Michael Atkin Printmaker
etcher - block printer - wood engraver
Wood Engraving is a form of relief printmaking, the wood block is cut and whatever is left of the remaining block is then rolled with ink and then printed.
Traditionally engravings have been cut into end grain boxwood. Prepared blocks can be purchased from speciaist suppliers or alternatively by purchasing a boxwood log which is then cut into slices.
A local supplier held several boxwood logs in his store cut from a 100 years old tree from Harwood House in Yorkshire. With the place of origin residing in
Yorkshire and my studio/ workshop in Yorkshire I thought I'd have a go a preparing my own boxwood blocks.
I already had a bandsaw, so i purchased a belt sander, but the blocks first had to cut to smaller sizes to fit in the bandsaw ( not an easy task), with the use of a reciprocationg saw I first chopped them into logs of 8 centimeteres, then again into widths smaller than 8 centimetres so it would fit into the bandsaw. On reflection I need to find somebody with a bigger bandsaw who will cut the logs for me and perhaps a planer / thickener to maching cut them into the required thickness.
Once the saw-cut marks had been removed from the log it can be cut into sections on a bandsaw to 24mm in depth. Box wood is rather tough and very close grained, to date I've broken 2 blades and blunted a third.
Otherwoods are available, but Boxwood is of the finest to use because of its close grain.
The thickness is important if the engraving is to be printed with text alongside it ( as was done in the 19th century) this is known as type high or 23.32mm.
A belt sander using 120 grit to flatten the surface before cutting to required thickness.
An example of a block which has been started. The lighter coloured areas have been cut away and the darker areas will now print.
Title of finished print: 'Cake'
Wood Engraving and how to do it
The blocks I now make are not regular square cut sizes, some still have evidence of bark on the edges. I tend to cut one straight edge, then cut a right angle from that edge; so creating interesting shapes within which I have to fit my design.
Once is block is completly flat (sandpapering it with a fine grade sandpaper, the finished surface feels somewhat like glass).
Leather sandbag upon which the block is held. Unlike Lino cutting where one moves the cutting hand through the material, in wood engraving the cutting hand is held steady and the block is rotated on the leather sandbag.
2 burins or cutters used in wood engraving
The boxwood log from Harwood House
The correct position for holding the cutting tool, but each engraver adopts their own approach to holding the tools
The table top Harrild & Sons Albion 1869 platen press which I use to print my wood engravings.
Cutting the wood engraving 'Bridge lane'