woodcutting tools

Netsuke - Ape Clutching a Gourd

Very excited that my wood cutting tools have arrived. 1 Power Grip Japanese Cutting Tool Set, 1 Power Grip Japanese Cutting Tool 1.5mm U (I realise this is already in the set but I guess it will be handy to have a spare), 1 Power Grip Japanese Cutting Tool 1.5mm V, 1 Power Grip Japanese Cutting Tool: 3mm U and 1 100x150mm pack of Japanese Side Grain Woodblocks.

The ape and standing heron are guinea pigs for exploring my new cutting tools. They carve beautifully. I'm amazed at how difficult I have been making it for myself by carving with cheap tools on cheap wood. It has been a struggle and given me painful elbows but today this feels like cutting through butter. I wonder how long this honeymoon period will last. In the excitement I have cut myself twice already, a warning to slow down and my baren has just split. I'm carving with the 7mm Hangito, 6mm large U (Komasuki) & 6mm large V (sanhakito). The technique of the Hangito is similar to my experience of cutting rubber stamps with a sharp scalpel. A technique I learnt a while back from printer maker extrordinaire Stephen Fowler.


Ape with Gourd printed on Somerset Satin 300gms


To master the technique of Japanese woodblock printing takes years and years and as a beginner I feel completely out of my depth and there are many frustrations but I recently came across this quote and it helped me feel a little lighter about it!

The zen priest Shunryu Suzuki often told his students that it is not difficult to attain enlightenment, the difficulty remains in retaining the mind of a beginner. He told them "There are many possibilities, but in the expert there are few" From Awakening the Spine by Vanda Scaravelli

A Collection of Netsuke

I am daydreaming about visiting Edmund De Waal to sketch his netsuke collection. I love the idea of making these unobtainable objects available as mini prints allowing the possibility of each netsuke, with its own story to tell, find its way into somebody's home. Rather than block my vision, daydreaming of meeting Edmund and his netsuke, I explore some of the netsuke collection from his website gallery and begin to sketch.

Netsuke - Fox

I am drawn to the 'Fox' and ’A Bathing Woman in her Wooden Tub’ and make a quick sketch in my notebook. Edmund has written the dimensions in the description. Netsuke are tiny. Many of the netsuke in the collection are between 3 and 4cm height. I make some drawings keeping the dimensions in mind. It feels right to try and keep these mini prints as close to the size of the original netsuke as possible.


To make these prints I'm going to carve them on some birch plywood I sourced from Robbins Timber Yard a few years ago using a cheap set of Japanese woodcutting tools from Bower Ashton Art College. I have bought some Japanese carbon ink mixed with a small bit of nori paste both from Intaglio Printmakers so I'm ready to go...

Netsuke - A Bathing Woman in her Wooden Tub


I am so excited about creating mini prints of Edmund’s netsuke and so with a cup of Jasmine tea, bag of salted popcorn and raw chocolate for fuel at the ready, I lay some tracing paper over my tiny sketch of the bathing woman and re-draw her outline. She is quite plump with rounded shoulders, her black hair wrapped up and curled into a bun on top of her head. She is squatting in the wooden washing tub with a flannel in one hand and the other hidden in the tub. Her face is long and pear shaped with wide chin. Sketching is limited from a photo and I imagine being able to turn her around and see the nape of her neck or her profile but for now I am using Edmund’s chosen snapshot.

The result of this mini print is not great. It's is such a tiny print (3.9cm width) and my amateur wood carving skills make a crude print.


Woodcutting Tools

These woodcuts are very small and the wood is rough so fine details are a challenge. I am not expecting or wanting the woodcuts to be perfect but I think it will be worth investing in some better quality tools so I can make that choice. My cheap wood cutting tools have been well used for previous designs on lino so they are becoming blunt. The stone in the box seems too rough and I might make the cutters worse without any sharpening stone knowledge so I ring up Intaglio Printmakers for their advice. They have a new set of Japanese woodcutting tools with three extra V & U cutters. After discussing the difference between these and my cheap wood cutters I am swayed to order these much better quality tools. I ask about the different types of wood and add a pack of magnolia side grain woodblocks. The magnolia (HŌNOKI) is a bit softer and smoother than the plywood so it will be interesting to see the results.

Magnolia Wood / Honoki

"Honoki is rather soft. Its surface with the rough fibre produces an impression not altogether pleasing. But beginners use it mainly on account of its being easy to cut. Sakura and katsura have a harder grain, but they are more satisfactory than honoki. In olden times other kinds of wood, such as keyaki (Zelkowa serrata, Mak.), were inlaid in the block in order to give the benefit of the grain in special selected parts of the print"Japanese Wood-block Printing by Hiroshi Yoshida. From David Bull's encyclopedia of woodblock printing


Robbins Timber Yard

Bower Ashton Art College

Intaglio Printmakers

David Bull's encyclopedia of woodblock printing