Reciprocating saw carving and pyrography art in Dalat

Along with the formation and development of Da Lat, Reciprocating saw – and fire-pen carving crafts have followed local residents from different regions to settle down in this city and developed into traditional crafts bearing the very special marks of Da Lat residents.

These are unique and sophisticated craftsmanships that require gifted artisans having aptitude for painting and dexterity. An indispensable element in these works of art is the emotion, the love for the homeland, the life with good human values. Therefore, the works of pyrography art are not only simple souvenirs, but also cultural products, promoting the beautiful natural scenery, Da Lat people to local and foreign tourists. It can be said that, these craftsmen have indirectly contributed to the promotion of Da Lat Tourism brand through their works.

Pyrography art with the fire-pen carving

The fire-pen carving profession appeared in Da Lat in the 1950s. The first discovery of fire-pen carving art was made by Bùi Văn Dưỡng, a graduate from the College of Fine Arts in Paris. In 1973 Châu Văn Nghiêm – a handicraft shop owner and a painter specializing in painting on wooden handicrafts has studied the fire-pen carving art.

Raw materials used in fire-pen carving and pyrography are mainly white pine wood, lồng mứt wood, wood of low quality, oak wood … having shining color, soft, smooth fabric of moderate hardness, and main materials are white pine wood.

pyrography art with fire pen

pyrography art with fire pen

The tool is simply a voltage stabilizer transforming 220v to 12v attached to a pen made from a spiral spring wire with a copper pen tip and a fan to fan smoke off when the wood is burn by the electric pen.

In the processs of making a product, unlike the reciprocating saw – carving art, fire-pen carving craftsmen may not use a table, for they can hold the wood on their lap, using one hand to keep the piece of wood and the other hand holding the electric pen to “draw” on the wood.

a picture was made with fire pen

a picture was made with fire pen

Drawing procedures consist of several steps: making a sketch painting then carving the main part of the painting, after that, carving all the details (carried out with complicated works only). Afterwards, electric pen is used, to follow the sketches to get sharp carving. Particularly, when making fire-pen drawing products, the craftsman must not only have dexterity, aptitude for fine arts but also patience, since the fire-pen is easy to be scorched during the drawing process. Under the skillful hands of the craftsman, each sharp line, each subtle color in turn appears. The color depends on the different degrees of heat radiating from the fire pen. Wherever heat is emitted from the pen – point touching the wood, it causes the wood to be scorched with brown color. The pressure from the hands of the craftsman will decide on the brightness and darkness of the painting: where the pen is pressed down, the wood gets dark colors, and a slight touch of the pen will cause lighter color on the wood.

The reciprocating saw – carving

The reciprocating saw – carving profession came into being in Da Lat since the 70s of the 20th Century, brought from abroad by clergy Gome, a Spaniard to teach students of the Lasan Dalat technical college – one of the schools teaching both technical education and vocational training (now the Economic & Technical College of Lam Dong). Afterwards, it was developed by some students of this college, using the existing material sources in the province, namely, white pine wood; very soon it became a famous handicrafts profession in Dalat in the 70s with many products preferred by tourists.

Raw materials for reciprocating saw – carving products consist of such types of wood as white pine wood, pine, natural wood … Wood must be treated against mold before use by means of natural sun drying, or drying in drying kiln at moderate temperature, handled by sulfur termiticide before use.

A product of reciprocating saw carving

A product of reciprocating saw carving

The tool is quite simple including a small semicircle saw made from a small curved circular iron bar with a steel blade (the steel blade is as thin as a thread connected to both ends of the iron bar) along with a sawing table, a sharp knife and some fine sand paper.

The sawing table is usually made from a flat piece of wood of 10x20cm, permanently fixed on a table. The sawing table, protruding about 10cm, is carved into a small V-shaped hole from outside inward. This V-shaped hole is positioned to put the blade to perform sawing activities.

To create a reciprocating saw – carving product, first the artisan must plane the wood, then cut it into several pieces of various sizes, subject to the need of the product, the thickness of which is about 3-7mm. After being smoothly planed, the piece of wood continues to be polished with fine sand paper.

Tool of reciprocating saw carving

Tool of reciprocating saw carving

Before sawing, the craftsman makes a sketch sample on the wood (professional craftsmen do not need to go through this step; instead, they saw following their own emotions). During the process of manipulation to create products, the craftsman’s left hand both keeps the sawing wood and ingeniously rotates the blades rhythmically following the sketch on the right hand. After the wood is cut off, the craftsman uses a sharp knife to carve and make elevations or concaves on the sketches following the sample drawing, then polish the angles with fine sand paper. The final step is to use Ponan( or white-milk glue) or dog’s glue to paste cut segments to make a complete, lively artwork. Sometimes, artisans apply a white PU coat on the fire-pen carving work to keep it shiny and long-lasting. The finished products will be put naturally on the wooden pedestal or decorated with fire-pen carving, then framed or placed on red velvet background to highlight and enhance their value.

Da Lat’s fire-pen carving and pyrography products are mainly portraits, landscape paintings, calligraphy and souvenirs such as picture frames, key rings, pencil cases, cosmetics cases, tea -, coffee -, wine – cases adorned by pyrography and fire-pen carving art… Almost all these products have put on specific cultural characteristics of Da Lat and of the South Central Highlands, for instance, landscape paintings are usually attached to famous landscapes of Da Lat like Prenn waterfall, Cam Ly waterfall; Xuân Hương lake, Valley of Love, romantic pine forest… Portraits often revolve around the following themes: famous artists, state leaders, or “mountaineers” – the indigenous people are very popular to tourists. In addition, there are folk paintings like shepherds blowing the flute, the countryside…. Calligraphy mostly includes famous philosophical sayings such as: “One should be kind-hearted to people”, “Endurance”,”Heart”…, or educating filial piety, love for families… Apart from this, some drawings attach animals and flowers to the theme, for instance, “ma dao cheng gong (Eventually successful)”; tiger, lion, representing strength, power; special species of Da Lat flowers like roses, apricot cherry blossoms, chrysanthemums, orchids, mimosa … and fowl are also popular themes in these fire-pen carving drawings and pyrography by Da Lat residents.

By Doan Bich Ngo

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