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Leather Burning – An Artistic Leather Crafting Technique

My passion for leather craft means I constantly look for new ways to take my work to the next level. I’m active in different forums, always discovering new techniques from other crafters. Recently, I came across art burned into leather’s surface, which inspired me to learn more about the crafting technique of leather burning. 

Leather burning is the art form of creating drawings or stamping leather using a hot tip tool. The tip of the tool burns the leather’s surface leaving behind black marks. Various tip sizes and shapes allow art pieces to be detailed and precise. Leather-burning kits range from $15–$130. 

Leather burning is an artistic way to add personalized art, writing, or patterns to any project. Let’s explore how to start leather burning and learn tips to improve your masterpieces. 

What Is Leather Burning?

Leather burning is a unique art form that uses heat to burn images onto the surface of the leather. Using a tool that generates heat, the tip burns the leather’s surface, leaving behind blackened marks. With the help of different tip sizes and shapes, leather burning can be highly detailed.

Artists carefully manage each stroke, controlling the pressure and time spent touching the leather. Those experienced with leather burning can use the leather as expertly as a canvas, creating artwork that rivals what is seen in other mediums. 

What We’ll Explore

  • Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
  • History of Leather Burning
  • Leather Burning Overview Table
  • Leather Burning Tools and Kits
  • Leather Burning Techniques
  • How to Burn Leather Step by Step
  • Leather Burning Tips
  • My Personal Research into Leather Burning
  • Helpful Leather Burning Insights
  • Key Takeaways
A Leather Burning Tool - Leather Burning - Liberty Leather Goods
A Leather Burning Tool

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

Those who burn leather often say vegetable tanned leather is the only leather that can be used. There is a misconception that leather with a finish will release toxic chemicals, especially chrome tanned leather. However, this information has been disputed, showing that polyurethane releases toxic gasses. Polyurethane is mainly found in artificial leather, not chrome tanned leather. 

If the materials used to make chrome tanned leather is known, it may be safe to burn the leather. Ada Gulbinienė, Eglė Fataraitė-Urbonienė, Milda Jucienė, Vaida Dobilaitė, and  Virgilijus Valeika,  with the SAGE Journals, a peer-reviewed, scientific independent publishing company, researched the effects when chromium tanned leather is burned and found large amounts of carbon, small amounts of chromium, and sulfur. 

While chromium was present, the process did not affect concentrations of hexavalent chromium, and tested samples were in accordance with EU requirements. Regardless of the leather used, when burning leather, it is vital always to have good ventilation and wear protection.  

History of Leather Burning

While the official date when leather burning began is unknown, it is speculated to be around the 1500s. In this era, book binding consisted of leather, and burning the leather was one way to add art to the binding. Their process of leather burning was similar to that of embossing or branding. 

A metal plate was heated, and the patterns or artwork were pressed onto the cover, leaving behind a burned image. It was not until the 1900s that true pyrography tools began to develop. Today most tools are created for wood burning but can be used on leather at lower settings. 

Leather Burning Overview Table

Calligraphy TipsCalligraphy tips are shaped similarly to a calligraphy pen. The fine point that tapes out allows for a fine line to be widened within a single stroke. Commonly used for writing.
Flat shading TipsThe flat shading tips come in various sizes, but all have a large flat area used to burn the leather. Having a larger surface spreads the heat, reducing the amount of darkening occurring at a single point. Flat shading tips are used for shading or large dull strokes.
Mini TipsEvery leather-burning kit will come with various fine-point tips. Each size controls the stroke width of a line. With the heat converging to a single point, mini-tips produce dark lines. Mini tips are best used for detail work, general lines, or when designing dark outlines.
Stamp TipsStamping tips are pre-made images branded into the leather using heat. Custom stamps can be made to apply any design or logo. Stamps are best for adding consistent images when leather burning. 
Leather Burning Characteristics

Leather Burning Tools and Kits

The tools in leather-burning kits are relatively simple and include the main heating element, which is an electric rod with a hand guard. When powered, the heat will transfer to any tip inserted into the tool. The tips included with leather-burning kits are designed to perform specific tasks. 

A leather-burning kit typically includes calligraphy, shading, or small detailed tips. Some kits will also include stamps or templates to expand the toolset further. When heated, stamps brand the surface of the leather. Templates made from metal can add quick designs to leather projects.

Leather Burning Techniques

The most important part of leather burning is to manage the temperature and pressure closely. High heat will quickly burn the leather but can leave additional scorch marks around the tip. Too low heat will not produce as dark of a line. Choosing the right tip for each scenario is also important. Fine single-point tips are best for tracing or adding details.

Flat shader tips allow for adding gradients throughout a shaded area. Calligraphy tips can be used as a fine point tip but also provides the ability to widen the line due to the taper. While each tip serves a basic purpose, it can be used creatively when leather burning. For example, the calligraphy tip is often rolled around on the ends to create a petal design. 

Those experienced with leather burning can use the leather as expertly as a canvas, creating artwork that rivals what is seen in other mediums.

How To Burn Leather Step by Step

  1. The first step in leather burning is picking the right leather for your project. Ideally, a light vegetable tanned leather, but chrome tanned leather or leather with a finishing coat can be used. However, it is important to avoid harmful chemicals such as polyurethane.
  2. Once the leather has been selected, the tool is prepared by inserting the chosen tip, plugging it in, and setting it aside to heat up.
  3. In this time, if you have a design, it may be traced onto the leather with an awl.
  4. Once the tool is hot, you may begin drawing on the grain side of the leather. Draw the burning tool along the leather to create a line. 
  5. Pressure and the amount of time the leather is burned are important. While this may differ between hides, it is better to do light, long passes at a low heat than to scorch the hide.
  6. If a different tip is required, completely turn off and unplug the tool. After waiting for it to cool, the tip may be changed, and the process can continue. 

Leather Burning Tips

  1. Safety is always the most important part of burning leather. 
  2. Make sure the area is well-ventilated and protection is worn. 
  3. Always change the tips while the burning tool is off and cold. 
  4. Place the tool on the stand provided when letting it heat up or setting it down. 
  5. The hide may be cased to improve leather burning, similar to tooling. 
  6. After the leather is cased, the grain side can be smoothed with a burnisher to help create a more even surface for burning. This may also help when stenciling a design onto the leather.
  7.  Let the leather burning tool heat up completely to ensure the lines are the same darkness. 
  8. Use light pressure, and go slow when burning leather. 
  9. Avoid high heat when possible, as it can scorch the surrounding leather and cause unsightly marks. It may also burn too deep into the leather, causing a poor smell and potentially weakening the area. 

My Personal Research Into Leather Burning

To further research leather burning, I decided to turn to the leathercraft community. Leather burning is a niche part of the hobby, but crafters online are more than happy to share their information and secrets. I searched multiple forums, videos, and personal blogs for key information and new techniques. I also looked at information for wood pyrography to find overlapping tips.

Key Leather Burning Information 

To begin leather burning, understanding how the process takes place is key. Temperature plays a large role in the outcome when leather burning. The temperature that eather burns begins around 400–800 degrees Fahrenheit. Below that temperature, the lines may not be dark enough, but the leather will quickly melt over that amount, potentially causing damage.

Leather burning tools with no control over the temperature will average 650 degrees Fahrenheit, a solid middle. Any leather tool will need time to heat up. Having consistent heat helps achieve consistent lines throughout the entire piece. Pressure plays a large role in the appearance of the lines. Simply, as pressure increases, the lines get darker. 

Techniques Provided by the Leather Burning Community

When looking for leather-burning methods, I found Bruce Cheaney’s leather-burning videos, where he shows a basic introduction to leathercraft and some techniques. He showcased how the different sized single points tips could be used to create a brogue pattern. 

He also used the flat shading style tip and rolled it around to create flower petals. When searching for other techniques, I saw crafters using single-point tips to crosshatch or pointillism shade. This showcases the possibilities when using a leather-burning tool to create art. 

In this helpful video, Bruce Cheaney shows the process of burning a leather flower design, showcasing how the shading tip can be used differently.

Tips From the Wood Pyrography Community

With leather burning being a niche part of leather craft, tips were a little harder to come by. Upon looking at the wood-burning community, I saw a lot had offered tips regarding leather. The first was when choosing and preparing a burning surface. The best surfaces for burning leather are smooth and thick. Natural vegetable tanned leather is a common choice. 

With vegetable tanned leather, crafters suggest burnishing the surface with water. This smooths the area more and helps pre-stretch the leather. A workaround when using thin leather is to use a temporary backing piece. Lightly secure a thicker piece of leather behind the thin one.

Be extra careful with the pressure you apply to avoid burning through the thin leather. They stressed the importance of keeping your project and tools clean. Burning leather will create blackened marks, some of which will be ash. They recommend dabbing the surface with a paper towel to remove it, as rubbing may cause smudging.

Another area they often cleaned was the tips of their burning tool. The build-up may occur that can track ash to other areas and prevent the tip from heating evenly. To remove any build-up, rub the tips on scrap leather.


Leather burning may be a small part of the craft, with information that may be harder to find than most techniques. However, the leather craft community remains helpful, sharing their best tips and tricks to guide anyone interested. Additionally, reaching out to those working with a similar art form can help bring new techniques over to leathercraft.

Helpful Leather Burning Insights

What is leather burning called?

A common term used for leather burning is pyrography. While the term is commonly seen in the wood-burning community, it is a catch-all for all burning-style art. Pokerwork is another term that describes the tool used to create leather-burning art.

What happens when you burn leather?

When burning leather at the correct temperature, the leather will leave behind a blackened mark. This is caused by burning the leather’s surface and turning it into carbon. When the temperature is too high, the marks will be darker, accompanied by light smoke and the poor smell of burnt leather. 

Do you wet leather before burning?

While not necessary, wetting leather before burning it can have some added benefits. When using a premade design, wet leather can easily be traced and add depth to the project. The leather may also be smoothed out when wet, providing the best surface for burning leather. 

Can you use a soldering iron to burn leather?

It is possible to use a soldering iron on leather; however, it will most likely need to be one with temperature control. Soldering irons get much hotter than leather-burning tools, which can lead to leather burning more easily. If the heat is controlled, soldering irons can work for burning leather.

Can I use wood burner on leather?

Yes, the tools made for wood burning are very similar to those used for leather. They offer interchangeable tips that will provide everything you may need for leather burning. Although choosing a wood burner that produces heat around 600–700 degrees Fahrenheit or with temperature control is important to prevent the leather from being scorched when used.

Key Takeaways

  1. Proper ventilation and safety equipment are necessary when leather burning. 
  2. Managing temperature and pressure is key to consistent burn marks.
  3. Leather burning can add hand-drawn art to a project in a unique way.

In Closing

Leather is a creative material that offers endless ways to customize. Leather burning provides limitless artistic expression, from handwritten script to images created with stamps. While the technique will require constant practice to master, with leather burning, each piece becomes unique artwork. 

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