Making Woodblock Type — Part 2

NOTE: If you have not already, please read, Part 1: Leaving Wood Behind, before reading this post.


Although our class had finalized and uploaded the vector files during the last class before spring break, Steve, myself, and classmate Taylor McElhinny didn’t want to loose momentum. Knowing that the class was scheduled to move on a new project after the break, the three of us spent much of the next week making the type-high boards, organizing and preparing the typeface files to be cut, and learning how to use the school’s CNC router. 

    We spent a few days gluing together plywood sheets and planing down various wood boards in preparation for the CNC, to type height of 0.91 inches. Much of this process was new to me and Taylor as neither of us had spent much time working in a wood-shop. As designers, we spend most of our time in immaculate studios and we relished the opportunity to work with our hands. After we had an adequate amount of wood prepared, we created 3A font scheme boards from each of the vector files (click here for more info). 

    On the day we were scheduled to begin cutting, as luck would have it, we could not access the school’s CNC machine. Thankfully Steve has a smaller version at his home in New Hampshire, so Taylor and I drove down to meet him. The rest of the day was spent overcoming the learning curve of how close the letters needed to be in order to accommodate the size of the drill bits, figuring out how many passes we needed to do for the various thicknesses and densities of wood, and how fast the CNC should rout out the letters to achieve clean edges. At this point, we re-discovered thetime-lapse function on our iPhones and captured the lengthy process compressed into a few seconds. After returning from spring break, the class had moved on to a new project, but Steve, Taylor, and I continued to work on cutting the letters in our free time. We engaged a handful of classmates to help laminate four foot by six foot sheets of half-inch soft maple plywood together to cut the type out (clearly this is how our typeface family’s name - “Plywood” - was created). Even though plywood is a softer wood, some days we could only get one line of letters cut out (about 10 letters) due to time constraints with sharing use of the school’s CNC and drill bits dulling or breaking. Considering each typeface had more than one hundred characters, it was an incredibly long process. While waiting for the CNC to cut more letters the three of us sanded edges or prepared more files for cutting.

    The first completed typeface set was Plywood Bold. The class returned to the printing studio, where the project started, and we made comparison prints on watercolor paper of the original woodblock type to juxtapose it against the new type. It was an incredible achievement to take a broken, incomplete typeface and revive them to a useable resource for students for years to come.  Throughout the course of the project, a few of us gave up our free time to continue working on the typeface we had become sentimentally attached to and, after a three-hour long class spent printing the new letters, I asked if I could stay behind to make additional prints for myself. The prints are a part of my portfolio and hang on the walls of my home as a reminder not only of our arduous task, but also as a way of honoring a project that instilled in me great pride, ownership, and opportunity.

For more, please click to see the Plywood Type portfolio page.