John Jānis Šteins

:: Artist ::


Boxwood continues as the 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 and feels silken to the touch. “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.

Showing example of a slice from a boxwood branch.

The boxwood round shown here comes from a branch of the plant. More of a shrub than a tree, it grows very slowly. One can barely count the annular rings with the naked eye. Combined with other qualities it offers itself up as the most desired material for a wood engraving print.

Box varies in quality. The preferred  English box has become nearly impossible to find.  After that, the Turkish variety becomes a close second. Regretfully, quality wood no longer exists in meaningful quantities although some engravers have looked to Central America for new sources.

A prepared and repaired boxwood block sitting on an engraver's pillow ready to be engraved.Since we never know when war or pestilence will break out I’ve made it a priority to collect as much raw boxwood as I can. 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.

End-grain Eastern maple makes for beautiful engraving blocks. 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 blockmakers use lemonwood as an excellent alternative to box.

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  1. Noah July 25, 2009

    That was great, now where is the bookmark button…

  2. Jeffrey Knopf August 21, 2009

    Ah to be able to afford to use boxwood, I have been looking out for alternatives for a beginer to use that are cheep and affordable. The best I have found so far is Delrin which is a plastic composit used in the enginearing industry, it comes in a variety of thickness the best being about 20mm, and if you find a good supplier they will cut it to whatever size you want.

    The downside is when staining the surface of delrin I use ohp marker pens that seem to do the job but can also be scrached away very easily. The end prints though are nice an clean just like box.

  3. John Steins August 29, 2009 — Post author

    Hard Maple is a good alternative to boxwood.

  4. Jeffrey knopf November 4, 2009

    Ah but where can I get hard Maple in Britain?

  5. Gary Pendleton April 23, 2010

    I have never done wood engraving, but I have done wood block printing. I often work in scratchboard. I recently came into posession of some fairly large boxwood branches, some pieces are over 8″ in diameter.
    I am interested in doing some small illustrations using polished rounds.
    Do I need to let the wood cure? I also wonder, since I cant use it all, if the wood might have any value. the wood came from an 18th century home in Maryland. So I guess the wood is English boxwood.

  6. Nei May 2, 2012

    John, what kind of glue do you use making your boxwood blocks? Will regular carpenter’s wood glue do or is there some traditional 18th century glue that works better?

  7. Buddy Marion June 9, 2014

    I have approximately 1000 boxwood bushes with 2-7″ bases. These were 5 ft. bushes that were tipped for wreathes last Fall. The bushes are not dead but I am not going to nurse them back for the next 3 years. I intend to cut them down at the ground level. I realize the wood is useful and rare for carving, etc… Are these bushes useful to you or to someone before I simply burn them. Thank you, Buddy Marion

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