Turn up the heat. It’s pyrography time

Author: Rob Brown
Published: February 18, 2021
Valentines Boxes
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I enjoy pyrography, but I’m no expert. Here are a few fun pieces I recently burned, and some work of a true master. Sticking with my “make it, don’t buy it” theme, I made my kids small maple hearts for Valentine’s Day. Also sticking with my last-minute approach to gifts, these little gifts were completed late on February 13. Thankfully, lacquer dries quickly.

I made them a similar heart out of mahogany last year, which is still sitting on both of their dressers. Those hearts had carved edges and old English-style initials on their faces. I wanted these new hearts to be different yet complementary to last year’s version.

Valentine’s Gifts
For the second year in a row I’ve made the kids little heart-shaped sculptures for Valentine’s Day.

Valentines Boxes

Pattern and Texture
It’s easy to vary the density of the burnt dots to create a wide range of looks and feels. Pyrography doesn’t only add pattern to wood, it burns the wood away to create texture that’s hard not to run a few fingers over.

Pyrography

How Dense?
While creating this perimeter, I covered only about 50% of the wood’s surface in that area. Burning the entire surface would result in a much different look and feel. The options are pretty much limitless.

Pyrography

Lots of Options
Using a skew to burn chevrons into the corner of the wood adds a strong visual. I considered adding a single burnt dot to the ends of each of the burnt lines, but opted for a simpler look.

Pyrography

At Her Desk
Ave Richardson, in her home studio, directly beside a window. During the day, natural light fills her work area, and she can watch the natural world while she creates.

Ave Richardson

Starry Night
This piece of spalted, live-edge maple was turned into a detailed piece of artwork. The background was burned with a Dremel 2000 after the kangaroos were completed, then some mixed-media was added to create the white stars.

Starry Night

Canadian Icon
One of Ave’s favourite portraits, the Gordon Lightfoot piece, is quite stunning.

Gordon Lightfoot

A Ray of Light
A close-up of a cat’s eye, with a ray of light shining on it. The eye detail is incredible, and the fur also looks hyper-realistic.

A Ray of Light

Great Gift
Ave generally works from a photo, though this piece (a gift for her daughter) is the only time she’s completed an original design she’s come up with.

Great Gift

Eye Contact
This gorilla piece is hard to look away from. It’s almost like you’re in the jungle watching this beautiful creature in real life.

Eye Contact

Burning Wood in the Shop

Drawing from my Grade 2 art class, I folded a piece of paper in half, drew half of a heart on the paper, cut it out and unfolded it. Bingo, a perfect heart. I traced that on a piece of straight-grained maple, cut it on the band saw, filed and sanded the edges, and it was ready for some heat.

Although most folks who do pyrography create artistic “paintings” in wood (often landscapes and portraits of people or animals) I really enjoy using my pyrography pens to add texture and pattern to wood. Maybe that just speaks to my lack of painting skills. I have four pyrography pens, but it’s my ball-point stylus and skew that I use most of the time.

A few layout lines with a pencil and I was able to trace the lines with my skew to outline the area to be textured. With the stylus, I added burnt dots to the outer edge of my daughter’s maple heart. Next, the skew was heated up to add a series of notches to my son’s gift. A bit of patience at this stage, and the resulting pattern looked even, but not so even it looked like a machine made it.

I did a quick online search for the initials in fancy script (gotta impress these two, after all), then traced both initials onto a piece of paper (it’s easy to trace on top of a backlit surface like a smartphone screen), then used a piece of carbon copy paper to transfer each letter to the heart’s surface. Turned the skew on again, and the letters were traced. Fun and easy, and the kids really enjoyed them. When he saw his heart my son immediately said, “Oh cool, a box!” After letting him down gently, I filed that idea away for next year. Guess I need to up my game after only two years of Valentine’s gifts. These kids are getting too smart.

Much Different Pyrography

While surfing Instagram last week I came across a Canadian artist who completed some incredible pyrography. At first, I thought I likely read it wrong, as her work looked too realistic. Surely it was painted, or even drawn, with a fine-tipped pen or pencil, although even painting or drawing with this level of accuracy was impressive.

After looking a bit closer I realized it was indeed done with a pyrography pen. Heck, it was virtually the same Razertip pyrography system I used, so I couldn’t even consider blaming my tools for my sub-par work this time.

Ave Richardson, from Queensville, Ontario, makes incredibly realistic works of art with her pyrography pen, focusing mainly on the eyes of her subject. If she can get the eyes right, the rest of the artwork usually falls into place. “I’m obsessed with eyes,” Ave told me. “Millimetre by millimetre, I create eyes with realism.” Ave is mainly self-taught, though the online community has played an important role in her learning. There’s a very strong online pyrography community.

Ave spends a lot of time searching for the right photograph to burn into wood, then contacts the photographer to get permission. She says a typical piece takes her between 20 to 40 hours, though I’m sure some pieces take longer than that.

Don’t be afraid to turn up the heat during this cold winter, woodworking friends!

View more of Ave’s work


Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.

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