Introduction: Architectural Mural Pyrography

About: Engineer by trade, amateur woodworker and author in the off-hours. Most commonly, I build flag boxes for retiring military members and occasionally gifts and furniture when the opportunities arise. Outside of …

I had the opportunity to make a couple burned pictures for my office during some substantial renovations. While most woodburnings are fairly small in size, I went overboard and decided to use 2x4’ sheets of plywood for my medium. Such a task may seem overwhelming at first but with perseverance and a little effort you can see the project through and with dramatic effect. You’ll be left with a piece of art that will be admired for years to come.

Equipment Required: Not a lot. I did most of my work with an entry-level Razertip burner and the starter set of pens (1.5mm ball, spoon shader, medium knife). I’d also recommend a router for making the frame.


-Completed Research Lab mural
-Completed Hangar 18 mural
-Required supplies

Step 1: Preparation

First, pick your subject. Get the best picture you can find and use your choice of image processing to enhance the contrast or detect the major edges. My first shot of Hangar 18 was a composite of several images that I assembled in GIMP. Once you’ve decided on the image dimensions, prepare your board.

I trimmed a 2x4’ piece of ¾” birch veneered plywood to the correct size and used a handheld router with a V-point sign maker bit to cut a channel about 2” in from the edge to resemble a picture frame. Work each corner from both directions so you don’t overshoot them. Once complete, route the edge to match.

Use black acrylic paint to color the routed surfaces, sand the top and stain the frame between the painted lines a fairly dark color. You should be left with what looks like a wood picture frame surrounding the board.


-Board with edge treatment completed

Step 2: Image Transfer

I lucked out the first few times I attempted these projects and had access to portable LCD projectors through my office. If you don’t, despair not!

Set the wood panel nearly vertical and use the projector to place the full-screen image straight onto the field. Using a light touch with a pencil, trace the major lines, contours and details onto the wood. Don’t draw too heavy since the lines will need to be erased later and don’t worry about getting every nuance; It’s easy enough to fill them in.

Once all of the lines are traced, set the board on your workspace and use a straightedge to mark any prominent lines, edges of buildings, etc. that you don’t want wavering.

If you don’t have access to a LCD projector, you can also use an overhead or craft projector which work with a printed copy of your subject. It’s basically a light/mirror/lens combo that projects the image and while not as flexible as the LCD model, it’s a whole lot cheaper.


-Image transfer with LCD projector
-Transfer complete
-Image transfer with the Porta-Trace craft scope

Step 3: Burning!

If this is your first attempt at pyrography (like mine), practice first! Unlike working with paints or even carvings, woodburnings can only be varied by temperature and pattern. The temperature changes the tone from light to dark. This can be changed by setting the tool or varying your speed.

Patterns are changed by technique and the type of pen used. Looking at my source picture, I can see I have grass and trees in the foreground, cars in the central lot and the stone building to the rear. Once I decided how to tackle each object, I moved across the scene, filling in each instance.

I kept the picture up on my computer for reference and zoomed in on whatever I was working on.

For the building, I used the knife to cut straight lines along each edge and then added vertical lines on each floor to mimic the concrete façade.

The trees took two steps. I started by burning tight curls in the leaves with the ball tip pen, tied them to the ground with a darker trunk, and used a mini butane torch to darken the entire area behind the leaves.

The cars are more difficult since they require a more artistic eye and a high-resolution picture. Sketch each one out in pencil beforehand, get the lines as straight as possible and follow with the burner.


-Practice board; my take on a celtic knot to play with shading and texture
-Progress on the Research Lab
-Progress on Hangar 18

Step 4: Detail and Whimsy

With a canvas this big, there is plenty of room for the finer details to set your work apart. On the aged hangar, I added layers of dirt and grime on all of the windows and broken tiles with weeds on the tarmac in front.

For the other building, I used the knife to make sharp sprigs of grass in the front and shaded them with the torch. I also stayed true to legend and dropped an alien in one of the windows.

If you want to lettering or symbols, print the subjects reversed on an inkjet printer and use a shading pen to transfer the ink by rubbing the back of the paper. I did this for the lettering and symbols at the top of the office building and followed with a regular pen to even out the details.

And... that's about it! The limit is your imagination and level of patience. :) Don't use a tinted finish since you don't want to lose any definition in the burned areas. I used spar urethane to protect the picture from UV rays as well.


-Hangar 18 nearing completion
-Research Lab nearing completion
-Detail of lab tower
-Detail of hangar windows

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