02 September 2015

Musings On Birch Plywood

I'm starting the third very large print in my Almanack series, and I must admit I'm not a fan of birch plywood for moku hanga. But I'm also not a fan of paying $100+ for a sheet of the wood I usually use (shina) when I can have this birch for about $30. So birch ply it is.

Here's a shot of the entire sheet I'm working with. Because I find the carving so unpleasant, I've been adapting my ideas so that I need to do as little carving as possible. The area I've carved out will stay white (the color of the paper), so that happens first. The shape in the middle of the carved area is a "bridge," meant to hold the paper up so it doesn't sag into the carved area.

Above is a closeup of the carved area, with my hand for scale. You can see a void that was sitting just under the veneer, running horizontally just above my hand. Voids are awful if you're trying to do detailed carving, as the veneer above has nothing to hold on to. This is top grade plywood, so there's no way around encountering voids.

The orange color is the glue that holds the inner layers of ply together. It's tough and scratchy when the chisel goes through it and it dulls the tools quickly. If this were shina I would be cutting deeper, as shina plywood glue is soft and not really noticeable. Carving shina plywood feels like carving solid shina.

Here's an edge shot where you can see the plys and the orange glue. This is 1/2-inch birch ply.

This afternoon I printed the top of this block in a lovely pink.


Anonymous said...

I´m making my experiences with birch plywood (or birch multiplex) too. Besides the disadvantages like the tendency to splinter and the big problem to have a fine line across the grain, there is also an advantage in my eyes: If you like to print the wood grain, then birch is right. You see much more of the grain in the print compared to shina.
And with shina plywood from an artstore I too had problems with a very nasty glue and I had birch plywood with a rather soft glue.
Anyway I`m really looking forward to see how this print will develop.
Greetings from Abel

Andrew Stone said...

I've never really made any money on my prints but I figure the extra labor to carve Birch Ply: HOURS and HOURS of more carving, clearing, sharpening, moaning and cursing,must be worth the extra money.
I've also found Marine Plywood (here in Italy--it's Okoume) is better than Birch Ply. It's usually all Okume throughout the different ply layers, has thinner glue, and carves relatively easily. It won't hold fine detail but it works well for me for color blocks. Not cheap, but cheaper (here) than imported Shina.
Good Luck!

Annie B said...

Hi Abel - thanks for saying hello. I looked at your web site. I know I've seen your work in the past, but it was nice to catch up again. I like your moku hanga. A friend of mine in Italy had a similar experience with shina wood she had purchased; maybe it was from the same supplier? I agree with you about showing grain, although I'm not getting much grain with the particular paper I'm using, which is very thick.

Andrew - lol, nobody I know gets rich making prints! Last summer at Anderson Ranch I found out that Karen Kunc, whose work I so admire, uses really crappy plywood! She's my inspiration.

Paul Ritscher said...

For several years I used a cherry plywood that had a fiber core. It was very messy to cut, and I worried a bit about the chemicals used to make the fiber, but it carved well, and held up to small cuts. The only problem with it was that it curled if too much of the surface was removed. I know a lot of people use birch plywood, but I wouldn't want to damage my tools on it.

Celia Hart said...

Hi Annie
I always use birch ply for my woodcuts, but I have a less precise technique and use oil based inks. I like the imperfections and the way the grain creates textures. Recently I worked on a large, 70cm x 40cm illustration (to be reduced down!) I left the precise details to be 'cut' digitally after 'be scanned the print taken from the block.

For my own multi block prints I sometimes print the large patches of colour from birch ply and over print a more detailed Lino block.

Looking forward to seeing your finished print!

Annie B said...

Paul, I wonder if the core of your cherry plywood was MDF? (Not that I've ever carved MDF, but I know people who do.)

Celia, I think birch plywood and rolled-on inks are a great match. Moku hanga requires deeper cuts so the condition of the interior layers is more critical. Yes to your "tradigital" carving methods for commissioned illustrations!