David gets board ...
With the passing away in early 1999 of Mr. Shintaro Shimano, the last surviving specialist in providing blocks for printmakers here in Tokyo, I'm on my own for finding good wood now. I headed down to the huge lumber market at Shinkiba, on Tokyo bay, and hit the pavements looking for yamazakura - the mountain cherry I need.
Most places just laughed when they heard what I was looking for, but I turned up a couple of leads. This pile of cherrywood was stacked right up under the rafters at one woodyard, and I climbed up there with the owner to check it out. It was impossible to tell anything about the wood under the dust and grime that covered it, so I made an appointment to come back another day, when he would have time to get his fork-lift busy and haul it down where it could be examined.
After we got it down, he spread them out on the warehouse floor, and I found that one of them (the bottom one in the photo) looked like it would be suitable for my colour blocks. (They were all too 'light' for key blocks). We started to talk a little turkey about price, and when I heard how much he wanted for it (he knew I wanted it!), I had to gasp.
It was a hell of a price, but I am running out of options these days, and the only way to protect myself and ensure a supply of wood in the future, is to start to store it myself. So I swallowed hard, and told him I'd take it.
He scooped it up with his forklift, and hauled it over to a nearby re-saw mill. They had a good look at it, and we figured that I'd be able to get four good clean planks from it. They also thought that the planks might warp pretty badly once they were cut free from the main chunk, but we went ahead anyway.
They were really careful with the blade setting, to make sure that there would be as little damage to each face as possible, and that I'd get four good full thickness planks. As it turned out, to their great surprise, there wasn't any springback at all from the planks, and they came out clean, clear and straight.
We trucked them on back to the woodyard, where the owner and I coated each plank with a solution of white glue, and then plastered newsprint all over them. The idea is to slow down the drying from the newly exposed wood - these Tokyo winters are dry - and help avoid splitting as much as possible.
We then put them in the back of his truck and hauled them home to my place in Hamura, where they now lie carefully stacked, and shielded from the direct sunshine (my balcony faces south ...). I'll flip and turn the stack (easy words to say!) a couple of times a year, to try and ensure even drying, and then sometime in around the spring of 2002, it'll be time to cut some blocks from one of them, and see whether or not I made a good choice!