WOOD BURNING MEDIA
Any natural surface can be used for pyrography including wood, gourds, paper mache, cotton and linen cloth, watercolor paper, and vegetable tanned leather.
Avoid any material that has been chemically treated or painted as the high temperatures of the tool tips will release the chemical fumes of these materials during the burning process.
Avoid using any media of ‘unknown origins’ as palette wood or unidentified scrap wood as you have no knowledge to what treatments it may have been subjected.
Avoid any material that has evidence of mold, mildew, or water damage as all of these can cause health problems with contaminated fumes.
The natural coloring of your wood species will directly affect the range of tonal values you can burn.
Soft woods as basswood and poplar develop dark tones at very low temperatures. So you do need to watch your temperature settings so that you do not go too quickly to very dark tones. Mahogany tends to burn at a medium temperature range and the birch and black walnut need hotter temps.
The natural color of the wood effects the color ranges that you will be able to see in your burning. Obviously the poplar and basswood, as both are white woods, are going to show a very wide range of pale value burns. The African mahogany and the black walnut probably will not show the burning until you reach a mid-tone or dark toned burning.
Pre-manufactured shape as wooden boxes, plaques or canisters can be purchased at the larger craft stores and supply houses. As your skill in wood burning grows you can also consider unfinished furniture as your work surface. Whichever wood or surface you chose please consider basic safety procedures. Do not burn any surface that has been painted, sealed or oiled. Safe wood burning is done on untreated, raw wood only.
Leather is an extremely versatile surface for any pyrography project. It can be cut into any shape, created into wallets, book covers, bags and even saddles. It can be molded and sculptured. Pre-cut kits leather kits that include tools, needles, lacing and instructions are available through leather work supply house. You can also purchase leather in half side hinds ready for you to cut into your own leather craft project.
There are several methods to tanning leather and vegetable tanning is the safest method for a piece to be used for wood burning. Avoid leathers that have distinct textures, brightly dyed colors or rough suede surfaces.
Leather burns quickly and easily at low temperature settings. In the higher temperature range you can develop strong dark tones and even use your wood burning tool tip to sculpture the leather surface creating a three dimensional look to your work.
Dried gourds with their densely packed wood-like fibers provide the burner with interesting shapes for their pattern decoration. Easily cut, the gourd can become a bowl, sand candle cup, vase, lamp and, of course, a delightful bird house.
Not all gourds come pre-cleaned and you may need to remove the skin from the outer surface. As the gourd dries the skin becomes black with mold. Wear a dust mask whenever working the preparation steps. Latex or rubber gloves will protect your skin for the dust. Soak the gourd in a warm water bath that has several tablespoons of Clorox added. Depending on how thick the skin layer is this bath may take up to one half hour. Roll the gourd often so that there is an even layer of water on its outside.
With a plastic kitchen scrubby gently work the skin off. I often find that I need to soak then scrub several times to remove this entire layer. When you have the shell area exposed, allow the gourd to dry well. You are ready to cut the gourd with a sharp bench knife, a wood carving tool, or with a strong utility knife and to scrap out the seeds from the inside area.
Cotton canvas items as totes, book bags and aprons can be added to your idea list when considering your next project. A fabric burning can create tonal values from very pale soft browns to rick dark russet tones. Any cotton fabric can be wood burned but the thickness of the canvas weave makes it the ideal fabric. Also consider working a wood burn design on pale colored cotton blue jeans.
Any fabric should be pre-washed first to remove any sizing or starch. Blot off the excess water with a thick towel so that your project is slightly damp. You can now stretch the fabric over several layers of cardboard, pinning it in place with long quilting pins. When the fabric completely dries it will have pulled taught to the cardboard making it easy to work.
Rag content artist papers come in several styles and weights. You can find papers with a very smooth toothed surface, light texture up to a deep pebbled texturing. For wood burning a smooth or light texture works well as the pebbling can distort your lines as you burn. Paper weight ranges from a light weight of 90 pounds to over 300 pounds; the higher the weight the thicker the paper.
Watercolor pads or blocks are perfect to use. The paper, up to 22” x 30”, is stacked then glued along the four outer edges making the stack into one strong board. As you work the paper can not buckle because of the heat of the pen. When the burning is finished the top paper that you have worked is cut free from the block and the next paper on the block is ready to use. You can also find pre-cut greeting cards and envelopes that make wonderful presents in watercolor rag content paper.
Paper mache is a favorite wood burning surface for me. Made from shredded craft paper and glue the paper mache can be pressed into a wide variety of shapes from flower pots, kitchen canisters, gift boxes and even scrap book covers. It is inexpensive and requires no preparation steps.