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Wood Engraving R.J. Beedham
The wood used is boxwood and where fineness of work is desired no other wood is suitable. Dark marks sometimes indicate inferior quality; white marks are always bad and should be avoided. Many other kinds of wood have been tried for engraving without success, especially for work of a moderately fine character. For large work, such as are termed posters, sycamore and pine are principally used.
The method of producing these large blocks is called cutting. Knives, 'V' tools and gouges, instead of gravers are used, and the long grain of the wood is the printing surface of these; whereas that which is accepted as engraving proper is always on the end grain of the boxwood. This being the only really reliable wood for wood engraving, and the engraver's staple material, it deserves more than a passing notice.
Turkey produces the finest boxwood though many good samples come from the Crimea and the Caucasus.
The best and most valuable wood is of very slow growth, hard and heavy, and of a very fine and close texture. The wood is sent over in logs. Careful judgment is required in its selection when sent into the market. It must be thoroughly seasoned before being used by the engraver as new wood retains its moisture for a long time, is most liable to split and warp, and is very susceptible to changes of temperature.
The measurement of the logs is from 7 to 12 inches in diameter and the first process of blockmaking is to cut these logs into slices crosswise about inch in thickness. They are then placed singly in racks for many months to season, and during this time sharp cracks are heard which denote that the slices of wood are drying and splitting from the core. Owing to this splitting, only blocks of small size can be obtained from one piece; where larger blocks are required and also for the sake of economising wood, it is necessary to join pieces together. The best and strongest way is to groove and tongue them together. The sides of the pieces must be planed true, the grooves cut and the tongues (of some hard wood) glued into the grooves with very thin glue. They are then pressed very tightly together with clamps and left to dry. Another way is simply to glue the pieces together without the groove and tongue. In an even temperature they hold together quite well, and if the block is for temporary use, little danger need be apprehended of the joint's opening. Always use very thin glue thinly applied. The block has now to be planed down to about 2 of an inch thickness, which is the height of type, scraped with a steel scraper until perfectly level and smooth and finished off with the finest sand or emery paper.