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My Tell Tale Pyrography

by Prof. Nsir Malik
Islamabad, Pakistan

Way back in 1965, when I graduated from National College of Arts, Lahore, I had a two prong craze; one was cartoon animation and the other was to paint with fire or Pyrography. It all started with my interest in photography and I always had a couple of lenses in my pocket, for various small, innocent ventures. While playing with lenses and the sun I would burn religious names on dry leaves or a piece of wood and pyrograph some small patterns. That lead me to try my hands at doing larger pieces of dry tree bark. I would sit for long hours in the hot sun and try to burn motifs and letters, but it was very challenging to bear the heat and keep my hand steady.

My mates around me appreciated my test pieces and encouraged me to try working with slightly bigger pieces of real wood. It would take hours and hours and spill over into the following day. But to complete one art piece it was a discouragingly long time. I kept on leaving and going back to my sun burning while looking for a better way out. I tried heated nails, pointed steel sticks, and standing next to my home cooking range, but that was also a demanding exercise.

Next, as one of my hobbies was Radio repairing, I discovered that a soldering iron could also be used for pyrography. But the length and very hot tip did not deliver any good results. As my craze kept me locked onto trying and trying I got hold of a 12 volt car battery. I pulled pieces of Nichrome wire from my home electric heater and tried to use it for my purpose. It would glow red hot and where ever it touched it would set it into flames. No success so far as I could not control the large amount of current flowing through those Nichrome wires. Putting any pieces of same wire in a series as resistance also failed.

Time went by but my thirst was still alive. Weeks turned into months and months into years while I tested all the possible ways. It was the end of 2000 when I learned that some people were using variable transformers and low voltage/ high current as a possible solution. I had so many transformers and chargers lying around. I also had the speed regulator from old ceiling fans. I started converting the battery chargers and over the years burned a few of those charges. Getting low voltage like 2 to 6 volts was easy by now, but to control the current was not yet possible.

One of my friends was manufacturing rotary variable voltage regulators. That sparked an idea and I borrowed one from him. First, I converted it into a manual regulator so that I could vary the voltage in small steps. I added a step down transformer to get 110 volts from the main 220 volts. The regulated output was well in the range and small variations became possible. I also added an old fan regulator for further control. It gave me around 1-2 volts with reasonable current but not enough to heat up a 24 or 26 gauge Nichrome wire as it resulted in blowing the safety fuse.

After another couple of years I found a heavy duty 220 volt battery charger designed to give 25 amps at 6, 12 and 24 volts. Bingo. I felt I was in luck. To get lower voltage I added the same old 220/110 step down transformer. My old fan controller started to give me some control and I was getting 10+ amps at less than 2 volts. My dream was coming true! I started to test myself and made probes or Nibs of 24 size wire. Images started to appear, finally, after ages of hard work. But I still needed a low voltage magnetic dimmer.

I tried a dozen of the regular dimmers available in the local market but they all got burnt after a few minutes. I was depressed. I went from shop to shop all over the city but no one had the magnetic dimmer that I needed.

I was walking out from the last shop when I heard a salesman assuring one customer that the dimmer he was offering was used on grinders and heavy drill machines. I turned back and bought a couple of those rather ugly looking devices. I drove home with strange excitement. I disconnected the old fan controller, connected the ugly dimmer, and with a pounding heart I switched on my system. Slowly, I turned the dimmer control and it started to increase the current very smoothly from zero onwards. I turned it back fearing it would die soon. I tried again a couple of times but quickly switched it off, fearing it might blow. Nothing happened and the dimmer was not heating up either. It was actually the Low Voltage Magnetic Dimmer I needed, but the seller had no idea at all!

By now I had devised my own Pyrography Pen and most of the nibs that I could think of. Excited as I was, I switched the burner on and increased the current until I could see a low red glow on the nib. I carefully grabbed my own wood burning pen and started to draw on a piece of wood. Then I decreased the current and tried shading. BINGO. I was there after so many long years!

Below are some of the Pyrographic Paintographs that my contraption has helped me to create. Finally I have succeeded, finally my tool is there and working like a pro. Thank God my dream has come true!

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at .

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