I've started working on a new print over the past few weeks, and it involves a lot of newness. It's the largest print I've ever tried, at 24" x 40" (61 x 102 cm), and I'm using a new kind of wood as well as a new kind of paper. All in all, this makes for an exciting print!
The print called for three 24" x 40" plates. Shina plywood that size at McClains was beyond my budget, so I decided to go to my local lumber yard and see what I could find. The best they had to offer was a sheet of 5' x 5' (1.5 meter) high grade baltic birch plywood. Even though there was a lot more wood than I needed, the price of the birch was about 1/3 of what I would have paid at McClains, not including shipping fees. So I had the lumber guy cut it for me and I drove the boards home in my Honda.
But would the birch work? And could I get the level of detail I wanted? The answer is yes and yes, but not without a few trials:
I started with the easiest block, the one with the least detail, just to get a feel for the wood. As I expected, it was much harder to work with than shina plywood. The shina I'm accustomed to is shina all the way through the layers, but the birch ply is a thin birch veneer with fir on the inside. As you can see in the photo above, there are a lot of knots in the underlayers. The wood is also much more splintery, and I have some little punctures in my fingers to prove it. Ouch! Also, the glue is sort of crunchy as the tools move through it. I quickly decided to use some of my cheaper tools on the birch and save my expensive ones for shina.
For clearing on a block this size I tried another first -- a hammer and chisel! Up until now I've most often used a large shallow u-gouge that I can push with my hands, but this called for more. I'm embarrassed to admit how many times I hit the knuckle of my thumb with the mallet. Ouch!
I tried it a few different ways, but the wood seemed to require that I first chisel away from the raised image and then back from the other direction to release the "wave" of wood created by the initial chiseling. I'm sure that there are some of you printmaker readers out there who know a better way, so please feel free to offer your advice.
Here's the detail I was able to achieve, which I feel happy about:
I think it would have been quite a lot easier with shina, though, and less painful too!