So, what exactly is the definition of pyrography? The word ‘pyrography’ itself can be broken up into two parts: ‘pyro’ and ‘graphos’, meaning ‘fire’ and ‘writing’ in Greek. So the word ‘pyrography’ literally means ‘writing with fire’, as pyrography is the art of decorating wood or other suitable materials by burning words or images into them.
Pyrography is an art-form. The materials it’s done on, like wood or leather, is often carefully chosen to ensure the image complements the beauty of the material but will also stand out well.
With modern tools, the images created can have very detailed effects, like shading and precise lines, and when pieces of pyrography are finished they’re sometimes colored with paint or varnish to enhance the design.
Pyrography is usually done on wood or leather, but other materials used are clay and even hard-shell gourds, which when dried make for interesting and unusual canvasses.
Paper is also sometimes used, and there are laser cutters designed for pyrography that have settings specifically for burning thin and delicate materials like paper.
Other Word-Related Stuff
Pyrography is also known as wood-burning and pokerwork. The name ‘pyrography’ is derived from Greek, and the name wood-burning is relatively obvious, coming from the act of burning wood.
Pokerwork was a name developed in the Victorian era when metal pokers were heated in fire and used to do pyrography.
How It Works
When a metal object is heated to a high enough temperature it can burn and scorch wood. A pyrography tool is usually heated to 600° to 900°F (316° to 482°C), so caution must be exercised when practicing the craft to avoid burns.
It doesn’t require a great amount of force in order to burn the wood; moving the heated metal nib of your tool across your material slowly and steadily does the job without you forcing down on it.
By using different shaped and sized nibs and adjusting the temperature, you can achieve many different shades and thicknesses of lines, so the pictures you draw can be very detailed.
The most dramatic works of pyrography are on light-colored materials, so a wider range of shading can be achieved.
Care must be taken when selecting wood and leather, as both are often are treated with chemicals that can be toxic when burned, so untreated materials need to be used for pyrography.
A Little History
Pyrography has a long history, dating back thousands of years.
Old methods include heating a metal poker in fire until it’s hot enough to burn wood, or even concentrating sunlight through a magnifying lens.
As with today, it was used as a means to decorate and inscribe words or names into tools and instruments, as well as household items.
It wasn’t until Victorian times that pyrography was more officially recognized as an art-form, with the invention of pyrography tools, and it was then known as pokerwork. Courses and tutorials were given and it became more widespread.
Back even further into the past, Peru is considered to be one of the main birthplaces of pyrography, with it being speculated that it’s been practiced there for 3000 years.
During the medieval and renaissance periods is when it’s thought to have surfaced in Europe, and in the Han Dynasty in China (about 2000 years ago) it was known as ‘fire needle embroidery’.