First of all I want to say that I am still learning about my graving tools and how to use them. I am fairly new to wood engraving and so far have only carved about ten blocks to make small editions. The problem is finding end grain wood blocks. According to my instructor, Jim Horton of Ann Arbor and former president of the Wood Engravers Network, maple is the best available wood. Those maples grown in the upper Midwest are superior for this purpose.
I am not sure where our maple boards came from other than to say a good hardwoods supply store. The ones I have used are scrap pieces glued together to get an end grain block of any size. I am limited to three 1″ boards glued together because the press I use to put great pressure on them is my small book press. The print above was made with a block I had made this way about five years ago and after having another class with Jim, I decided to try it again. Those blocks are even harder to find now if a wood engraver wanted to purchase some.
So here is my process:
Cut a 24″ long 4″ x 1″ maple board into thirds. This leaves each board a bit under 8″ with the saw cut. Each of these was sanded using a bench hook with a right angle to help keep them in place. I used my electric Black and Decker Mouse sander starting with an 80 grit paper and then onto a 220 grit. Two of these boards only needed to be sanded on one side. The middle one needs to have both sides very smooth. I then brushed all saw dust away from the surfaces to be glued.
Using a cyanoacrylic glue that is super thin and quick drying, Zap Gap by Pacer, I loaded the first board on the smooth side and added the middle board to it. Next came the final board glued down to the middle board, smooth sides together.
The glued boards were placed between masonite sheets and put into the book press. My book press is small, only 12″ inside for length and will only open to allow this thickness of three boards and two masonite sheets. They are left under as much pressure as possible for 24 hours.
The next day the “loaf” of glued boards are squared up on the table saw and sliced into pieces just a bit over 1″ in thickness. Remember that the end grain will be on the largest surface of the “slice”.
The saw cut blocks are now sanded down on a belt sander with a 220 grit sandpaper. This takes time to get all the saw marks off and work on both sides. Sand the ends to make square and clean up and rough saw marks.
Now it is back to the bench hook and the Black and Decker sander to get the blocks polished down to where there are no seams showing or catching on your finger nail. Try to do both sides as it will become apparent that one side is just better due to better glue contact. Even if there are still seams open, the block is not hopeless. It can be used for an image like say, a stand of bamboo, anything that will disguise the maybe visible lines between boards. Those dark marks that are visible are in the wood itself. These six blocks came from one length of glued boards about 8″ long.
The final sanding is done on sheets of sandpaper that have been fixed onto a flat piece of plywood. The grits are 220, 400, 600 and 1200. Each block is hand rubbed onto successively finer grit paper until they shine and no indication of seam is visible.
The blocks are then carefully wrapped in paper and notations of their thickness is written on the side. Also I will note that one may be a “bad block”. That only means that I will have to pick the subject matter carefully to fit flaws in the block. The print above was made from a block that had worm holes in it so I chose the Eucalyptus leaves and pods because the leaves have insect holes more often than not.
I do not have access to a proofing press and type so am not too concerned that these blocks are at type high (.918″). But they are close and those under that measurement can be packed on the bottom with papers to get the right level and height.
I use these blocks with my etching press and with that I have quite a bit of leeway to get the right contact with the inked block and paper.
Hopefully this will help others who love working on the end grain woods with gravers. Nothing quite matches the detail possible with these blocks and the scritching sound when light is carved into the surface.