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Woody mystery - the solution

Posted by Dave Bull on December 5, 2013 [Permalink]

We have a solution to our mystery!

It's not so complicated actually. Looking through the stack of prints, and looking at the reverse side, I found one that showed a small 'patch' on the back. Looking closely I could see that there was a scrap of torn paper peeling off. It seems that the prints - although they look like wood from both front and back, are actually laid down on a thin paper.

So to test this, I took the 'sample' print that had been used for wrapping one set of blocks, and which was damaged in a few places anyway, put it into a shallow tray, and soaked in it warm water. Nothing happened at first, but after an hour or so, the glue had softened up, the paper backing came off, and the pieces floated apart. Here they are after drying:

The wood is insanely thin; my micrometer gives about .05~.06mm depending on the location.

I can't really claim that 'you can read a newspaper through it!', but it's close!

You can see that the wood is actually full of holes and gaps, where the softest part of each cell has just dissolved away.

So I guess the process went something like this:

  • prepare a stack of the thin paper sheets
  • brush glue over the top sheet
  • shave off four or five thin strips of wood with the plane
  • lay them one by one on the glue
  • take that sheet aside and press it
  • repeat ...
  • make a batch of prints with the glued-up sheets

Normal pigments are transparent and end up being driven deep into the paper, but these prints are done with thickish opaque pigments, applied with a gentle flat baren, which sit up 'on top' of the surface (this is typical of most 'Kyoto' printing).

So now that we've got it all sorted out, what to do with the multiples that I have here? I'm going to keep a little stack of each design in our 'archive', but I see no reason not spread the joy a little bit, and there is certainly no sense in just hiding them all in a drawer forever, so I'll put them into our catalogue.

Please go and have a look!




Added by: Jonty on December 25, 2013

Hi David

I have seen a similar wooden paper here in London. It is made of two incredibly thin wooden layers with paper in the middle. To be honest I couldnt work out if it is real wood, but it most certainly is a veneer, as you can peel the wood layer away from the paper.


I have been following your videos which are great, and have now made my first two colour woodblock print. So only another twenty years til I produce something decent !

Added by: Anne DeMAria on July 30, 2020


I've been making my rudimentary block prints on wood veneer for a while. It's a surface like any other surface; and I'm slowly working out improvements as I also improve my printing ability.

Anne from Dover, New Hampshire, USA


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