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What Are the Best Tips for Engraving Wood?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2016
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Engraving wood was historically done for use in printing; the wood was cut away so that the character to be printed was raised up from the surface of the wood. This was done by hand, though modern techniques for engraving wood include the use of laser cutting machines that work more quickly and more efficiently. The engraver will need to decide early on what the purpose of the engraved wood will be; if it is purely decorative, hand tools may work well, but if the lines being engraved need to be exceptionally accurate or fine, a good engraving machine may be necessary.

Laser engravers have come down in price over the years, making them a fairly affordable option for engraving wood. These machines are highly automated, but the operator will need to learn how to set the machine properly to make the cuts desired. It is important to choose a machine that can handle the volume of jobs the operator intends to do, as well as the type of engraving he or she wants to complete. The size of the machine will sometimes dictate how large of a piece of wood can be engraved. The machine must also be simple to operate and compatible with whatever design program the operator is using for creating the design that will be the template for engraving wood.

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If the wood will be engraved by hand, the operator will need to purchase the right tools for the job. Many cutting tools exist for engraving wood accurately, and each tool is suitable for a different type of cut. It helps to decide beforehand what the design will look like so the person doing the engraving will know which tools will be necessary to make the cuts. It is best to use high quality tools, as they will be less susceptible to damage and inaccurate cuts.

Most importantly, it will be important to set up a spacious work station that is well lit. Engraving, especially by hand, is a tedious process that will require patience and a steady hand. Working at a set work station will avoid accidents and allow the engraver to do his or her job without interruption or excess strain. The lighting must be very good when engraving wood by hand so the engraver can pay attention to minute details. If a laser engraver is being used, plenty of space will be necessary for the machine, and it will need to be placed in a location that will not risk damage to the machine or injury to the user.

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croydon
Post 3

@browncoat - You have to be careful when looking up wood engraving to make sure you differentiate between a print made from wood engraving and an artwork that's a piece of wood which has been engraved.

They actually use quite different techniques, because you need to be very aware of the fact that your art will be reversed for a print. In fact it can be difficult sometimes to even see the picture on an engraving before it gets made into a print.

But an artwork where wood has been engraved will be concentrating on making the wood the final product. I've seen some lovely works, particularly things like bookmarks, and book covers, but sometimes people will just do a full wall hanging, like a painting.

browncoat
Post 2

@Iluviaporos - The technique is still used today, particularly in book illustration, I suppose partly in homage to the old styles of book making, but also because people like the way it looks.

Back then you couldn't make a digital copy of the work so they would just use the original until it wore out. So anything that was worth making copies of, might not have survived, particularly since wood can be quite fragile when it's being used and doused with chemicals like the block prints would be.

I know there are plenty of people who make wood engravings specifically to be show pieces now though, and you can find them by looking online. There are some that are really amazing works of art and they don't generally cost huge amounts either.

lluviaporos
Post 1

When you look at some of the wood cuts that have been done over the years and realize that most of them were done by hand, it's really quite amazing. I don't really like the look of most woodcuts, but I have to admire the skill that goes into making them with such exquisite detail.

It's particularly true when you consider that the people making the wood cuts would have been working in the opposite way to how people generally work when they are drawing a picture. They would want to leave the blackest lines without being touched, and make increasingly deeper cuts depending on how light they wanted the shading to be.

I don't think I could ever do it, although I'm not much of an artist as it is. It would be nice to collect the old copies of ones that were used back in the day though.

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