October 15, 2015

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


Various cutting tools

Various cutting tools

The difference between a wood-cut and a wood-engraving lies in the fact that the former is fashioned with a knife, the other with a graver. The knife deals efficiently with wood cut plank-wise, the graver with wood cut across the grain —end-grain it is called. My knife has a flexible blade. I hold it as I hold a pencil or a pen, and it is almost as serviceable a drawing instrument. Its best and most frequent stroke is towards me. But any pointed blade will do if it is sharp enough.

You need an oil-stone and a strop. The latter is a thick piece of leather mounted upon a slab of wood, and dressed with crocus powder. A few rubs of the blade on this every few minutes will keep the edge keen, and the oil-stone will be needed rarely.

You may now commence to cut your block. Rest it upon the table in front of you, with a folded piece of cloth beneath it if it has no clamps. If the design is not perfectly clear rub oil over it.

Select a line. The wood on both sides of it must be cut away. The original wood surface is the printing surface, and that part of it not actually occupied by your design must be lowered. Your isolated line must stand up alone. For two good reasons the knife cuts must be at an angle. First, with a broad base a fine line has a good chance of survival, and second, another cut must be made to clear the line —the two completing a V-cut, which is clean and expeditious.


The direction of the stroke is necessarily varied, since it is impossible to continuously, in cutting, turn a large plank to accommodate a particular stroke.

When all lines have been cleared in this way, there are still surfaces left which must not print. Remove them with gouges and a small chisel.

Wood-carver’s tools are quite suitable, though the smaller sizes are better fitted with round ends such as the wood-engraver uses —they then have the advantage of being manageable with one hand. Their full length should be from four and a half to six inches, to suit the size of your hand. They should be held in this way:



Get a carpenter to show you how to hold the wood-carving tools; a diagram will not help you much, though I have provided one. There must be something against which the plank may be pushed, or you cannot use a gouge conveniently. A screw will do, projecting about half an inch above the table top, but a strip of wood nailed to it is more useful. A careful and experienced craftsman never cuts himself because he keeps his tools sharp and never takes chances. Keep your left hand out of the way of a possible slip and remember that a blunt tool is more dangerous than a sharp one.

Clear the wood away from the furthest limits of the design—about one inch beyond them, but at one corner, most conveniently the bottom right-hand corner—cut a right angle with half-inch arms and clear the wood from within them. On the left bottom edge of the block cut a half-inch line (don’t bother to measure it) level with the lower arm of the right angle. These cuts must be vertical, and may be made with a chisel and mallet; they are to hold the trimmed edges of the printing paper later on and serve as register marks. The diagram makes this matter clear.


Thus the outer edges of the design are cleared, ensuring a finished print with a perfectly clean margin.

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