are for personal use only.

Beginning the Process

Once all these basics are taken care of, it is burning time! :)

Begin by sanding and prepping your wood. If you have purchased your wood from Walnut Hollow, sanding has been done for you. If you are not doing your Artwork free hand which I do not recommend for beginners, you will begin by placing the carbon paper on your wood and placing the pattern you have chosen on top. Place the tape to hold the pattern and graphite paper in place. The best tape I have found for holding your pattern in place is basic blue painting tape. It does not stick to the wood and it can be removed easily. Outline and trace your pattern with a pencil. Once you have completed the pattern, take off the tape, carbon/graphite paper and pattern. Now, you will have the design on the wood. Follow the pencil lines on the wood with your wood burning pen. After you have completed burning your can add all kinds of style and shading to your piece (shading tips and techniques will be discussed at a later post/date).

And while all this seems simple, it can take time to make your marks look clear and impressive. And please give yourself time to practice and learn the different pen tips and techniques! You will get better the more you practice. It does take great patience to gain a steady hand! :)

For further information on Pyrography, I do recommend the following books/magazines to help you along your Pyrography journey:

*Pyrography Workbook by Sue Walters

*Pyrography Patterns by Sue Walters

*Learn to Burn by Simon Easton

I do hope you enjoy beginning the beautiful Art of Pyrography and if you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear from you!

M. Zwierko

Pyrography Artist

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