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Wood Engraving

R.J. Beedham



Place a little printer's ink on a slab (which can be of stone, slate, or even glass) and spread it out thinly with a knife, then roll until distributed evenly and thinly. Avoid rolling out too much ink at once; more can be added easily, but to take away means cleaning the whole with turpentine and rag, or scraping with a knife. If a dabber be used, beat the ink, which is placed more in the centre of the slab, until quite even. The amount to roll or dab on to the block will be discovered quite easily after a trial or two - too much ink will blur the work; too little will print grey. Place the paper on the inked block without slurring it, and on the paper drop a thin piece of card - a postcard will do - hold down by the left hand and rub on the top of the card with the burnisher until an impression is taken. The print can be examined from time to time by lifting a corner, holding the remaining paper down firmly with the left hand on the card. More burnishing must be applied to those parts which have not taken the ink. If the engraved lines be fine, light pressure must be given to the burnisher lest the lines be bruised, whereas if the parts are black heavier pressure must be given. A little oil rubbed on one side of the card - the side on which the burnisher is to be applied - then rubbed off again, will allow the burnisher to slide over with ease and prevent sticking; while if the burnisher is applied without the card, bruising is liable to occur to fine lines. India paper is excellent on which to take proofs by hand. Other kinds can be used if free from ridges and not too thick. The thicker the paper the greater will be the difficulty in getting a print, for the ink does not stick it to the block, as is the case with thin paper, and any examination of the print nearly always moves the paper out of position and 'doubling' is the result.

This first print is often called the 'overlay.' It shows not only the engraving but all the surrounding wood and pieces between that have been too large to be cut away by a scauper. To take a proof of the engraving only, these black pieces on the overlay must be cut out cleanly with a sharp knife or the point of a tint-tool, and, after inking the block again, these pieces are placed on their corresponding parts on the wood. They are thus blocked out - overlayed - by the pieces of paper cut from the first print. Place fresh paper on the block and proof as before, greater care however is necessary to prevent 'doubling.' Where plenty of black is in the engraving the process is simple, but if the subject is of thin lines, such as fine lettering, it is a somewhat delicate operation. In this case the less it is examined whilst the proof is being taken the better.

During the process of engraving, in order to see exactly what has been done so far, one may wish to take a proof. But the inking of the block would obliterate that part of the drawing which has not yet been engraved. Instead, therefore, of taking a proof with ink the following method will be found convenient: - Press some precipitated chalk (obtainable at any chemist's) into the engraved part and wipe the surface clean with the palm of the hand thus leaving the chalk in the hollows and incisions only. The block will then appear exactly as in a print (only not reversed), i.e. the surface of the wood will show dark against the white chalk.



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