How to Make Puzzle Woodcut Prints

Make prints from a woodcut to create your own design.

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In this project, you'll cut a wood-block design into pieces that will each be used to print a different color.

Materials and Tools:

½-thick (or less) wood (cherry, maple, birch or pine) in a flat block card size or larger
pencil
sumi ink (black drawing ink) and brush
brown or gray water-based ink (can be slightly diluted black drawing ink) and a large brush or sponge brush
mineral oil or linseed oil
woodcarving tools
scroll saw or saber saw
relief printing ink, water- or oil-based
putty knife
large piece of glass or large tile to use as inking slab
rubber roller(s), as many as there are colors
printmaking paper, drawing paper or handmade paper, several pieces slightly bigger than the wood block
large wooden spoon (rice spoon) or printing press
glass cleaner
scrap newsprint paper
paper towels
safety glasses
dust mask

Steps:

1. Draw your chosen design on the block of wood with a pencil, keeping the color areas simple.

2. Trace over the drawing with sumi ink and a brush. This creates heavier lines so that you can eliminate the little details that aren't practical for woodcut prints.

3. Once the ink is dry, brush brown ink all over the block with the sponge brush. This darkens the drawing and the wood so that when cutting begins, the lighter wood reveals what the piece will look like.

4. When the brown ink is dry, spread oil over the block of wood with a paper towel. This softens the top layer of wood and prevents splintering.

5. Carve the block of wood, removing the areas that will not be stamped. Remember to carve the image in reverse like a mirror image, similar to a rubber stamp.

6. Determine the placement of colors to print. Wearing safety glasses and a dust mask, cut around each section of color with a scroll saw or a saber saw; only one color will be applied to each piece, and there will be as many pieces as there are patches of color.  

7. Spread a thin layer of printmaking ink onto a glass or tile slab with a putty knife and a rubber roller. Use separate rollers for each color. Note: For puzzle prints, it's better to use oil-based inks because they won't dry on the slab as quickly as water-based inks.

8. Separate the block and ink each piece separately with the roller. Gently roll the ink over the top of the block in a thin, even layer. Avoid pushing (forcing) the ink hard onto the block.

9. Put the puzzle block back together and carefully lay a piece of paper on top, printing side down. The thick, sticky ink will hold on to the paper.

10. Run the block through the press or use a large wooden spoon to transfer the ink to the paper. When using the spoon, lay another piece of scrap paper on top of the good paper so it won't tear. Then apply firm and even pressure in a circular motion over the back of the entire piece of paper. Lift a corner of the paper to make sure the ink is transferring.

11. Hang the print with clothespins for a day or so until the ink dries. Make as many prints from the same block as desired.

Cleanup Tips:

  • To clean the block print, print (without re-inking) on scrap newsprint until no more ink comes off the block. Let the block dry.
  • To clean the rollers, roll them onto newsprint to offset most of the ink, and then apply mineral oil with paper towels. Remove the oily residue with window cleaner.
  • To clean the inking slab, scrape the ink off with a putty knife or a razor blade. Then use mineral oil and window cleaner.
  • Water-based inks can be cleaned with soap and water.

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