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Branding, Human Branding, and Branding Irons

Updated on June 25, 2014

Branding defined

When most of us used to think of branding, the thought of identifying the cattle of their owner is what came to mind, that has changed since those days, and branding and branding irons now have multiple uses and purposes.

Along with the branding of livestock, other things branded are wood, leather, steaks, and finally and growing in popularity, is the branding of human skin.

While most of the purposes of branding remain the same, in that someone wants to be indentified for the work they've done or the cattle or livestock they own.

Human branding is different in purpose, and the process is different, although the results are the same: a scarred mark remaining where the brand was applied. In that sense, all branding ends up with the same result of producting a scar.

It's just that scars can be left on animal or human skin, or inanimate objects like wood and leather. 

Freeze branding livestock

Variety of branding iron styles

Today, branding irons are largely determined by how they're heated up, and there are several ways of doing it.

Heating in a fire

The first one is the one most of us identify branding with, and that's the one heated in a fire, as the cowboys of old did to allow cattle owners to mingle their cattle together while they fed on the range together.

While still used today, it's not as efficient as the newer ways of branding. It doesn't do as good a job and it takes longer to heat and apply the brand.

Even so, it's far less expensive, and can be used on all types of surfaces.

Branding by Freezing

We all know not to touch dry ice with our bodies, and for good reason, it can leave a mark just like a heat burn would. That's the principle behind freeze branding, which can utilize coolants like dry ice and liquid nitrogen.

As far as use with animals goes, it works on the hair cells by causing damage to them when applied, where white hair will grow out in the shape of whatever the brand was.

With darker colored animals this is done fairly quickly, as the white hair growth comes easily and quickly. For lighter colored animals, the brand must be applied for a long time until the hair is destroyed, and only the skin will remain. 

Electric branding irons

If you've ever had or used an electric toaster, you understand pretty much how an electric branding iron works.

This particular branding iron can be used in just about every branding situation there is, and is built in different ways depending on the surface being branded, and the size and shape of the branding iron needed.

Propane and electric branding irons operate in a similar fashion and for similar uses, with the propane branding iron being used in situations where there is no electricity avaiable, and there's the need for mobility.

Those propane branding units built commercially can heat up a few branding irons at a time.

Propane branding iron

What branding irons are used for today

We already covered the livestock part of the branding equation, so we won't revisit that. But there are several other surfaces that are used to brand on, and we'll talk about those now. 

There are a couple of reasons behind branding a steak.

One is in connection to branding in a way someone would brand a product or company. For example, some chefs and weekend barbecuers like to stamp their mark on the steaks to let it be known it is there work.

The second reason is more practical, which is to communicate to others what type of steak it is, in the sense of whether is it is well done or rare, etc.

Steak branding iron

The branding of wood is the same as livestock in that the brander wants to identify the work as coming from a certain company or artisan.

Wood branding iron

Leather branding irons

Identifying the craftsman behind the work is the reason for branding leather. This is used prominently among those making horse tack. They apply the brand instead of using steel stamps.

Branding human skin

The branding of human skin is an entirely different practice, although the practicals and principle behind it is the same.

Human branding is also called scarification. 

Two methods of human branding

There are two ways of branding or scarification of human skin, and both involve the use of heat.

What happens in both cases is a third degree burn is inflicted on the skin, and when it heals, whatever the design was is left to see via the scar tissue.

The two ways of human branding are called strike branding and cautery branding. 

Human strike branding

With strike branding, a sheet of carbon steel sheet metal is used, which is cut into small one inch strips. Taking the small strips, they are then bent or cut to the desired design. 

From there the pieces are laid on the skin and the edge of the steel is heated with a propane torch. Once it reaches the desired temperature, it is pressed against the skin for a brief moment, which is called a strike. This is done with each piece until the design is completed. 

Human cautery branding

Strike branding is similar to the principle used to brand lifestalk and other surfaces. Cautery branding is different in that it's more of a carving or cutting than a striking.

Here you have a design on the skin and a surgical cautery pen (which is very hot) is taken and used to draw along the image on the skin.

If the person doing the work is talented, the finished work can include a much more detailed image than that done by striking.
One short term benefit over striking is there is no immediate seams that are seen with the cautery method, while with the striking method there temporarily will be seams in the design, although that ultimately turns seamless after time.

Even so, the cautery method leaves more of a natural flowing look, like a brush was used, while the strike method has more of a rigid look that comes from using steel, even if it ends up seamless. 

Branding - A Painful Pleasure?

Branding is everywhere

While branding isn't something thought about in normal human activities, it's surprising how pervasive and extensive it is, and how the tools and reasons behind it have stayed the same for so long, and at the same time is changing as people voluntarily enter into the experience.

From branding livestock, the evolution of branding irons and methods, to human branding, it has become a part of all our lives in a way that we take for granted, but means different things to different people, depending on how it is used. 


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    • profile image

      IS 19 months ago

      My ring is still on my finger. It still shows up better in the cold but any other time it is a white ring. Either way I see it and so do others so that is the important part.

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      Nathan 2 years ago

      Would it be possible to burn like wolf names into your chest with a wood engraver? I needed it done and due to my expenses id like to have a friend do it

    • profile image

      Andy 2 years ago

      My wife branded me a few days ago and it hurts like a bitch! She used a superheated paperclip. It is turning yellowish now and it hurts really bad. Is this normal?

    • profile image

      Jessy 3 years ago

      what is the pain level for each type of human branding?

    • profile image

      IS 3 years ago

      My ring is permanent! I have since switched jobs and I am allowed to wear my ring now but it is still there. It shows up especially well in cold weather.

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      Cathleen 4 years ago

      I just got a brand done in philly if you Google it you can find them. If it blisters it wasn't a 3rd degree burn but 2nd degree will still scar. It would have been easier and more effective to use heat. Also it takes a year for a brand to fully heal and you should wait that long before you rebrand or brand over something. DONT PICK SCABS!!! If you want to intensify a scar you can irritate it gently with a tooth brush after the scabs fall off or use nickel or silver to raise and/or intensify the scar. Keep it clean wash it twice a day with mild soap avoid ointments that will cause it to heal too fast and don't pick scabs.

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      IS 6 years ago

      I just stuck the metal into the liquid nitrogen until it quit hissing. When I took it out it was covered in frostand that is when I touched it to my finger.

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      Tickle butt! 6 years ago

      I want to get branded this is awesome who are the people that brand u I wanna get a legit potleaf brand?

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      jrz 6 years ago

      how hot is the is the right temperture to have the branding iron?

    • profile image

      IS 6 years ago

      I bought a thermos of liquid nitrogen and used the hook part of one of the hooks you'd screw into a ceiling to hang a flower pot from. You have to do it quite a few times and hit it from as many angles as you can. Don't be afraid to pull hard on it when you're doing it either. If I was going to do it again I'd file the inside of the hook flat so that there would be a wider surface to freeze the skin. If you have any more questions don't hesitate to ask

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      LizzieO 6 years ago

      IS, how exactly did you do it? My husband and I are thinking about branding our rings on. I'm just looking for some info.

    • profile image

      IS 6 years ago

      My ring is kind of a pinkish white. It shows up better when it's cold but it is very visible. If it stays the way it is I'll be happy. It was over 4 months ago that I did it so I'm thinking it will last.

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      we 6 years ago

      i just did my horoscopes leo it was cool and it looks good

    • profile image

      IS 7 years ago

      I can now put my wedding ring on. The swelling has gone down and it is a purple ring. I guess in a few months I'll know what it will look like.

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      MJ 7 years ago

      Pick the scab like everyone tells you not to LOL. That, and a good infection (ouch and yuck!) will make it scar worst. I don't really recommend it though. Too many things could go wrong and make it ugly.

    • profile image

      IS 7 years ago

      Right now it is still healing and really hurts. I did it on new years eve. I'll keep updates coming.

      Is there any way I can help it scar better?

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      MJ 7 years ago

      That's kind of funny IS. I live in a really cold climate and my ring froze to my skin a few times one winter and now I have a permanent white scar under my wedding band! I did that very thing naturally and accidentally! I am also white and it is not very visible because it is just a lighter white and slightly raised. Maybe yours will be more raised because you did it on purpose tho. I was thinking of tattooing a wedding ring over the scar, haven't decided yet. Let us know how the scar turns out

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      IS 7 years ago

      I can't wear my wedding ring at work due to safety issues so I did a freeze brand where I wear my wedding by using a hook shaped piece of steel and liquid nitrogen. I poped the blister and it is still healing but I am wondering if it will cause a scar that will be visible enough to anyone who looks at my finger when I'm not wearing my ring. I had my doctor do it once before and there wasen't much of a mark. This time I did it myself and hit it a little harder than he did. I am a white male.

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      MJ 7 years ago

      Has anyone ever tried turning their own hair white with freeze branding? I would guess the time applied would be similar to the time applied on bats (the ones researcher track) since they also have thinner skin. Any idea's?