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What is Wood Burning?

By Rebecca Partington
Updated May 16, 2024
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Wood burning, also known as pyrography, is the craft of touching wood or leather with a heated poker to produce decorative burn marks. A wide range of decorative effects can be achieved by varying the size or shape of the poker tip, the temperature of the tip, and the speed at which the tip is moved over the surface. Pigments, such as watercolors, are often applied to the wood or leather after it has been burned to provide further decoration, and the finished product may be covered with varnish to protect it from the elements.

The tools necessary to practice wood burning are easy to find in places such as hardware and craft stores. The most basic poker tip is a cylinder that has been sliced at an angle on two sides, making a chisel-like tip. Other tips, such as preformed shapes or special cross-hatching tips for shading, are used to achieve specific results. Most designs can be made using the basic chisel-like tip, however.

Lightly-colored hardwoods such as beech, sycamore, and birch are the woods most commonly used in this craft, as their grain is fine and does not subtract from the beauty of the design. The pyrographer should select completely untreated wood, as chemicals applied to the materials prior to burning might release toxic fumes when heated. The same is true for leather, so the wood burner must use a vegetable-tanned piece of leather, as chemically tanned leather may also release toxic fumes.

The poker tip is typically heated to 600° to 900°F (316° to 482°C), so it is important for crafters to use extreme caution while practicing pyrography. Despite the historic popularity of wood burning sets as gifts for children, only adolescents should be given the tools, and even then they should be closely supervised by adults.

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Discussion Comments

By nightlights — On Dec 19, 2009

I wouldn't recommend using watercolors with a woodburning, the color would bleed along the grain of the wood. If you want to add color get a set of Oil Pencils instead, they are made to be used on wood, the color won't bleed. You can even get a watercolor "washed out" look just by very lightly coloring, the colors can even be blended!

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