Making Woodblock Prints
Woodblock printmaking is a craft as well as an
art, and understanding, sharpening and using
tools is an enjoyable part of the process. Cutting
a block with very sharp tools is a sophisticated
pleasure – not least for the particularly lovely
sound they make as they cut. For best work in
cutting a woodblock the tools will be comfortable
to hold, very sharp, and capable of cleanly
removing wood from the surface of the block.
Toolmakers and suppliers do not always supply
their tools sharpened and ready for use, and
until a tool for printmaking is sharp – however
costly, and however refined in design and material
it might be – it is of no use whatsoever. By
contrast, even the humblest, most unpromising
looking piece of steel will cut wood cleanly once
it is sharpened properly, and will make good
work in the right hands.
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There are four categories of tool for woodblock
cutting to be considered:
U-shaped tools: These will vary in size and curvature.
The large, flattened U-shaped tools are
used for clearing background areas quickly. The
smaller ones will make rounded-end marks.
V-shaped tools: These will vary in size and
‘inside angle’. They are used for cutting along
lines, where the thickness of the line can be
controlled with the depth of the cut. They will
make a lozenge-shaped mark when ‘dived and
re-surfaced’ into the wood.
Knives and straight-bladed chisels: A very
sharp, fine-pointed knife is useful for following
intricate lines or clearing up difficult corners.
Traditionally, in Japanese printmaking the block
cutter will have a pair of knives, one with a righthand
bevel, and the other with a left-hand bevel.
For cutting letters, a sharp knife is essential.