Boxwood is primo material for making a wood engraving block. Carved on the end grain, a quality block will hold the finest detail a graver can make in any direction. A beautifully polished boxwood surface gives a satisfying chirping sound as the cutter incises lines on the block’s face. “Half the fun of Wood Engraving is the sweet, sharp movement of the well-ground tool upon the block. The resistance of the iron-hard wood to the graver sets up a tension that is curiously exciting.” – Douglas Bliss – Dryad Leaflet on Wood Engraving.
The boxwood round shown here – click on image for expanded view – is sliced from a branch of the plant. More of a shrub than a tree, it grows very slowly. One can barely count the annular rings. Combined with other qualities it makes for the most desired material for a wood engraving.
Box varies in quality, English boxwood being the best but is no longer available. After that Turkish box becomes a close second. Regretfully, quality wood no longer exists in accessible quantities although some engravers have been looking to Central America for new sources.
Somewhat of a hoarder I’ve managed to collect quite a bit of raw boxwood branches and some logs. I cut sections from the rounds to glue up larger blocks. In this example I’ve drilled out flaws and repaired the holes with some boxwood plugs.
In the absence of boxwood one can use end grain maple glued up in the same manner. Some composite materials such as epoxy resins or even Plexiglas can fill the void although not as enjoyable from a tactile point of view. Some fruit woods work as well.