Beginner’s Pyrography Guide

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Pyrography by definition is the technique of burning a design into wood (or leather) with a metallic point. Wood burning is a more common term. I have always loved the look of natural wood and so when my husband bought me my first pyrography pen for a Valentine’s Day gift, I was really excited. Since then, I’ve started an Etsy shop for some of my projects, and have created many an inexpensive, yet impressive wedding present with this new skill of mine. If you’re looking to get started on a new hobby, give pyrography a run.

Materials you’ll need to get started:

pyrography pen

wood (start with something small)

graphite paper (not essential, but wonderful)

-a design (you can print it off your own computer)

wood stain (optional)

Okay, now let’s go through each item.

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This is what typically comes in a beginner pyrography kit: a wood-burning pen, a stand, 4 or more tips. If this is your very first experience with pyrography, don’t waste money on a really expensive one. Get the hang of it first, see if you like it, then fork out the dough to get a nicer one. This one I think (it was a gift) cost $8 in 2013.

The different tips serve different purposes, which we will get into later. The basic functionality of the tip is as follows: screw a tip into the top of the pen, place pen on the stand, plug pen in, and switch cord to “on”. Depending on the pen, it will take anywhere from 1-5 minutes for the pen to fully heat up.

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The second item you’ll need is wood. Pre-cut shapes can be found most anywhere and are fairly inexpensive. I use the 3 x 5 shapes for beginning projects – which can typically be found for $1 or less. When buying wood, MAKE SURE you buy wood that is unfinished – meaning no paint or wood stain on it. That will not only damage your tool, but will burn dangerous fumes and could even result in starting a fire. Just don’t do it. If you are cutting your own wood, prep it first with a good sanding and let it dry for several days before using it.

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Graphite paper is magic. It’s also called tracing paper on some products. It makes my life so much easier. I used to use the method of typing a word, printing that in mirror image, getting the paper wet on the wood and transferring the ink onto the wood. That worked most of the time, but this saves me so many steps. The paper has two sides – a shiny side, and a speckled side. The shiny side is what touches the wood (so, speckled side faces you). Then you place your image on top, trace your image (with a pencil is fine), and the image is transferred onto the wood. See? Magic.

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The last material listed is a design. Just print one off your computer, or find one in a book. If you’re designing your own on Microsoft Word, click on “View” and select to see rulers and gridlines so you can make sure your design will fit on the wood. For your first design, choose a font with fairly straight lines (not script).

Now for your very first project:

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Print out your design and cut to size. Arrange it how you want it on the wood.

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Cut a piece of graphite paper and place it shiny side down on your wood. Place the design on top, and secure it with some tape.

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With a regular lead pencil, trace your design. You don’t need to push very hard. Just trace it with normal pressure – as if you’re writing a letter. It will transfer fairly dark.

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Repeat this process for other parts of your design.

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Super simple. So easy. I love graphite paper.

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Okay, so for the burning part. Screw in the flat tip (called the universal tip), plug the cord in and turn it on. Wait a few minutes for it to begin heating up. Hold the woodburning pen as you would hold a regular ink pen, and apply about that much pressure.

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Gently make straight lines on vertical straight parts of the letters. Go from top to bottom and try to be consistent with the spacing and pressure.

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Turn the wood and repeat the process for the horizontal lines.

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Now turn the pen off. Let it cool off for several minutes. If it can burn wood, it can certainly do damage on your skin. Do not touch the tip EVER with your fingers. After several minutes, unscrew it with some pliers and place the tip on a safe surface (somewhere it won’t roll onto the carpet, and won’t burn anything). Now screw in the dot tip.

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Now outline the letters. Don’t press hard. I can’t say that enough. If you want darker lines, move the pen slower. Linger on certain spots longer; don’t press harder. It damages the tip. That’s the fastest way to completely ruin your new kit.

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I like the inside darker, so then I’ll take the dot tip and start to go back and forth (slowly) inside the letters. You’ll notice that some parts of you image simply don’t get as dark as others. This is due to the grain of the wood. It’s totally natural.

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At this point, you can be done, or you can go over the letters again with the round tip. I also decided to freehand a little ornament – using the same round tip.

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Now you can choose a stain color, or leave the unfinished wood as it is. I am planning on putting this outside, so I wanted to seal it with something. Make sure you are completely done burning before you stain. I made the mistake once of going over the letters again after I put a layer of stain on. Not a good smell. Super dangerous.

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It looks darker wet than when it dries. Let it dry overnight before staining the back. Congrats on your very first wood burning project!

 

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