I have worked with wood, using just hand tools, for many years, and done relief print making using solid wood side and end grain.
This article shows I create my Solid Cherry woodblocks, using American Cherry, which is lovely to carve. I sell some of these on my Cherry Relief Printing Woodblocks page; I also make Cedar etc. woodblocks.
Board ready for carving and printing
Having recently finished another home schooling session due to a 2 month+ lock down, be great to actually create some prints again.
I start from solid boards of Cherry Wood, purchased from a timber supplier. Boards are typically 2.4m long, which I cut with hand saws - either a tenon saw (shown) or Japanese hand saw.
Starting point - roughly cut timber
Wood, being a natural material, retains natural tensions, causing boards to twist/warp/cup etc. when cut - not very helpful when trying to print. I cut my boards to just over size, then rest them for a week in a moderately heated place, out of sunlight.
After this time, I start to plane them. I don't own large planing machines. I don't need them. I can work quickly and efficiently with some simple, quiet, hand planes, using many years of skills & experience, knowing how to use which plane.
Firstly, using a Scrub Plane, a very sharp blade set fairly deep, I quickly remove the rough surface, and start planing out any cupping. Looks a mess, but next planes will start the flattening process.
Scrub plane removing rough cut surface of timber
Next, setting Scrub Plane blade less high, I remove more material, working towards a slightly flatter board. At this stage, I prefer working at right angles to grain - takes degree of skill and sharp tools, and have to protect those edges, but my preferred method. Still looks a mess, but next planes will start the flattening process.
Removing more surface of timber
Blocks do not become flat in all dimensions by themselves. I use 2 engineering-accurate tools to check for flatness. A straight edge, then winding sticks, to check for twist in the material.
I must keep checking, right to the end, with these tools to remove errors as soon as they occur.
Checking with straight edge
Checking with winding sticks - when used correctly, excellent tools
Now board is more or less flat, with no twist, now is time to smooth it out.
Like you might use sandpaper, I start with coarse planes (curved blade set relatively deep), right through to a plane with shallow near straight blade. I keep checking with my straight edge and winding sticks, very easy for a slight error to magnify into a twisted non flat surface.
Done correctly, and with experience, you can print from this. I can, however, wet sand too, to make nearly a glass smooth surface, and more resistant to grain raising (see separate blog entry).
Coarse plane smoothing out the board, again at right angles to board. This is a very old tool, but it works really well.
Finer plane, along the grain, smoothing out more
Before it is too smooth, I plane the edges, again using a coarse plane, then finer ones.
Now final smooth with very finely set plane - ready to print with (unless I want to wet sand it first).
Board is now ready for carving and printing - with finely set planes it is smooth enough to do this, however I can and do sand it to get an even finer finish, including wet sanding.
Board ready for carving and printing
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