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October 15, 2015

Chapter Two – Cutting [The Technique of the Color Woodcut]


Chapter II

CUTTING


WOOD

We require a wood of an even texture —that is, of a consistency by virtue of which the grain will present no more resistance to the knife than the interstices —yet hard enough to withstand a certain amount of wear, and to permit of crisp edges to the finest lines. Cherrywood is one of the few that possesses all these qualities, and although there are many varieties, each is reasonably good. The Japanese cutter used mountain cherry, heavier than the wild cherry that grows in England, which Mr. Seaby has used and of which he has written. Canadian cherry is between the two in appearance but it is more brittle, and it is cut in a way which suits the lumber trade rather than the engraver. However, selected planks are sometimes perfect.

Kauri is a wood from New Zealand whose suitability for this purpose was discovered and exploited by Mr. Giles. It is remarkable for apparent absence of grain.

Walnut, maple, chestnut, pear, and oak have all been used, but American oak and walnut are unsuitable. Though the ideal method is to use blocks sawn from one plank for one print, a soft wood is often substituted for the color blocks, for reasons of speed and economy. Lime, whitewood and gumwood (Circassian walnut) are good for this purpose.

All woods must be well seasoned. They must also be handled and stored with judgment. Do not, for example, leave wood exposed to direct sunlight or to heat or damp unless you wish it to warp. If warping does occur it may be corrected by damping the concave and drying the convex sides.

Diagram showing block with clamped ends, the Japanese and American manner of cutting planks, and the cutting of boxwood.

Diagram showing block with clamped ends, the Japanese and American manner of cutting planks, and the cutting of boxwood.

I have a set of blocks of which the key is English and the colors Canadian cherrywood. The former is no more than half an inch thick and somewhat green, and is just as competent an instrument as the barometer for recording variations in atmospheric humidity. Its length varies from eight and a quarter inches to eight and a half according to the weather, towards which the other blocks maintain a rigid indifference. Consequently, unless I choose my day, printing must be preceded by some very careful adjustments.

Warping, shrinking and expansion will play tricks with any system of registration, therefore buy wood by the plank, an inch thick, so that you may be sure of having seasoned wood to use.

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