Pyrography - from the Greek meaning 'fire writing' - is an ancient and unusual art. The effect is produced by burning the surface of a wood panel to various depths of brown to make a picture, giving a similar effect to that of a pen and ink drawing, but is capable of additional subtle and beautiful effects. There are many superb works of art, some early 19th century examples can be seen in the Birmingham City Museum. They were done by the application of steel tools heated over a charcoal fire. Often light carving was used to heighten the effect or to give light lines on a dark background. Great skill was required for the finest work as the method was so difficult, the modern tool is easier to control and is rapidly gaining popularity.
The secret is light and even pressure combined with even speed of stroke. Any slight hesitation during the stroke, will result in a blob. The depth of colour depends on the length of time that the point is in contact with the wood. Pressure has very little to do with it. Hence, a slow stroke will give a deep dark burn, and a fast stroke will give a fine line. The wood surface should be prepared without any polish and sanded perfectly smooth. Birch, sycamore, holly and boxwood are ideal woods. Peculiarities of grain can often be used as part of the composition. The completed work then needs to be sealed to keep out the dirt, with a good varnish. Pyrographs should not be exposed to direct sunlight or the lightly burned parts will fade.
The Peter Child Machine
The machine that I choose to use is the Peter Child Machine, it is in a class of its own for fine detailed work. The point is very fine and hot. It can be used as fluently and accurately as pen and ink to create detailed pictures and designs. The efficient design of the pen is the secret of its success. It is slim, light and comfortable to hold. The tip is close to your fingers so it is like holding a fountain pen. Even with the tip running at 1000 degrees centigrade very little heat runs back to the handle. This is because the space age alloys used in the construction have an extremely low conductivity to heat. The pen can be used for many hours at a time without the handle becoming uncomfortably hot. The terminals are very reliable and the point is easy to change. You can easily buy or make points from (special) wire and fit them without technical skill. A huge variety of points can be made by you quickly and at a low cost. Points can be filed for very fine detail or made up to 4mm wide for heavy duty work.