Pyrography on woodturnings, in its simplest terms, is like branding wood with a hot iron, but under more precise and controlled conditions. I got introduced to pyrography through Graeme Priddle from New Zealand, who showed our woodturning club, Honolulu Woodturners, how to make an inexpensive burning system with a modified car battery charger using an ordinary light dimmer for heat control. The heating elements were bended nichrome wire. This system really puts out a lot of power, and in my novice attempts at its use, I basically fried the internals from excessive heat. With my home-made burner out of commission, I went looking for another unit. There are a handful of manufacturers out there. Molly Winton, whom I met at the Portland Symposium in 2007, endorsed the unit made from Burnmaster. The main factor in choosing this unit was the more robust connectors (RCA plugs versus pin connectors). I got the model with two ports versus the one with the single port, which turned out to be a good idea. Like all new techniques, there is a bit of a learning curve. There are pens with fixed tips and units with terminals (tips) were you can bend and connect your own nichrome wire, the heating element. Which tips you choose depends on how you intend to use it. I was attracted to the basketweave pattern that Molly is known for, because it replicates the pattern we used to render the ground in our presentation drawings. In practice, I found it better for me if I used the single point method because I could achieve better detail. This is because I basically just follow the lines in my burning. I learned from artist and woodturner John Mydock (exceptional detailed burning) that it just takes a lot of time to do this work and he does it at a leisurely pace. When asked for a recommendation, John liked the Detail Master fixed tip pens. All pens and points, interchangeable or not, cost in the range of $20 go $30 each. My experience starting out was the pens would get too hot to hold, no matter what pen or point I used. I could perhaps work for 5 minutes and cover maybe one square inch, and would have to stop and allow the pen to cool down. This is where the 2-port unit was a good choice. I got two Detail Master pens with the same point. When one got too hot, I would switch over to the other pen on the second port, and continue working while the first pen cooled off. This cut the working time to a great extent and the burn pattern I achieved was more consistent because the work flow was not interrupted significantly. I believe you can see the difference from the early photos to the latest.
In my first big burn project I got a quilt pattern designed by family friend Bud Henry. I taped a photocopy to the bottom of a salad bowl shape and stated burning with disastrous results. The paper started smoldering and the embers traveled, and I no longer had a pattern to follow. I ended up having to trace the rest of the pattern with an Xacto knife, and filled in the cut lines after that. Fortunately, getting “off he tracks” for not having a pattern to follow was not very noticeable in the final result. Soon after this experience, I learned about a sticky-back film that did not support combustion. This film, called “Stick and Burn” is available from Welburn Gourd Farms. There is a film type for laser printers, and one for ink-jet printers, which cost more per sheet. I started with the ink-jet film run through a laser printer at Kinko FEDEX. This method works, but the image is susceptible to flaking off if the film is bent severely. I now have a laser printer and while the film curls into a cylinder as it comes out of the printer, when unfurled it seems to work well.
Fist attempt a pyrography was filling in a random pattern of a wood stain that sometimes occurs in in the trunk area of Norfolk or Cook Island Pine. The stain was darker than the surrounding wood, but making the stain black resulted in greater contrast and visual impact. This branding took a long time because you had to wait until the heated pen cooled sufficiently to resume working. This particular task was done over several days.
Bud Henry’s breadfruit quilt pattern. Progress shot with burned paper removed after tracing pattern through the paper with and Xacto knife. If you look carefully, the leaf burned pattern at the lower left is different from the other three with similar design when the paper burned away and the pattern was lost. Quilt patterns are often done in a quadrant that is repeated on two axes.
This is a logo from a local bank. The wood is from a False Kamani tree root that was above ground. This piece was sold at the Puhahou Carnival Art Sale in 2012. The piece was titled “That’s my bank” after a slogan from an advertising campaign.
This is a piece of Formosan Koa from a tree taken down at the Punahou Regency condo on Beretania and Punahou Streets. The thick underline was to disguise a large check (crack) in the wood. The outside surface has several butterfly patches (pewas) on the check but the patches do no show on the interior. A visible crack on a piece with a butterfly patch is commercially acceptable and often a desirable feature.
My first attempt at burning typography. By this time, the stick-n-burn paper was available and the font was created on the computer and printed on the film. This is for a perpetual trophy commissioned for the open water swim relay between Maui and Lanai islands. This trophy was for a newly created category for the 6-member relay: Extreme Makule (older person in Hawaiian) Division. The qualification for this division is a total age of 420+ for the team members. The organizer first wanted the trophy to have the name on an engraved plaque. I offered to burn in the name because time was not available for engraving. As it turns out, as I learned in the perpetual award for Hanahauoli School, engraving is not possible on a plaque greater than about 4″ if placed on a compound curve surface.
This is a 19″ calabash donated to Hanahouoli School (where son Ryan attended) at the retirement of Dr. Henry Peters, principal for over 30 yrs. Pyrography was to be limited to burning the school logo on opposing sides. When engraving of the school name on a plaque was limited in size, I then burned the school name and date of establishment. The engraving house furnished the names of the nine previous school principals and I was tasked to position and mount the small rectangular plaques on the opposite side. Along with double-stick tape, the brass plaques have two 1/4″l brass screws for each principal’s name. There was a concern that the screws when fastened would penetrate the walls of the calabash. This perpetual recognition piece is slated for permanent display in the school gallery adjacent and below the school office.
This is a detail shot showing the stick-n-burn film on part of the school name. The film has been removed from the first two letters “Ha”. The burning has been completed on the letters “nahau”, with the film still in place. The other letters and the establish date are yet to be burned. Guide lines with a grease pencil are easily removed.
Milo crotch platter with undercut rim. Argentium silver inlay at 1/8 points with burned pattern around the rim. Platter width is 13″. Will be entered in the 2013 Hawaii Forest Industry Assn. (HFIA) Wood Show.
Jacaranda wood bowl donated to the Gala Fundraiser for the Hawaii Theater Center annual event. This column capital logo was difficult for the many small details involved. If any person knows who purchased this piece a couple of months ago, please let me know.
Silky Oak platter with undercut rim and carved feet, 18″ in diameter. Burned scalloped pattern at the inside of the rim. Lehua flower pattern in center, with a nod to the Lehua Jaycees for copying the graphic from their logo. This piece will be also be entered in the 2013 HFIA Wood Show.
This is a Milo bowl, again with an undercut rim. Argentium Silver inlay at quarter points. A lot going on in this piece, with the figure and sapwood/heartwood elements. About 16″ across and about 5-1/2″ deep. Rather than focus on the rim, decided to add a dragon graphic in the center because the burning gives a snakeskin-like feel to the piece. Wood courtesy of clubmember Craig Mason; from the Kaneohe Marine Base golf course. Considering entering this piece in the 2013 Hawaii Craftsmen juried exhibit.
This is my first hollow form, using a hollowing rig from Don Derry. About 8″ tall and 7″ wide. Hollowed through a 7/8″ hole with an ebony collar added to keep those prying fingers out;-). Walls abut 1/8″ thick. This is one of the first pieces where I used the same pen in the twin ports of the Burnmaster Eagle burning unit. The consistency of the burn pattern is evident in this piece. Some woodturners paint the burned field black for a darker, more consistent color. In this case, Workable Fixatif spray was used, which gives a clear, matte finish. Wood is Sliky Oak.
Natural edge Norfolk Pine, translucent, with a decorative pattern that is a takeoff from the naturally occurring stain from the knot towards the center that can se seen in the 5 o’clock position. About 8″ across and 4″ high.
Another translucent natural edge Norfolk Pine, this time with pyrography around the knots and around the scalloped edge.