19 July 2011

Baltic Birch vs. Shina

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!


Ellen Shipley said...

Good rundown of the two woods. I started out on birch and switched to shina, which I prefer. But I had to go back to birch when shina wasn't readily available recently, and it's been ok. Harder on the tools I thought.

Gerrie said...

Hello Annie, for this kind of work consider buying a wooden (bottle shaped) mallet. And there are rubber protective devices that will leave your knuckles unharmed. They are usually used and sold with the bigger type stone chissels.

Rick Finn said...

Annie, your carving looks great on the birch (impressive block size too!).
I briefly tried birch ply when shina wasn't available, it carved OK, but I had problems with printing.

Andrew Stone said...

Yea Annie,

Your always a step ahead and I love being able to see what works (or doesn't) before I charge ahead.

I'm planning a series of largish prints: 2' X 4' and have been thinking about lumber-yard plywood.

For the moku hanga types it will make a difference as you'll be brushing pigment and printing off it too so the grain will really show.

Nice carving and lovely curves.

mizu designs said...

すごい! Very impressive Annie.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's a BIG block! I love the look of it so far.

Bette Norcross Wappner -- said...

Nice work. It takes great determination to carve birch ply and is not an enjoyable experience. I know you'll make it work though. Look forward to seeing more as you go along.

Linda said...

I can relate. I am carving some cherry ply right now. I've used it before for Tree Hugger. It is so hard I vowed to never use it again. I hurt for days! But there is that grain that is so beautiful. So - I carve, go lay down, carve, go lay down. Put ice on my forearms. Carve some more.........

alison said...

Annie your work is amazing and this looks so exciting. Good luck with it.

Unknown said...

Absolutely lovely. Having come from woodworking doing this kind of thing, I have to mentally say to myself "chisel down the slope". In other words don't go against the grain go "down the slope". Or as we say purr with the fur. Each side of a grove and change of direction may have opposing grain directions. OH - ALWAYS use the better tool. That makes all the difference in the world. Don't "save" the better tool for the Shina plywood. AND learn to love sharpening!! It's a zen thing.