Pyrography: How to Burn Realistic Leaves

Pyrography: How to Burn Realistic Leaves

I don’t know about you, but I’m not always in the mood for a big project. So, how about a small project that adds a little something to an existing item? A turning, an unfinished cabinet, or tray are perfect for this technique.

In this article I will take you through a simple step-by-step process that enhances the beauty of any wooden item.

I work with a wood turner to decorate his work in this manner, by burning in the corresponding leaf of the source tree.

Here is my process…


First, find your desired leaf. This will give you a good excuse to go out for a nice walk in the woods. Then take the leaf and photocopy it, once in black and white, and once in color.

cc-A copy of leaf

Back in the workshop cut out the desired black and white copy of the leaf to use as a pattern. Now tape it in place and transfer it using either graphite or your choice of transfer paper. Trace over the outline and main veins. Please be sure to use a transfer paper that can be erased when you are done. Leaving a tracing after burning can look messy. Carbon paper will not erase, neither will a photocopy heat transfer.

cc-burnish pen 2


The pen I use for this entire burning is a Bent Wire Skew or Burnisher. This pen consists of a bent wire that is not filed or ground. This smooth rounded surface helps it to glide on the wood and render smooth straight lines, gentle curves, and shading with ease. This pen is the LRW by Colwood and was designed for me. You can buy it at

With a medium heat setting outline your leaf and stem, staying away from burning any veins.


 cc-burnish pen 2

Next turn your heat way, way, way down. The heat should be so low that when you touch pen to wood all that happens is a dent (no color). This is exactly what you want.

You will now engrave the veins on your leaf. You may wish to use a bit of pressure to do this step. Make sure you are not applying any color. The indentations will help preserve the white areas giving a reverse-out effect.


 cc-engraving veins

In order to fill in the texture and value of the leaf, use a quick scribble stroke with the tip of the pen. Turn your heat up and try this on a practice board until you get the effect you are looking for. You need to move quickly to get a smooth look.

Begin using a scribble stroke to fill in the first layer of the leaf. Try to avoid the engraved veins. This leaf will be built up with three layers to give it richness and depth.

cc-fill in leaf layer 1


In layer two you will build up more value adding dimension and texture. Continue using the scribble stroke but only in the sections shown by your reference.

Use your color photocopies as reference and notice the shading and coloring.

Underline the veins lightly to give the impression of a raised surface if desired. I feel this enhances the three dimensional look, but it may depend on your particular leaf.

Continue working around the leaf shading in any folds or ripples.



Once you have finished your second  layer it is time to add the finishing touches. At this time you want to burn in your darkest darks. I will usually use these darks along the center vein as shown.

cc-L3 pull out

Make sure you pull out the darks so they blend in with the rest of the leaf. You do this by dragging the pen out from the darkest area and gradually increasing speed. When the speed increases your burn gets lighter. You want to increase speed gradually otherwise you will only get a dark blob and then nothing at all. Give the heat time to do its job.

Continue working on your leaf until you are satisfied with the final image and feel you have achieved good balance



Adding a bit of woodburning to your wood projects is a great way to accentuate the custom look of handmade objects. Even store bought unfinished wood can make a great surface.

So get outside for a nice walk through the woods and keep your eyes open to whichever “gifts” the trees offer you. They may just be handing you your next masterpiece!

Interested in diving deeper into pyrography? Be sure to sign up for my FREE Burning Basics Video series to get more information on burning techniques, projects, and more!

6 Responses

  1. John Nolin
    | Reply

    I am very new to woodburning, but have carved for many years. This article has encouraged me to try to develop the necessary skill. Thank you.

    • Sharon
      | Reply

      Glad to hear it!

  2. Theresa C.
    | Reply

    Thank you so much for having the videos and articles to help me learn. They are so very helpful.

    • Sharon Bechtold
      | Reply

      You are welcome! Thanks for watching.

  3. Debby Remsburg
    | Reply

    I love all your instructions and have learned so much. I would like your books but don’t want to download them any preprinted ones?
    Debby Remsburg

    • Sharon Bechtold
      | Reply

      Hi Debby,

      If you don’t want to print them yourself, you can email the file to your local office supply or printshop and they can print and bind the document for you. When you purchase a book you will get a link to the PDF file, you can then upload or send that directly to your printshop.

      Hope this helps.

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