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Meaning of the word 'Pyrography'

The term pyrography was originally made by the Victorians from the Greek words pur - meaning 'fire' and graphos meaning 'writing' It was also known as 'poker work'

History

The actual art or craft of pyrography goes back to the discovery of fire itself. Primitive man one time must have discovered he could make a decoration by using a stone or metal tool to scrape charred wood leaving a decorative pattern in the uncharred wood beneath the surface.

It was very popular during the 17th century in Europe- used principally for decorating small items of woodware. Later it became fashionable to decorate furniture.
During the 19th century, pyrographers achieved a very high standard of craftsmanship. However, it remained a hobby and not viable for commercial scale use.
A typical Victorian pyrography tool kit comprised a portable charcoal pot or stove, perforated all the way round the top by a series of holes into which pointed pokers with varying shaped ends were inserted for heating in the hot charcoal. It was incredible to see how high the standard of work was considering the elements used.
Towards the end of the Victorian era, gas and electrical stoves were used along with platinum tipped pokers. This helped a lot with the problem of inconsistent heat.
In the early part of this century, an electric soldering iron type of tool was developed, which was a great improvement and still used today by many although it can become very hot.
Nowadays the 2 main types of pyrography machines are 'solid point' or 'hot wire' Both machines use stainless steel terminals and a specially designed pen which minimised the heating of the handle. A great improvement in both machines is the ability to regulate the temperature, therefore allowing the user to have artistic license over light and dark patterns.
Our preference is for the 'hot wire' machine which allows us to make our own nibs suited for the purpose.
Pyrography can be used on any surface that can be burned or charred eg. leather, bone, cork, wood etc. Although we do use it to decorate leather bookmarks and bracelets- the best results are when used on wood. The wood which we prefer for best results is sycamore and beech.
Pyrography itself is in a unique position: while it is one of the most ancient crafts, the recent technological advances mean that it is also in it's infancy. It's potential has been revolutionised, and pyrographers are only beginning to explore it's possibilities. In another 30 years, pyrography may achieve a more prominent status in the world of craft, or even art!

Excerpt taken from book ' The complete pyrography' by Stephen Poole (1995)

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