Pyrography, the art of burning designs into a surface, is generally seen done on wood. Of course, wood is a natural choice for an art that involves burning, as it’s easy to burn and offers a striking color contrast between the burns and raw wood.
But what other options are there for pyrography? You’ve probably seen intricate designs on pieces of leather used for handbags, belts, and other accessories. These were created with pyrography.
So, can you use leather for pyrography? What type works best? Yes, you can use leather for pyrography. Vegetable-tanned or rawhide leathers of at least 3 ounces in weight work best for pyrography use. You should avoid using faux leather and dyed leather for pyrography.
In this article, we’ll review why vegetable-tanned leather is necessary (rather than using synthetic or dyed leather), the variations in color for vegetable-tanned leather that you have to choose from, and the ideal leather weights for pyrography.
Can You Use Leather For Pyrography?
You can absolutely use leather for pyrography. In fact, it’s one of the most common materials for pyrography, right up there next to wood. When using leather for pyrography, it’s a good idea to use a test piece first to figure out the best heat setting and tip to use on leather. Generally, you’ll need a lower heat setting.
Compared to wood, leather burns much faster when using a pyrography pen. This means that you have to work quickly to avoid any dark spots or irregular burning, especially with fine lines.
If you want to burn a design that you have a reference picture for, it can be a good idea to scratch the image onto the leather first. This will help guide your work.
For best results, wet the leather first just until it’s damp. Place your paper design on top of the leather, and use a scratch awl to trace the lines of the design. You should now have an indentation in the leather of your design.
Use Vegetable-Tanned Leather
Also known as veg-tan or tooling leather, vegetable-tanned leather is animal rawhide that has been processed into leather using only plant extracts, such as roots and leaves.
This is the best – and only safe option – for leather to burn for pyrography. Because the leather was processed naturally, it doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals that can react to the heat or be released into the air.
Veg-tan leather also has a nice smooth and grainy texture for pyrography, which is ideal for most designs. The variations in colors that are available are also perfect for showing the dark contrast of burning.
Avoid Artificial Leather
When choosing leather for pyrography, you must avoid artificial or faux leathers. Unfortunately, most artificial leathers are made from polyvinyl chloride, which is highly toxic. Burning it would release those fumes into the air, causing you to inhale them.
If you’re a vegan and want to avoid animal products, we recommend avoiding leather altogether when practicing pyrography. Simply use wood or paper instead.
Avoid Dyed Leather
Always avoid dyed leather for similar reasons to avoiding artificial leathers. Dyed leathers have often been coated in chemicals that can be released into the air upon burning, causing serious health problems when inhaled.
Not only that, but you run the risk of your leather being coated in a flammable substance. Putting heat to that flammable chemical can cause a fire, which is a major safety hazard.
The chemicals in the dye would also alter the way the leather burns, which could ruin the image or artwork you were trying to create.
Choosing A Color Of Leather
Although it may seem like only one type of leather for pyrography is limiting, this is definitely not the case.
Veg-tan leathers come in a range of khaki-like shades of brown, but can also come in darker brown shades depending on added plant extracts. When deciding which shade of brown to buy, it’s always good to consider what effect you’re going for with the final product.
If you want a high contrast between the burned design and the leather background, you’ll want to choose something on the lighter end of the spectrum.
However, if you want the colors to almost blend together, leaving the design more subtle and all about the texture, a darker brown would work great. For best results, we recommend buying a few swatches in varying shades to see which works best with your pyrography pen, and which visual looks best to you.
You might think you want a higher contrast design, but hate it on execution. If you sample a few different colors, you’ll be sure to choose the right one for your final product.
It may not seem like the weight of the leather would make a difference, but it does.
Lightweight leather (less than 3 ounces) should be avoided when possible. It’s not ideal for pyrography, as it’s too thin to properly burn your design without breaking through the leather altogether. At least 3 ounces is good, though we recommend around 4-6 ounces for best results.
A leather weight of 3 ounces gives you the opportunity to do some simple branding. If you’re using the leather to create homemade handbags and just want to use pyrography to burn a simple brand on your product, this will work great.
Going for a weight of 4-6 ounces is best if you want to do some heavier burning. This is ideal for custom artwork as it gives you the freedom to create 3-4 shades or tones and use lots of detail burning in your final design.
You can even use much heavier leather, up to 32 ounces! It all depends on what you’re going to use the leather for once burned and what kind of design you want to create with your pyrography pen.
What Heat Setting Should I Use For Leather?
Typically, it’s ideal to keep your heat setting low. Leather burns fairly easily, and you don’t need extreme temperatures to create your designs. Try starting out at around 150ºF and go over your stencil. This will likely create a very light burn.
Once you’re comfortable using your pyrography pen on leather, you can kick the heat up to anywhere between 160-200ºF, although 200°F is the maximum temperature recommended for leather. Try the different temperatures on a test piece of leather to see what works best with your pen and your chosen leather.
How Do I Prepare Leather For Pyrography?
You’ll need to cut your piece of leather first. You should have the size of leather you want for your final product before you even begin burning.
Next, spray some water on the skin side and rub it in using a burnisher of your choice. Wait until it’s completely dry, then flip it over and do the same process to the other side. Wetting the leather will give you a more firm, smooth surface to work on. This might also change the size of your leather, so be sure to cut it down again if it’s larger than your desired size.
Next, as mentioned earlier, you’ll want to trace your design onto the leather. You can tape a pre-printed design on the leather to prevent it from moving, or you can draw freehand if you’re a natural sketch artist or have a simple design.
If using a paper design, be sure to remove it before burning. Once your leather has been treated with water and your design is traced on, you’re ready to burn.
What Is Embossing On Leather?
Embossing leather is the process of creating raised patterns on animal skin in its natural grain. This can be done by stamping, rolling, or pressing the pattern onto the leather.
Generally, a lot of the same rules apply to embossing as they do to pyrography when it comes to leather. You’ll want to wet the leather before embossing it. This helps the pattern be more smooth and firm, rather than having rough or light patches.
Also, typically embossing uses heat to help create the patterns. Heat helps the leather conform to the design and keeps the indentation set in the material.
What Is The Difference Between Tooling Leather And Genuine Leather?
Tooling leather is genuine leather. Typically, the term tooling leather refers to any kind of leather that’s used for tooling or utility. Vegetable-tanned leather is the most common, as we wrote above.
Bridle and rawhide are also types of tooling leather, though these generally don’t render the same artistic results as vegetable-tanned leather. Vegetable-tanned leather is the top choice over bridle, rawhide, or others because it’s soft and easy to work with for creating designs.
Since vegetable-tanned leather is simply rawhide that’s been processed into leather with plant products, it is still considered to be genuine leather. It’s just been processed differently than it would if using chemicals to process the skin into leather.
Tooling leather is used for creating handbags, belts, wallets, and shoes, though it can be used for many other projects.
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