I produce all my own woodblocks for engraving from timber I air dry myself. These are type high blocks with the grain going up, so I can get fine detail on the prints. This is different to woodcuts which use the side grain; woodcut blocks are easier to create. You will note that I only use handtools - no machines at all.
Today I'm using logs from a Hawthron tree that came from a friends in Chesham, about 6 years ago. It may not be the commonest wood to engrave on, but it is fine grain, white, and relatively soft, I've got lots of it, I like it (although I prefer Holly as it is a bit more buttery).
I cut the ends of the logs off using a hand saw, to slightly over the 23.32mm depth needed (which is type high, meaning I can add metal type to the print).
Then I work out how to get the most of the slice (I don't want to waste wood through inefficient marking out or cutting) - then cut up carefully with a tenon hand saw, with the teeth set for Rip cutting (yes, there are 2 different types of teeth configuration for all hand saws, Panel and Rip, the former being far more common, the latter specialist for cutting down the grain).
Now comes the labour intensive, and hardest work, bit. Hand planing the end grain down so the surface is absolutely flat, and that across it's whole surface, is 23.32mm deep. I mount in my purpose built vice (attached to a half ton work bench - very necessary as planing end grain is much harder than side grain, you do need something heavy to hold the work).
I use a printers type high gauge to ensure the block is the right height.
Once complete I plane the edges square with the top so it can be held on the press bed in my printers chase / quoins etc. safely.
That is the block created - sounds simple perhaps, but takes a lot of skill gained over many years of work. And yes, I do enjoy getting it right it a lot, even though it is physically hard work and I need breaks. Authors such as LCT Rolt talk about the skills of craftsmen, and that they are important. And I would say that is true in an age of computer controlled machines that can do everything. Some things need hand skills.
Next stages are sanding to a glossy surface, then blackening ready to trace on work, and engrave it but I'll leave that to another day and another blog.
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