John Jānis Šteins

:: Artist ::

Chapter 3





clare leighton - firewood in georgiaTHE BLOCK

The block is made of boxwood, most of which comes from Russia, and is cut across the grain so that the design is engraved on the end of the grain. Therein lies the difference between a wood-engraving and a woodcut. There is so much confusion between these two kinds of prints that it should be realized that the block for a woodcut is cut like a plank, so that the grain runs along the surface, and is made of softer wood such as pear or cherry . To make a white line when working on the plank four cuts with the knife are necessary , two for each side of the trench and one for each end. In wood-engraving the graver makes a line with every cut, and on the end grain the finest of tools may be used and the narrowest of lines may be made without fear of splitting the wood. With the woodcut the design is drawn in black on the block, and the white is cut away leaving the black in relief ; but with the modern ” white line ” engraving, the whole surface of the block is blackened so that the white lines that compose the design can readily be seen as they are cut.

Being of box, only the smaller blocks can be made from single pieces. Larger ones are made of several pieces joined together, and where a very large block is to be engraved it is usual to have the block made in separate pieces . When the engraving is finished, these are carefully fixed together so that no division is left to show in the print.

The blocks are made type high; but where the print is intended to be kept in a folio , and where there is no question of printing the block along with type, old blocks which have been planed down and re-faced may be used, as the height then will not matter.


The outfit required by the intending engraver need not cost more than about 25s. or 30s . He will need a leather sandbag upon which to rest the block while working, a gelatine roller for inking the block, a . tube of printing-ink, Japanese paper for his prints, a curved burnisher, and an oilstone for sharpening his tools. As for the tools themselves, all sorts of shapes and widths can be obtained. I should advise not more than five to start with. These may be two spitstickers (one fine and one broad), two scorpers, and either a tint tool or perhaps a lozenge-shaped burin. Let the beginner master these and find what effects he can get before he thinks of buying others . He must not buy a large and expensive set of tools and think that thereby he will learn the process more rapidly. In time he will narrow his choice of tools down to perhaps three favourites , his choice being governed by his style and technique, and then if he requires any more he may have a selection of tools for special purposes, such as double liners, different kinds of gravers, burins, and so on, to be used as occasion demands.

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