Part Seven - Cutting the keyblock (2)

Clearing the waste wood:

With all the lines of the design now cut, the next step is to clear away the 'waste' wood from wide areas of the image. This illustration shows the basic idea - leaving the printing areas of the block completely untouched at this point, scoop unneeded wood away with a gouge or chisel. Note the shape of the 'excavation' - a valley that gets deeper in the middle.

There is a very important reason for this valley - once we start printing, pigment will be smeared over the entire surface of the block, and if the paper happens to sag a bit in places, and come into contact with unwanted areas, blotches on the print will result. The general idea is simple - the further you get from the carved lines, the deeper you go. How deep? Well, experience will certainly show you, once you start printing, but a general rule might be to gouge out nearly a centimetre down at a distance of about three centimeters out ... Later on, after you develop some skill with the printing tools, you will not have to dig your blocks out that deeply, but for your first attempts, this will help you avoid a lot of blots and smears ...

If you have any very wide unneeded areas of the image, like the sky area in our sample print, it is not necessary to dig away the entire area. Halt your excavations at a distance of around 4 or 5 centimetres away from the nearest image line - following the pattern seen in the illustration above.

Important note: Do not try and scoop right up to the cut lines. Follow the example in the illustration at the top of this page, and keep your distance - around 2~3 millimeters at least. If you try to bring your chisels or gouges right up to the lines, you will surely chip some of them away, and your print will be full of unsightly gaps in the lines.

While you were carving the key block, it wasn't necessary to fix the block to your working table, as no strong force was exerted on the wood at that stage, but now that you are gouging away wood, the block has to be restrained somehow. A simple 'bench hook', which you can easily make yourself from scraps of waste wood, is far and away the easiest solution to this problem.

It is 'hooked' onto the front edge of the workbench, and the block placed on top, against the bar at the back. The gouges and chisels can then be pushed through the wood, with both hands held safely behind the cutting blade.

Final trimming:

The next stage in the cutting of the key block is to trim away that final bit of wood up against the cut lines. The tool of choice for this is a small flat chisel:

It is at this stage that many inexperienced printmakers meet their first major problem. While moving the chisel along the line to trim away the excess, the line itself can easily become chipped. If the carving knife had not cut quite deeply enough at any point back in the first stage of cutting on the block, then the line at that point can easily be chipped by the chisel now. Try and move carefully, 'feeling' your way along the line as you go. The wood should generally slice away with no problems, but if you feel stronger resistance at any point, don't just push harder - you will surely chip the line. Stop, pick up your carving knife again, and re-do the original cut at that point, making sure that you cut deeply enough to allow the waste wood to be separated from the 'good' part of the block. Then, when you are sure that they are truly separated, switch back to your chisel and continue slicing away the waste.

Again, being careful at this point will make a tremendous difference in the appearance of the finished print ...

Once this stage is done, you should be able to get a fairly good idea of what the print will look like, as you can now clearly see the image lines on the surface of the wood. But before we can do some trial printing, there is one more important step - cutting the registration marks.