Branding is a way of indelibly marking the flesh of someone. In its best known form a piece of metal (the brand) is the shaped to create the inverse of the desired pattern or symbol. The brand is then either heated (hot branding) or cooled (cold branding) and pressed momentarily against the skin, thus burning the pattern into the skin. As the skin heals from the burn the pattern remains in the form of a scar. This form of branding is sometimes called strike branding.
Hot branding is best known from its use on cattle and horses. The brand is heated until it is red hot and then pressed against the hide of the animal.
The use of a heavy cattle or horse brand on a person causes major burn damage due to the thinness of the human skin compared that of a cow or horse. To brand a human something which holds less heat (such as a wire or a thin piece of tin from a tin can) is used instead.
A propane torch is the most common way of heating the brand, typically to red heat.
Cold branding is done the same way as hot branding, but instead of heating the brand to red heat it is cooled using dry ice or similar.
Other forms of branding are sometimes used to more creatively sear designs into the flesh. For example:
- A thin piece of wire is heated and then dragged across the skin to "draw" a design onto someone,
- Instead of using a cut-out shape---as in normal strike branding---a length of thin wire is shaped into a possibly intricate design, then heated and applied to the skin,
- small metal objects, such as the bar-bells used in some piercings, are heated and pressed briefly to the skin to create patterns of dots.
Using heated fine wire or small metal objects usually allows lines and shapes to be better defined than with strike branding.
Any form of burning creates damages to the skin and branding is no different. The risk of infection is very high.
It is very wise not to try this without having first been instructed by someone already skilled in branding. It is very easy to cause third- or fourth-degree burns.
As with any activity involving flames, other things (such as clothes, furniture, alcohol disinfectant, and so on) may also catch fire. Keep a fire-extinguisher handy.