Leather Pyrography

I’ve been having fun using pyrography tools to do some leather burning lately!  Leather burning is incredible.  It feels more like painting and drawing than it does any other kind of leatherworking.  Leather tooling is a very slow process, and this is downright speedy.  That level of speed also calls for high levels of control – one bad moment with the tool tip and your piece is ruined.  Still, it’s an amazing process, and I’m very excited to play around with it.

I started with a basic soldering iron for my first few pieces.  It was slow going, but it worked well.  For my birthday, I got a beautiful professional pyrography tool with adjustable heat and tips.  All of the items in this post were made with the soldering iron – I’ll post my exploration with my pyrography tool on another day.

First is a bookmark I made!  This is on veg-tanned leather, undyed.  I don’t remember how long it took, but under a half hour.  Just think how long it would take to do a similar thing with tooling…

Next I made four small items for friends.  The top two are the Japanese names of two friends’ SCA names.  Then there’s a Triforce from Zelda, and a Big damn heroes, sir keychain (this is a quote from Firefly, one of the best television shows ever made).  I burned the edges of the pieces to give them a beautiful, colored edge.  You can see the error I made in the Triforce at the bottom of it – a big black mark from where I accidentally placed the tool tip wrong for a second.

These are also all made from veg-tanned leather.  Leather burning does smell a little while it’s being worked, but the smell fades from the items within a day or two.  The color variation on these items are from oiling the pieces after I finished.  They are undyed.

I was curious if non-veg-tanned leather could be decorated with pyrography, so I tried it.  The results were very, very different.

The leather burns, yes, but it immediately curls up around the hot tip of the tool.  It’s fascinating.

The curls stay in the leather, too – I can pull on them to open it, but then it springs back into a curl when I let it go.

I am very interested in playing with this to deliberately create 3D curves with non-veg-tanned leather.  I don’t know of any other way, short of sewing, that non-veg-tanned leather can be made to hold a different shape than flopping around.  It doesn’t take leather tooling, hardening, or shaping the way that veg-tanned leather does.  This might be a way to get shapes out of this kind of leather, by playing with burning it for different amounts of time at different angles.

Finally, you can burn designs into non-veg-tanned leather, but you have to be fairly quick about it – leave the heat too long, and the leather starts to curl up.  Here is where I burned my maker’s mark (L8 for Level 8 Craftling, the former name of Birch and Briar) into a scrap of leather.  I’m planning to burn this mark onto all the pieces I make from now on.

Let the pyrography adventures begin!!!  ~Kell

Author: Wynter

I'm a scientist from Ann Arbor, MI! Leatherworker. Sewist. Exuberant gardener. Board game addict. SCAdian. Huge nerd. :)

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  • Yes! I can control the temperature with the pro tool, and it has many different tips, which look different. I haven't done too many projects with it yet, but I've had fun making a "sampler board" with different settings. It's amazing. It's also just a joy to use – it heats up in seconds. I haven't taken photos with it yet, but there's a project sitting on my table (been there for a month or two now) that requires me to do more pyrography, so hopefully I'll get on that in the near future!

    And thank you. 🙂