Transferring a Design to a Wood Engraving Block

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Wood engraving is a very unforgiving process. There’s no (easy) way to erase mistakes. We don’t have an undo function like you digital nerds with your iPads. Planning and preparatory drawings are the key to fixing mistakes before they are permanently cut into your block.

Good. You’ve done the work and have that perfectly composed drawing that’s going to put you in all the art history books. Mr. Picasso, the Louvre-er-rah is on live four. The problem now becomes: how do you get that drawing on to your end-grain engraving block?

The simplest method is to trace your design to the block placing some transfer paper between the drawing and the block. The biggest drawback to this is that it is repetitive and time-consuming. Welcome to the world of printmaking! I also find that the transferred lines will eventually rub off if you don’t spray them with fixatif. This problem doubles if you are using any sort of slippery plastic engraving material like resingrave or corian. Transfer paper is usually best if you want to get a general layout of your design without too much detail, allowing the detail to emerge through the engraving process.

If you want a very accurate transfer of your drawing I have found that the best method is to use heat to transfer a LASER printed scan of your drawing.

Let’s take a moment to ruminate on fact that LASER is an acronym for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.” What this has to do with the such-named printers and this post in general is beyond my understanding. All I know is that I, like the grammar pro that I am, am going to all-caps LASER whenever I use it.

Many sources on the ‘net will advise you to use acetone to transfer toner-based images. This sorta works, but in my experience it has a 70% failure rate. The key to getting a good toner transfer is heat. The source of that heat is a Wall Lenk L16TT Transfer Tool. It’s like a soldering iron with a disc attached to the end.

Print out your drawing (or photocopy it) and attach it, face-down, to your block. You want to be able to peek at the surface as you work, but it should be secure enough that it doesn’t shift around as you work. Heat up your transfer tool and then meticulously apply heat to the back of the printout. I drew a grid on the back of mine so that I could keep track of the areas I had worked on. You can lift the paper and peek at the results as you move across the block. It will take time and a lot more heat than you think. I was always hesitant to use this method on resingrave because I feared melting the epoxy.

Once you’ve covered the entire surface with burnished heat, you can start peeling back the paper. It will adhere more than you want and this is where acetone comes in handy. Don’t just rip the paper off, dab some acetone on the trouble spots and slowly work the paper off. If you are too hasty, paper scraps will be glued to your block. You will find that large areas of black adhere the most. For that reason, you should probably edit out large black areas on your image scan before attempting to transfer.

If all has gone well, your drawing will now appear in reverse on your block. Note that the toner will have a slight, raised texture. You can wash off the excess before printing with an acetone dampened swab if you want. Don’t let too much liquid get on the wood. You don’t want to raise the grain.

So here’s a quick video I made documenting the process:

Remember, the best wood engravings aren’t just mechanical reproductions of drawings. Let your tools and cutting guide the final appearance of your print. Get hip kids! Formschneider (cutting around a completed line drawing) is for losers and 16th century renaissance masters only!

If you have any questions, leave a comment and I will try to answer the best I can.

Replacing the Battery on an Apple IIgs

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A pandemic ago I decided to heed the warnings on the Apple ][ Facebook group and remove the 30-year-old battery from my Apple IIgs computer. This is harder than it should be since Apple thought it was a good idea to permanently attach this ticking time bomb to the motherboard. My solution was to clip out the old battery and solder in a plastic battery holder instead. This is not that hard to do, but I am a complete klutz when it comes to soldering. Destroy the motherboard with a mountain of silvery metal was always a possible outcome. I documented the process and present it here. Originally I had intended to do a hilariously comic narration over the video but I eventually came to my senses. Enjoy the video, video enjoyers:

“March of the Mustard King” Official Video

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20 years ago this month I released an album’s worth of computer music. If you weren’t one of the lucky 3 people who got a CD, this is what you missed. Last night I made an *official video* for the song “March of the Mustard King.” This was pre-Garage Band. Back when making songs on a computer was like watching the code of the Matrix scroll by. Music by nerd(s), for nerds.

This is a track from my first album of computer music called, “The Exciting Sounds of a Compaq P133” (1999). The music was created in FastTracker ][ on a Windows 98 PC. This video is showing the excellent FastTracker ][ Clone from

Professional Motion Graphics Artist

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ComEd Video

Add to my slowly growing list of technical capabilities (in addition to Puzzle Quest Maester and lawn mowist) Motion Graphics Artist.The last couple of days of work have been spent making a video presentation for a major northeastern Illinois power company. I’ll let you guess to which company I am referring. Video is pretty fun to work with but it is somehow physically exhausting. Perhaps it is just the strain of having to listen to stock audio over and over again. In any event, I now want to get a newer version of After Effects. Good times.

Copyright and YouTube

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I just noticed today that a video I had posted in YouTube was just blocked in the U.S. because of some music I used in the background. Specifically, they blocked my PC Transporter video that I used to demo some hardware I was selling on eBay. The video is pretty mundane, but I used a Señor Coconut track in the background along with various beeps and noises from the Apple ][gs. Come on, who is going to download the song with all sorts of disk drive noises on top of it? WMG thinks people will do this, so now only people outside the U.S. can view the video. But, get this, if you can view the video in your region, it gives you direct links to download the song on iTunes or Amazon! That is a brilliant business move, but apparently using user created videos as a promo tool in the U.S. is beyond the pea brains at WMG. So, for my sake, please steal Señor Coconut’s record off the Internet (search for it on Google, you’ll find it for download from Rapidshare or similar site) and don’t buy the record if you live in the U.S.A.! I will find a way around YouTube’s blocker soon and repost the video here as soon as I can.