How to decorate and make gifts with wood-burning techniques
In this week's video, Mag shows you the amazing things you can make with the old-fashioned craft of wood-burning!
Get started on holiday gifts now
Everybody loves a homemade gift. You can tell by their pained expression. And it’s not just that they’re emotionally overwhelmed by your gift. They’re probably embarrassed because they only got you electronics, tools and jewelry, while you went to the trouble of creating a one-of-a-kind gift.
A homemade gift is always unique, sometimes too unique, but don’t let that stop you. When you proudly announce, “No one else on the planet has one like it,” the giftee will either be flattered or overcome with laughter. Know the difference.
Fancy up a pair of workboots with baroque scrolling, or make bookmarks, mouse pads, coasters...
Live and Burn
Pyrography is the art of burning designs onto things made from wood, leather, gourd, cork, heavy paper, bone and wax. In the old days, people created pyrography projects using a hot poker heated in the fire. A poker isn’t well-suited to tracing delicate patterns on jewelry boxes or bookmarks, although it’s great for scrawling “Kilroy was here” on a barn.
Today you can eschew the poker and opt for precision pyrography tools that heat up in seconds and come with an assortment of tips. My favourite high-end model is the Razertip system ($159 at Amazon), which heats instantly and comes with two handpieces so you can switch between tips without having to wait for the unit to cool down. The Razertip system also has variable heat control, so you can dial up the optimal heat (between 340F and 1400F) for the material you’re working with. The tip reaches red hot in 8 seconds, so there’s no time for snacking. In fact, I’m betting that you’ll be so obsessed with pyrography that you won’t even remember to eat.
A lower-priced model is the Black and Decker Dual-Temperature soldering and craft iron (about $25 at most hardware stores). It comes with several tips and a stand with ‘third hand’ clips to hold your work in position. The unit has two temperature settings (500F and 900F) and a vertical storage holster to keep it safely out of your way when you’re not holding it. This is a huge improvement over the old models that would roll around on the table and end up branding your elbow.
The Burning Curve
You can create geometric designs, Celtic love knots, animals, runes, freehand vines, or pithy quotations like, “I still have everything I used to have. It’s just lower.” (Mae West)
You can apply your designs to bookmarks, placemats, coasters, hair ornaments, mouse pads, trivets, candles, furniture, fridge magnets, purses, handmade books and toolbelts.
Burn Me On!
If you want to work with leather or suede, try to get stuff that’s ‘vegetable tanned’ so you’re not breathing arsenic and chromium as it burns. Or use a really big fan. (TIP: Check the ‘leather findings’ section of your Yellow Pages for leather suppliers.)
Leather is tough to cut. I highly recommend springing for a pair of power scissors that will produce beautiful clean cuts and prevent wrist aches.
Cork smells a lot nicer than leather when you’re burning it. You can buy it in thin sheets at a craft store, or in thick discs at a plant nursery where they’re intended to be used underneath flower pots, but they also make excellent trivets for the kitchen or seat warmers at fall football games.
If you work with thin sheet-cork, it’s going to have a bit of a curl to it because it’s been rolled up. Flatten it by ironing it at a ‘steam’ setting between two towels. Press it for a few seconds on each side until it flattens out. You can do the same to wrinkled leather. Stretch it flat after pressing. Leather tends to curl up at the edges. Stabilize it by burning a regular pattern around the edge on the wrong side. This crispens up the perimeter so the piece lies flat.
If you feel nervous about burning freehand designs, pick up some metal stencils at Michael’s Craft Stores. Brass templates range from Victorian flourishes to letters of the alphabet. Tape the stencil to your work so it doesn’t migrate.
As soon as you place the hot tip on the material you should see a thin curl of smoke and the material should turn dark. You can use different heat settings to get different intensities of shading. It’s fast, it’s permanent. What’s not to love?
Lee Valley Tools has some fantastic books on pyrography design and technique if you find you’re burning for more expertise.
And if it’s just too darn early for you to feel inspired about making pyrographic holiday gifts, you can always practice burning character wrinkles onto your Hallowe’en pumpkin.