Wood qualities ... (entry by Mary Krieger, Winnipeg, Manitoba)
Here's a list of wood qualities that are important when choosing wood to make a wood cut. How important each quality is depends on your image, your cutting approach and experience, your printing method, the number of prints you intend making, and the thickness of your wallet.
The 'ideal' wood:
- has a straight close grain - grain prints, so the more obtrusive the grain, the more you have to consider it when planning your design; also a close grain means a stronger structure to hold those little raised areas to the main part of the block, reducing chipping and splintering.
- has a fine uniform texture - texture can also print so it can have the same obtrusive quality as a defined grain; uneven texture makes it difficult to cut smooth lines evenly.
- is easily worked with tools - sticky or extremely hard woods make carving extremely frustrating as do soft splintery woods.
- is hard, strong, durable - a durable wood will not crush under the pressure of printing maintaining the clear edges of cuts and clarity of any desired grain patterns through the printing run; will not bruise easily with normal handling.
- does not warp easily - blocks need to remain flat to print evenly.
- is available in your area at a reasonable cost .
- is available in the size you want to work - some types of trees do not grow very large in diameter and so the maximum plank available is limited. Plywood can help those who want to work giant blocks but is not available in every kind of wood.
- is light in color - not very important, but helpful in seeing what the ink is doing on the block.
The list of woods recommended in the texts I have on hand include:
- Hard woods - difficult to cut but hold fine detail:
- boxwood (for wood engraving)
- Soft woods - easier to cut, less fine detail possible:
- sugar pine
- basswood (linden)
- white pine
List of woods I have seen [Baren] members mention using:
- birch plywood
- Shina (basswood) plywood
- tempered masonite
- cherry plywood
Another helpful approach might be to ask which woods local carvers prefer. These will have many of the characteristics useful for wood blocks.