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Solid woodblocks for relief printmaking, in various hard & soft woods, hand made using traditional skills using mainly hand planes etc., by David Rodgers in the UK.

Wet Sanding Printing Blocks

> Blog > Woodblock Making > Wet Sanding Printing Blocks
Sat 20th Mar 2021

Wet sanding solid relief printmaking blocks, such as the Cherry Woodblocks I make, can create a smoother surface to print on, and reduce grain raising when using water based inks as in the Japanese methods.

First sanding
Carefully sanding damp surface - considerable skill is required to do this whole process.

With many years experience in working with wood, this is something I do, my methods are briefly outlined below.

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Purpose & Disclaimer

Purpose
Page contains my personal working methods, which are not suitable for everyone, or everyone's circumstances, experience or materials. If intending to implement any part of these, assess your skills and situation carefully before had to see if it is suitable for you.

Health and safety aspects are not fully covered here. Printmaking & working with wood is a potentially dangerous operation, you are responsible for assessing & taking all appropriate precautions. Take particular care of all materials, tool usage, wood dust and splinters, as all wood dust & splinters are potentially dangerous. All methods are for adult usage only.

Accuracy & Updating
This page is not checked or updated regularly and may contain out of date information. Verify all facts from alternative up to date authoritative sources.

Prerequisites

Wet sanding is the final stage, applied to an already flat and smooth surface. I do this on my solid Cherry Woodblocks, which I have hand planed very flat (to within a few thousands of an inch), and which are already very smooth (which I have printed from without wet sanding).

As I use no machines, and certainly no sanding machines, my surfaces are already planed along the direction of the grain. A sanding machine wouldn't do this, nor would casual hand sanding (unless it was only done in direction of grain).

I have no experience of wet sanding rougher surfaces, and do not if what I do below is suited to such surfaces. My guess would be to finely sand in the direction of the grain only first.

Tools

Tools I use are very simple. Alongside the wood block I made below, I use the following:

  • Rubber mat: reducing chance of block underside getting damaged
  • Water mister: Hairdressers very fine mister for applying water to surface
  • Wet and Dry paper: to wet sand (normal sand paper won't work)
  • Paper towels: to gently cleanup
  • Shortish Finger Nails: reduce inadvertently marking woodblock surface

Tools
Wet sanding woodblock tools

Procedure

There is more than one way to crack a nut. There is more than one way to wet sand, or reduce grain raising on wood surfaces. I do not pretend this is the 'best way' - it may not be. However, it works for me, so I use it.

Note: I have many years working with wood, hand planing, hand sanding and applying certain types of finish. Even so, I always try new procedures on scrap wood until I get it right, including a test print where necessary - I would strongly suggest you do too - you might ruin a good surface otherwise.

Step 1: Wet surface

Using my fine water mister, I spray a little water on the surface, and spread it gently around with my fingers. I don't use too much - experience tells me how much. I'm not trying to soak the surface - but equally too little doesn't sand right. Test on scrap wood first!

Spraying on water
Spray on a little water first

Spreading water
Gently spread water over surface. Correct hand action uses maximum surface area of fingers, keeping finger nails well away from surface lest they mark it.

Step 2: First sanding

Now I gently sand with my wet and dry paper. As my surfaces are already very flat and smooth, I can start with 400 grit. I use light pressure, using the pads of a few fingers - not letting those finger nails get anyway near the surface.

If your surfaces are less smooth you will need a coarser grade - may 180 or 240. Test on scrap piece first - use too coarse paper and you'll ruin the surface and have a lot of very careful sanding to do.

Sand with the grain direction, in straight lines. Sanding across the grain, or in circles will ruin the surface. Wood fibers are akin to straws stuck tightly together - go along the length of the staws to get a finer surface. Going at right angles to the straws will just scratch them and spoil them, leaving lots more sanding to fix it.

First sanding
Gentle first sand with wet and dry paper.

Step 3: Dry surface

With paper towels, I gently dry the surface, wiping along grain direction, removing wet saw dust on surface left from first sand. For me, this tends to clump together, so I need to be careful to wipe it off carefully. Leaving it makes next step harder.

Gentle dry
Gentle dry.

Step 4-6: Repeat above process

After carefully checking surface (that it is smooth & no dents), I repeat steps 1-3 again with 600 grit paper.

Spraying on water
Rewetting surface again, then will spread gently with finger tips

Resand
Re-sand with 600 grit paper, only along wood grain

Drying surface
Carefully dry surface again

Step 7-12: Repeat for other side

Whether or not I will use both sides, it is vital to wet sand both sides the same. Wood is a natural product which grew with large amounts of water in it. Treating only one side could introduce stress into the timber, leading to cupping/twisting etc., which could ruin a very good block.

Step 13: Check surfaces

Carefully check block.

Step 14: Leave to dry fully

After carefully checking block, I leave to dry, upright. Vital that both surfaces dry at an equal rate, otherwise may introduce stress into timber, and it may cup / twist out of shape.

Block should be left fully vertical - however for photo below I couldn't do that - however you should - and don't let things touch the surface while drying.

Leave away from sunlight, and away from heat sources. Let it dry slowly and naturally - don't force it - you'll regret it.

Leave to dry
Leave to dry - but it should be upright, not on side like here!

Completed block

Once dry, block can be stored or used. If storing, I always store upright, out of sunlight, and not near heat sources.

Finished block
Finished block



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