Etch Depth for Wood Block Printing. +Etching v Full Cutout

One of the many ideas bouncing around in my head for how I’m going to use my Glowforge is for wood block printing. I’ve already designed a registration frame that will hold the blocks and have triangular protrusions which will match triangular cutouts on the paper to assure the paper aligns correctly with each block. That’s a method that’s been used by Japanese printers since the 1600s at least.

What I’m wondering about is how deep an etch am I going to need to prevent rolled on ink from getting down into the “void” areas. In traditional block printing, the cuts can be quite deep indeed, and in my experience with linoleum printing I’ve found it difficult to avoid getting ink on my tool marks. Additionally, for large blank areas on the block it will probably be faster and/or more efficient to make a full 1/2 inch cut all the way through the wood around a 10x10 inch square than it would be to engrave the entire 100inch^2 surface area to say, a 3/16 inch depth. That also leaves the problem of weakening the structure of the block.

Two solutions for the large surface area problem that I’ve come to are

  1. Have a two pass cut that cuts out a regular grid to remove large portions of the block without compromising the structure, then ‘planing’ the rest by engraving it down to the desired depth.

  2. Engraving a ‘buffer’ area around the design to the desired depth, then engraving a tight grid at the same depth over the rest of the “void” area. I would then go over that area with a wood chisel with the grid cuts making clearing that large area by hand a bit easier.

The first method would be harder on the laser, and the second method would be harder on my wrist and elbow. (lino-print elbow is no joke.) There’s still lots of time before I get my unit to build these insane layered vectors that I’ll need in either case, but I’m interested to hear what the other Glowsmiths out there think about the raw nuts and bolts of projects like these.

Just so folks don’t accuse me of being a tease, here’s one of the fractal designs I’ll definitely be turning into a 3 color block print.


Wow, it’s kind of hypnotic.

Do not know anything about the process but, how about using double back tape, stick two sheets of wood together and cut all the way through the first sheet. Remove the waste then glue another sheet to the raised blocks. Then separate sheet that is connected with tape. The pattern would of course have to be cut reverse of what you want to print.
Made that about as clear as mud. :grimacing:


Clever. Wouldn’t have to wait for the raster engrave of the background. And no issues with variable height in the blocks.

I used to do letterpress, so I can say with great confidence “it depends”. If you’re not over-inking and your ink roller is not squishing down, and your impression isn’t too deep against a fairly solid backing, 1/16" will do you fine. (I printed metal halftones on a 100-year-old press, and the height diff there is next to nothing.)

If some of those things aren’t true, 1/4 or so.

I think a combination of your idea of a “buffer” and numosbk’s two-layer process might be best (so that the edge of the print line isn’t the edge of the piece of wood). Can you get a really big roller or make a leather inking ball? Or maybe some removable gridding to put in the void spaces while you ink? (You’ll have the waste pieces if you do the two-layer method.)

1 Like

If I’m understanding you correctly it would actually be double-reversed because blocks need to be the reverse of the printed image anyway, then this method of making the block would flip it again. But that does sound like a good idea.

you are correct, you would have to cut the first cut reversed, then glue the new back onto the print blocks, when you removed the taped backer you would have your reverse stamp block.