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Pyrography by ChezRoberts

The Art of Pyrography

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Pyrography is the craft of burning or charring designs on to materials such as wood, leather or bone.

The term "Pyrography" was originated during the 1800's from the greek words 'Pur' (fire) and 'graphos' (writing) i.e. writing with fire. Although Pyrography has almost certainly been practised in one form or another since the discovery of fire itself.

It is also known as "Pokerwork" and involves the application of a heated metal tool on to the desired medium.

This webpage provides a gallery of work created by John with the use of a 'Peter Child' pyrography machine. It is hoped that you the visitor appreciates the art form and especially the work on show. If you would like to procure any of the work or are interested in commissioning a piece of pyrography then please feel free to contact me.

Gallery

Doing it Yourself

If you are interested in trying Pyrography I can heartily recommend it. It is very therapeutic activity for those wishing to distract themselves from the pressures of life. Although make sure you do it in a well-ventilated room as the smoke can be harmful.

Equipment

Pyrography equipment is available from many craft stores and online. There are various types such as:


Soldering iron type

Similar to a soldering iron it has a working point heated by a cylindrical element (coil). The working has a variety of interchangeable points that can fitted into the end and secure by a screwdriver.

Solid point (or brands)

Uses solid working points with their own heating element close to the tip. They have different shapes and size points available. The flat ended points are very efficient especially for large areas of shading/burning allowing for repeat pattern designs to be quickly generated.

Hot wire type

This has a flexible point or nib made from a short length of nickel chromium wire held between two terminals, at the end of a stylus. The stylus is connected to a voltage control box, which moderates the current going through the wire making it glow hot. With this device you are able to create your own styled wire shapes to create interesting branding shapes.


Other tools required include: Pliers, Wire cutters, small screwdriver

Lamp, Pencils, Carbon paper, brown masking tape, ruler (steel), sandpaper, sable brushes.

Material - Wood

The kind of wood to use is important when creating pyrographic art. There are hundred of different wood types and some are better than others for pyrography. An ideal property for showing off the detail and texturing of pyrographic art is if the wood is light coloured. Below is a list I've compiled of different woods and the qualities they possess; based on my experience.

Remember as wood is a natural material, the shape and texture of every piece will be different so you may wish to make your own decisions on what is best for your crafting. At least below is a start.

  • Pine
  • Oak
  • Sycamore
  • Birch
  • Cherry
  • Yew
  • Horse chestnut
  • Hickory
  • Maple
  • Poplar
  • Redwood
  • Walnut
  • Pear

Pine - light colour, cheap and burns well, very resinous, soft wood. The difference in texture between the grains makes continuous line drawing difficult.

Oak - light colour, very durable wood but its grain is hard making it difficult to burn. There are often too many grain lines which for delicate work requires attention.

Sycamore - no characteristic odour, but has a light colour. There is small difference in hardness between the grains which makes it relatively easy to pyrograph.

Birch - identical to Sycamore with a very light in colour, minimal grain but is cheaper.

Cherry - hardwood, very dark with streaks of pale wood (i.e. not uniform in colour).

Horse chestnut - similar colour to sycamore, less pronounced grain.

Yew - very hard wood, difficult for detailed work, large variations of colour dark going to lighter wood nearer the bark.

Hickory - similar to oak, hardwood, grain lines and tonal variations.

Maple - hardwood, expensive, light to medium in colour, minimal grain.

Poplar - light in colour, minimal grain, hardwood, cheaper than Maple.

Redwood - oily wood, grain lines light.

Walnut - Lot of grains and very dark, easy to burn, expensive.

Pear - normally a dark wood, low resistant grain markings.

Terms used to describe Wood

Hardness: woods can be classified as hard or soft. Hard woods tend to be from broad leaved trees whilst soft wood are from coniferous

Grain: the direction of the fibrous parts of the wood.

Pattern: the natural design on the cut surface of the wood, including blemishes and marks

Texture: whether the surface of the wood feels coarse or smooth, flat or bumpy

When working on wood, it is useful to have scraps of wood at hand so that you can test for the correct temparature directly. Thus when you bring the tool to your proper working surface, you know you will not scorch the wood incorrectly.

It is important to remember not to burn on prepared, finished, man-made boards or reclaimed wood nor plastic or synthetic materials. Burning releases fumes into the air and depending on what item you are burning, those fumes can be very toxic and may cause cancer or other health issues.

Other information

Finishing / Sealing the wood

Obviously you don't need to apply any finish, which is simple and cheap to do. But it is not recommended, especially if you have spent a significant amount of time creating your art work.

So, to protect your art work from moisture or dirt - a sealant can provide a barrier to maintain constant moisture levels in the wood. Wood will naturally take in and excrete moisture which makes it expand and contract. This provides wood with its flexibility when it is part of a living tree, but will lead to wood warping or cracking - which is not good for your art work.

There is also the effects of direct sunlight on unprotected wood. Over a prolonged period direct sunlight tends to marginally darken most wood services as well as fade the finely burned images with its ultraviolet light. To minimise the requirement to sand down and touch up some of the artwork its worth considering where you locate the artwork and what sealants to use.

Sealing wood will not protect against physical damage from scratches or bangs.

Working with finishes/sealants

  1. Apply in well-ventilated place, as finishes tend emit strong odours which can cause lung irritation.
  2. Ensure the wood surface is perfectly smooth as varnish will accentuate any scratches or marks on the wood.
  3. Use the finest grade sandpaper for smoothing wood surfaces.
  4. Apply several thin coats rather than one thick one.
  5. To prevent bubbling effect, ensure it is applied in a warm room, preferably on warm wood
  6. A warm room also allows for easier drying.
  7. Make sure when applying the sealant you follow the manufacturer's directions

Application of sealants

You can apply finishes either by brush or spray.

Spray on sealants are more convenient although more expensive than a can of brush on sealant. Spraying can be tricky as you need to spray in a uniform manner to avoid pooling of the sealant on the wood. If you have ever used spray paint you will appreciate that the spray strokes should be directed on approach to the wood, follow over and beyond, so that the wood itself has an even finish.

Types of Sealants/Finishes

Qualities

  • Lacquer offers a tough, durable finish.
  • It can age over time, but is fairly easy to repair without sanding down the wood.
  • Lacquer can be applied by spray or brush
  • It can be thinned down with Lacquer Thinner.
  • Available in satin, gloss, or high gloss

When to use

Good finish for artwork.

Application

Initial coat should be applied thinned (i.e. mixed with Lacquer thinner - half and half mixture) so that it spreads easily and dries faster. Then use undiluted for two further coats for optimum effect, allowing half an hour between coats. Use in a well ventilated area and ensure it is applied evenly, otherwise if lacquer pools it will soften/dissolve the previous layer creating a pitted and uneven surface.

Advantages

  • Durable protective finish.
  • Polishable upon hardening.
  • No sanding between coats required.
  • It does not discolor the wood as much as other products like shellac or polyurethane do
  • Has the fastest dry time.
  • Does not have hardeners in the mix, so cans and jars of lacquer will never dry out or become a solid mass like other finishes will.
  • If you thin the lacquer, it flows better and the coats dry more quickly.

Disadvantages

  • It will not stand up to thinner being spilled on it even after it’s dried.
  • A strong smell and requires a well ventilated area.
  • It will take three or more coats to get a good solid finish.
  • When thinned it is very wet and if you haven’t raised the nap of the wood and then sanded it back down
  • Not particularly good in high moisture situations

Qualities

  • keep the wood moisturised
  • prevent water from penetrating the wood
  • thereby preventing warp, swell, or crack.

When to use

  • Cutting boards and other items that are in contact with food
  • items that be will exposed to extremely high heats
  • Food grade mineral oil is what I use to treat cutting boards and trivets with.
  • Mineral oil doesn’t get rancid and won’t react with food.

Application

Pour a generous amount onto the wood and rub it in. Give it several hours to be absorbed before applying another coat. Repeat until the wood stops absorbing the oil. The oil should be applied regularly during the year to keep the wood protected (Once or twice a year).

Advantages

  • Easy to apply/reapply
  • Minimal odour
  • It withstands very high heat without damage

Disadvantages

  • The wood is not sealed, allowing for other oils to penetrate if permitted.
  • As a wet finish, it can gather dirt and dust.
  • Oils need to be reapplied to maintain the protection
  • don’t quickly dry out

Qualities

  • Provides a clear tough finish.
  • Water resistant
  • Available from matte to glossy

When to use

Good for all indoor applications.

Application

Apply a thin layer with a Brush allowing a minimum of 2 hours to dry. Sand lightly and then apply another coat. Repeat as many times as desired.

Advantages

  • Tough finish.
  • Cleans up with water
  • Doesn’t have a strong odour
  • It is water resistant.
  • Finished effect looks similar to lacquer

Disadvantages

  • Requires light sanding between coats.
  • Makes the wood feel like it is coated with plastic.

Qualities

  • this is a liquid plastic that can be brushed or sprayed; drying to a solid firm coat.
  • there are basically two forms – water based and oil based.
  • Oil based is slightly tougher than the water based.
  • it adds a yellow hue to the wood.
  • available in matte, semi-gloss, gloss, and high gloss.

When to use

Extremely durable, handle tough treatment and resists moisture better than lacquer, so it is good for furniture.

Application

Brush on a thin coat, and allow to dry 3-4 hours in a ventilated area. Sand lightly and then apply another coat. Repeat 2-3 times as desired.

Advantages

  • Tough finish
  • Durable and long lasting,
  • Easy to apply, but requires sanding between coats.
  • Can be sprayed on or brushed on, whichever you prefer.
  • Oil based handles heat better than water based.
  • Water based finish has significantly less odour when applying.

Disadvantages

  • Doesn’t handle high heat well
  • You have to sand between each coat to allow bonding between layers.
  • Oil based versions will generate a noticeable yellow hue whilst Water based products less so.
  • Oil based has a strong odour requiring a room with good ventilation.

Qualities

  • Shellac resin provides a natural finish. It is produced from secretions of a female Lac bug found in Asia, is mixed with dissolved alcohol to make liquid shellac. It is a very safe finish; once it is dried and hardened.

When to use

Good for woodworking (trinket boxes) and on wood items used for food (as long as it has been completely cured before using the items). It tends to have a milky colour but dries clear.

Application

Apply a thin layer and let dry a minimum of 45 minutes in a well ventilated area. Apply a second coat. Do not pour on additional layers and brush out as any pooled shellac will dissolve/soften previous coats resulting in a pitted uneven finish.

Advantages

  • Easy to apply
  • Food safe once fully cured
  • Available in many warm colours from pale blonde to dark brown
  • Shellac is UV-resistant so does not darken overtime, unlike the underlying wood such as pine.
  • Natural and non-toxic in its pure form.

Disadvantages

  • Will discolor under heat
  • Can impart a tan or yellow hue to the wood.
  • Poor durability as scratches more easily than most lacquers and varnishes.
  • Not as water-resistant as syntheic finishing products.
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