Making woodtype for letterpress

Hi everyone :slight_smile:

I’m planning on opening a letterpress workshop. I’ve been wondering how I could come back to the origins of this printing method and by origins I mean woodtype ! Even though I’m new to the CNC world, it’s seems like the X-Carve would be a good tool for this project, but because it’s quite specific I would like some advices from the community !

I can’t use -the traditionnal- end grain beech wood at the beginning so I was thinking maybe plywood (S/BB grade) because it’s seems to work great when used in letterpress printing. I’m quite confident that the X-Carve would do the job when carving large pieces of woodtype, but my big question was about full pieces of design : is the machine precise enough to carve small details and text on plywood so that I can render perfect transmission of the ink when printing ?

Does any of you have some king experience with small caracters and even, raised small caracters ? I know it can be made with laser engraving on soft and hard wood (cf. attached file) but I’m wondering with X-Carve and plywood !?

Also to transfer ink properly and evenly, I need my form to be smooth/well sanded at type high, which is exactly 23.3 millimeters (0.9186 inch), but I’ll probably receive 24mm plywood, I believe I can do this with the X-Carve surfacing bit right ?

Thanks a lot for your intel & Love from France !

Laser letterpress 01
Laser letterpress 02

In my opinion you would be better off with a laser for that small print. And with using plywood you are going to have some chip out that will be noticable.


With plywood you will 100% have chipout issues even with details 10 times larger!!

I suggest a medium density hardwood like walnut and for even less chipout, use end grain as this grain structure will produce the most strength.

I have some blank rubber stamps that I bought from my local art supply shop. Some are large enough to make greeting cards. There are similar products available from Amazon.

At the local makerspace, most of the people making stamps used the CO2 lasers to ablate the rubber. (it makes an unpleasant smell)

If you move forward with using the CNC, I would recommend doing a 2 stage carve starting with a small sharp conical bit like this…

to outline the lettering and then finish up with a small flat endmill to clear all white space. In any case, it will be hard to make the type extremely small.

Of course you might have better luck going the other way; carving the letters into the wood and then printing white ink on colored card stock.

finally, you might consider moving from block printing to etching. You could use a diamond drag bit in your CNC to cut the grooves in a polished brass plate. This is a slower process, but the detail is incredible.

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Many thanks for your feedback !

I didn’t say but i would’t use text smaller than 7-8 pt i think !

@WayneHall : Yes I wasn’t sure, I prefer carving technology but small details are realy tricky. Maybe plywood and laser are better together too no, what do you think ?

@SethCNC : I was thinking that maybe using the same technic that HarryC.Ragland (2 stage carve) described would help avoid some wood chips but it may not be enough. End grain MD hardwood is the best way to go for sure, the Inventables Team told me it could work but it’s possible that the rising parts become fragile → I don’t need to carve to deep so it may help with that !?

@HarryC.Ragland : Rubber stamp is a good technology, like photopolymer, but I’m wondering if there is more durable solutions (that can be better recycled too). I also think that 2 stage carving is a minimum concidering it’s friendlier for the wood. Etching is also a very nice technic but I don’t have any etching press at the moment, only typo ! We do use copper to make hot foil stamping form’s though… I need to check copper and ink transfer compatibility but maybe carving copper with a diamond drag would allow me more details !?

If you want a more recyclable technology than rubber stamps, consider true linoleum. It is seeing a resurgence and can be found online. Linoleum is made from sawdust and boiled linseed oil.

Yes I hold small type in wood. Experience tells me different woods have different problems. Surfacing would work in your machine.

@HarryC.Ragland : Yes Linoleum is a good alternative that didn’t cross my mind ! What would you say about carving possibilities ?

@PeterMussett : Oh nice ! Did you make them ? What would you say is the best wood for types ?

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