Boxwood (Buxus Sempervirens)
Box is known to many as a shrub which forms the English Box hedge, but if left long enough will become a tree. Box grows at an extremely slow rate, producing a wood which is incredibly dense, yet very even. For centuries it has been prized for finely detailed carving and inlay work. For the wood engraver it is the king of woods for all the above reasons and also because, in the era before photography when wood engravings were used ubiquitously in publications, its durability proved able to stand up to many thousands of impressions without deterioration.
So, a perfect boxwood block can do everything an engraver will ask of it. Are there any reasons, then, to even consider the use of other woods? The notes here will help you choose the wood best suited to your needs. Boxwood comes at a higher cost than the alternatives, due to its increasing scarcity, but also because of the work involved in piecing together many small sections to arrive at anything but the smallest of blocks.
Price: 40 pence per cm2
Lemonwood (Calycophyllum candidissimum, Degame)
Lemonwood, not the wood of the lemon tree, but so called because of its pleasant citrus smell when first cut. More popular than boxwood because of the lesser cost, lemonwood is an excellent engraving surface. Indeed, many engravers prefer the faster cutting properties of lemonwood especially if working towards a deadline. In general it is an extremely consistent and reliable wood, and most suitable for making up into larger sized blocks. Without doubt the most suitable alternative to traditional boxwood.
Price 26 pence per cm2
How To Choose
I can only offer considerations here. The experienced engraver will know well enough the best wood for the job in hand, but for beginners the following thoughts may help:
I would always suggest starting with Lemonwood as this excellent wood will allow you to engrave as fine a line as any beginner could make. It is also much easier to clear large white areas than in boxwood. The latter task in boxwood can be painfully labourious for anyone, let alone a beginner or the senior engraver feeling the effects of age. If you begin with Lemonwood it will be possible to take the material to its limits, and these may be more than adequate for your manner of engraving. Boxwood comes into its own when very finely engraved hatched lines are the order of the day, and especially in what is known as ‘black line’ engraving, where a black line is left standing.
Serious attention must be paid to the condition of your engraving tools in getting the best from any wood. With properly sharpened tools you will achieve good results from all of the woods mentioned here, but dull tools will make the most choice piece of Boxwood feel fibrous.