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Best wood for miniatures

Well. I’m off on another of my inspirations that may or may not
result in a piece (or body of work). This time, it would involve
making a series of tiny (1" x 1") woodcuts. Does anyone know what
kind of wood would be suitable for such miniatures, and where to get
it? It needs to be pretty fine grained, and hard enough to hold up to
carving and printing. I know next to nothing about wood.


Pear wood, use end grain for printing… Damn hard to cut though, so
be prepared for some hard work! Good luck and I can’t wait to see
what you come up with.

Cheers, Thomas Janstrom.
Little Gems.

for easy getting, go to a flooring place, a place that has
"exotic" wood flooring from mostly south america, reddish color
wood, they are all over, hardest wood you could get anywhere, they
throw tons in the garbage, american black cherry is hard and
fine, some maples can be very hard, american oaks are very hard,
with beautiful grain, beech is very hard and fine, some birches are
very hard, and fine, dave

Not sure of the specifics of your intent… but ebony, rosewood and
lignum vitae (not sure of the spelling but is used extensively for
the sole of wooden hand planes).

Brazilian purple heartwood - an extremely dense and beautifully
colored wood. It’s brilliant purple in its natural state (w/o stain).


Hi Noel,

When I took printmaking in college, we did small engravings on
blocks of basswood. I hope this helps. I look forward to seeing what
you’re up to! Warm e-hugs,

Cynthia Eid

Does anyone know what kind of wood would be suitable for such
miniatures, and where to get it? 

Graphic Chemical and Ink, the top printmaking supplier carries wood
for woodblock printing. Here is the link to the page:

They don’t have any as small as you wanted; you would have to get
someone to cut them. They have great support; you might be able to
get them to cut them, not sure. But they could answer your questions
as to which type of wood is best for your needs.

I have used them for years with my printmaking.

Beth Wicker
Three Cats and a Dog Design Studio


kind of wood would be suitable for such miniatures, and where to
get it?

To start. I would suggest for the size you are talking about that
you don’t do a woodcut at all, use linoleum, which is the "modern"
way. It has no grain, and is much easier to work, especially for the
novice. Art suppliers carry linoleum blocks - very flat wood blocks
with a layer of linoleum laminated on one side. And all the rest -
brayer, inks…Of course, what you do the cutting WITH is the other
side of the coin… If you don’t care a lot about detail or the
longevity of your plate, you can also use a potato, turnip or a
radish for a couple of quick imprints by hand - it’ll have foggy
edges and low detail, but then you can trim off the ink and eat your
plate, too…

Hello again Noel,

Just re-read my previous note to you about wood. It was all good
but I dashed it off in a very great hurry and I am
embarrassed by the typos and some non-grammatical construction, i.e.

"from 19th century before when photo-etching reproduction had not
yet been invented" Huh? 

I figure you’ll work out the intended meaning after only a little
head-scratching, but it is disturbing to see myself writing as if
semi- literate and I hope that doesn’t cause you to dismiss the

Also - to clarify something I wrote. You say you want to make 1" x
1" woodcuts. So here’s where I would start - with the proviso that I
am a good woodworker, but not a classic woodcut maker. And at the
scale you propose I think the proper term would be “wood engraving.”

I mentioned that end grain is where you can get the finest detail.
The reasoning behind this is that the structure of all wood, no
matter how fine-grained, is best visualized as a cluster of tiny
tubules glued together - like a bunch of drinking straws. If you cut
the design on the face of the wood, that is, on the surface parallel
to the sides of the tubes, then the ink will tend to run (bleed)
along the tubes or along the tiny spaces between them, either by
capillary action or by being squeezed in the pressure of printing.
That translates into loss of detail in the printing. Therefore if you
want to produce clean-edged impressions or finest detail, the
printing surface should be cut into the end grain of the blocks. In
that way the ink penetrates and is held in the end of each tiny tube
and when the block is pressed to the printed surface it is, in
effect, as if you are printing with many, many individual tiny

That is the limit of my knowledge of this particular trade. The
deficiency in my knowledge about this process is that I have no idea
exactly what shapes of gravers were used to do this work nor any of
the fine points (no pun) of the sharpening techniques for this
particular application. You’ll have to research elsewhere than in my
dusty brain. However, cutting in end grain, of all woodworking
operations, requires the most perfectly sharp tools. Don’t let this
daunt you, as sharpening can develop into quite a pleasurable
activity and as a jeweler, you will find it familiar, very akin to
fine polishing. I use a green rouge on a leather strop or on a firm
polishing wheel for my final touch on edged tools - which end up
being sharp enough to not merely shave, but to shave comfortably.

I imagine your best bet would be to get yourself some of the proper
wood cut into 1" x 1" sticks of convenient lengths. Start with one
end sanded perfectly flat, square, and very smooth - 600 grit paper
at the very least… Fix the stick in a vice (with wood or other non-
scarring jaws) and cut your design in the end. Then slice off that
end at whatever thickness appropriate - and parallel to the engraved
surface. That’s your printing block. Sand the newly exposed end
perfectly flat and make another, and another etc.

There may be lots of other details at which I can only guess - how
to treat the surface, how to clean it, whether you are able to use
water- based inks or cleaners (I suspect not), but you’d have to ask
a printer. And then - will you press the block to the printed
surface? Or press the printed material to the block? Does one stamp??
Press? Roll? etc.

I am curious as to what you are thinking of making - although 'tis
none of my business.

Anyway - I hope this is some help for a start.


To Noel & others interested in this idea.

some more wood notes

Basswood is very uniform in texture and in hardness - hardly any
contrast between early and late wood rings - but is also uniformly
very soft. The uniformity makes it very easy to carve as you are not
being constantly forced to adjust your exertion instantaneously as
your tool moves through changes in hardness within the wood. It is
very easy for beginners to work It is a good first choice for
carvings which will not need to stand up to wear or pressure –
However the softness will make it hard to get clean edges that will
stand up to any but the gentlest of pressure. Edges will tend to
round over. Also the evenness of the grain will not give you the
"woodcut" look that Noel wants because there will be little evidence
of the grain showing. Sugar pine and white pine have similar
qualities. Other softwoods; firs, spruce, cedars, red or yellow pine
etc not worth your time, i would opine. ( Oh pun!)

Some common hardwoods that will show a little more grain than the
boxwood and holly which I have mentioned - in rough order from
finest to coarsest - apple, pear, cherry or any of the fruit woods,
walnut, butternut, beech. This is not an exhaustive list.

Other posters have suggested maple and birch. Those are good stuff
too - the maple should be eastern sugar or “rock” maple. Don’t use
western big-leaf maple, swamp maple. The Birch likewise is best in
the eastern species although in the tiny sizes Noel is looking for
one could find decent wood in western birch without much trouble

Stay away from oaks, chestnuts, hickory, elms, mahogany as these are
far too coarse and open-grained for the scale of your pieces. The
large pores will overwhelm your design.

There are some good dense tropical hardwoods as well - rosewoods,
cocobolo, kingwood, sandalwood, ebony - any of the woods typically
used to make wooden instruments such as recorders - but some of them
commonly cause very difficult allergic reactions or are irritating
in the extreme - to the touch or by way of breathing their dust -
also some have silicates which dull tools very rapidly and some have
odd oils in them which reject finishes and, I suspect, would cause
problems with printing inks. Stick with north american woods (buy

There may be some ways of treating woods, before or after carving,
which will enhance their durability and perhaps improve their
working qualities for your purposes - i.e. liquid epoxy wood
hardeners - but these have their own problems - tendency to be toxic,
to generate nasty sensitivities even after they have cured, and might
interfere with ink absorption so experiment is the order of the day.

Noel - you will more likely get the “woody” quality you want in your
prints if you work on the face grain surfaces of the wood - just the
opposite of what I suggested earlier about working on end grain.

Have a good time.

Hi Noel,

If you are talking about making little prints, the material most
often used these days is linoleum. You can purchase it at art supply
stores (Pearl, Jerry’s Artarama, Dick Blick) and then cut it with a
band saw or a fine hand saw to the the size you wish. You will need
a brayer to press the paper down on the block, although with a block
one inch square you can probably use your thumb well enough. There
are specific tools for handcarving the block but you can achieve a
nicely detailed cut using your flexshaft and burs.

Also there are woodcut specific inks but you can use acrylics. The
inks for intaglio (etched) prints are an oil based ink that seeps
into the paper but not necessary with a woodcut. Intaglio makes a
wonderful print and is fun to do but it requires a press with a lot
of pressure in order to get the paper to squeeze into the fine
grooves enough to pick up the ink.

There are some wonderful books you can get at the library on
printing, two of which are by Crown Press in San Francisco titled
Magical Secrets on Intaglio. They also have a website on which they
have video lessons on printing. It is magical-secrets (dot) com.

Fun stuff!!!

We have an active group of woodcarvers in our community and they use
bass wood. Their work seems to range from one inch to 12 inches. You
should be able to find it at any woodworking store that sells wood



Boxwood (Buxaceae) is one of the best for carving and turning but is
only available in smallish sections. It is white when it is newly
exposed to the air but in a short time it turns pale yellow. It does
not splinter it is hard but easy to work and is very smooth without
much sanding. It has been used in Germany and Austria for carving for
centuries. Great to work with - I have a mallet made from it.

Robin Key
Clavis Jewellery
Aberdeen, Scotland

I think you want to make miniature wood block carvings for display
rather than to produce prints This may indicate end grain blocks in
a tropical hardwood…

There are two basic ways of doing this. one of these uses flat grain
wood carving parallel to the grain with knives and chisels and the
other carves into end grain using gravers. see this for how to do

Print blocks generally use a white fine grained wood such as
basswood. Used inked blocks do make an attractive artwork display,
but the white wood may not be what you want for small scale
jewelry-- print blocks will be flat grain carved with carving
chisels or special knives. Japanese tools are the best for this.
See: — not inexpensive

End grain carving uses conventional engraving graver tools but you
may need to grind the cutters especially for this.

For jewelry I would thing you would want to use one of the tropical
hard woods.A good source for these end grained wood is : They are in the LA area.

I like working Coco Bolo – a square spindle turning block can
supply end grain stock to get started, but you will need a very good
blade in a table saw to cut these nicely into thin sections. You
have to be careful how you hold the blocks- it is easy to cut your
non tool holding hand ! You will have to find a good clamping system
! Don’t attempt hand holding !

There is a company in the Chicago area that i dealt with years ago;
Craftsman’s Wood Service that has moved out to Addison. Goggle will
find them but they do not seem to have a web site.


while we’re at it, the best northeast US carving wood, and very
hard, so, so much fun to carve, is dogwood, if you can find it,
it is almost white, but the consistency, the butteriness, is to die
for, for a carver that is

I know you are getting lots of replies to this question, but here is
a site I like to visit- they have hard and softwoods both domestic
and foreign and best of all they offer sample pieces for reasonable
prices, so you can examine and compare types of wood without spending
too much. Hope this helps, Betsy

or here is direct to samples…

can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Another thought on this - the Graphic Chemical and Ink website I
mentioned earlier also has a forums section you can sign up for, and
would probably have folks who are experienced with woodcuts who
might be willing and able to give you some good tips on whatever it
is you are trying to do. There is also a printmaker’s group on Yahoo
groups, although it is not very active.

Beth Wicker
Three Cats and a Dog Design Studio

Hello Noel… I’m always interested in your projects and am
never disappointed to see the end product.

I have seen small things made with sumac wood. It’s close grained
and is a nice light cream color. I’ve also worked with an absolutely
gorgeous wood that I believe was some sort of willow…maybe what
is called swamp willow. It is incredibly hard and polishes to a very
lovely shine. It comes in shades of purple through the greys spectrum
to a pinkish color. It’s beautiful and really nice to work with.
Unfortunately the place I worked with it closed after the death of
the owner so I cannot ask exactly what it was. Perhaps another Orchid
member would know. The grain on this wood is so close it almost looks
as though there is no grain. It’s very hard and takes a LOT of
polishing but once it’s done it’s amazing.

What about some old teak flooring? That is hard too and takes a nice
polish. It also has some interesting colors in the grain. The dust
from it gets everywhere though and for sure you will need a mask and
ventilation or some way to take the dust away when sanding that.

Good luck and for sure let us know what you make. Sheila… in
Ontario where there is enough snow already, but it’s way above
freezing so maybe it will melt.

while we're at it,, the best northeast US carving wood, and very
hard,, so, so much fun to carve,, is dogwood,, if you can find
it,,, it is almost white,, but the consistency, the butteriness, is
to die for,, for a carver that is 

If anyone is interested, we have a very old dogwood with wider than
normal girth that partially came down in a storm. It’s not
salvageable for regrowth, but we’ll be cutting it up when it warms if
there are any takers - just pay shipping.


I want to say how once again I am gratified and warmed by the many
and wonderful responses to my request. I have a lot of information
to work with now. I had a piece of basswood so I started with that.
I do not like the results. Either the wood or the tools were a poor
choice-- probably the wood, because I used a bunch of different
tools to experiment. Tomorrow I will see if I can get some better
wood. I have not located anyone selling boxwood.

I have, I now recall, a box of assorted (and unidentified) hardwoods
for carving that I bought and never used. I’ve had them for I guess
close to 30 years. Is there any reason not to try these? They’re all
pretty dark, and I’d like light-colored, but they have the virtue of