Other Materials

Some expert opinions on how to burn different materials other than wood.

1. Paper    2. Leather     3. Cork

1. PAPER

First, the paper needs to have a thickness of at least 1 millimetre or a little more. Wheras pyrography on wood affords the best monochromatic contrasts, card and paper needs more care and delicacy. In fact consider paper to have a softness of surface like skin and, for this, itrequires more care in selecting colours and the type of pyrography points. The surface of cards or paper must be porous and never smooth. In fact a smooth surface burns too much, or worse, burns through making it difficult to introduce texture. On the other hand, the application of colour on wood is very doubtful because it spreads in the grain of it, whereas card and paper allows a 100% positive utilization on the surface. I personally prefer to use the paper or card from the Italian factory ”Carta Fabriano” which always gives me the best effects.

About the use of the colours, I avoid ”gouache” and “water-colour” paint, the first for being too strong to accept burning and the second for not permitting the”sfumato” of the more different effects of the pyrography on the colours. For this I suggest, beyond doubt, the use of Chinese Ink which adheres very well to the surface of card or paper and accepts mixing with the water so that it can obtain softer tones.

Before finishing this letter, I want to reveal something about my pyrography: first of all I always do exercises on the neck, arms and back because, it relaxes me in front of my work-table. Consequently I not only feel a better disposition to burn but I can realize, in the depth of my soul, a sincere regard to the ”Holy Fire” which is the original artistic expression.

with thanks to Adriano Colangelo. To see his work click here.


2. LEATHER

Leather can be worked faster than wood and any points or brands suitable for wood can be used on leather. All leather is very easily scorched, so to obtain variation in shading and tonal density the temperature needs to be set lower than with wood and the tool used with a delicate touch, never dwelling in one place. There is a tendency with leather (and also cork) for the scorch marks to spread outwards from the point of the tool, making the design appear slightly out of focus. Usually this can be remedied quickly and easily by brushing with a stiff brush, such as a clothes brush or shoe-cleaning brush. Leather can be worked, either upon its finished shiny surface, or on the rougher reverse surface, but the latter has a greater tendency towards the indistinctness of line mentioned above.


Brands can be used to particularly good effect on leather, consistent density being relatively easy to obtain. Leather may also be gilded with a solid point pyrography machine fitted with an appropriate point (i.e. a Janik point number 26 fitted to a S series machine). Another technique which is easier on leather than wood as it burns quicker, is relief carving where instead of burning a figure or design one burns away the background, leaving the design in the form of a relief sculpture or cameo. Leather for this must be thicker than 2mm, and preferably thicker. A broad point such as the B24 (solid point) or a tightly rolled coil of wire (hot wire) is recommended for this. Pyrography can be used for decorating leather handbags, wallets and belts and is particularly useful for personalizing such items as well as burning names on the underside of the tongues of shoes! Scrap off cuts of leather can be obtained from leather workshops and made into pendants or bookmarks. Finish them by polishing with colourless upholstery wax.


Burning leather can smell unpleasant, so work in a well ventilated room or use a small fan to draw the fumes away from the face.

by Stuart Grainger from his book "An Introduction to Pyrography"


3. CORK

Cork is an inexpensive material but the texture needs to be as firm and consistent as possible. Some cork coasters and table mats have a coarse and fine side, others are fine on both sides. Only this fine side, made of fine cork granules compressed to provide a firm and even surface is suitable for pyrography. Strong, bold designs are best, so they stand out against the dark colour. Cork burns very easily, but for tracing a design an extra soft pencil or a light coloured Saral type tracing paper is best as hard rubbing will destroy the surface. Branding tools are particularly effective and the impressed surface takes on a light sheen as if varnished. However cork is unsuitable for varnishing, as it tends to buckle. Cork can be cut into shapes with a pyrocutter (such as the Janik battery or transformer models).


The best paint for cork is water-based acrylic, which responds well to a combination of burning and colour.

by Stuart Grainger from his book "An Introduction to Pyrography"