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  • Writer's pictureMatt Reno

Nicks and Neck Pain: Linocut Safety Tips

Updated: Aug 22, 2021

Linocut is a ton of fun, but it does come with some minor risks. I always include these two safety tips early in my workshops, but they're worth putting in writing.

First, remember that you're working with sharp objects. A little nick from a cutter on the tip of your finger is a common occurrence and more annoying than dangerous. I've had a few of those myself thanks to some lapses in attention. But if you're not careful, it's possible to jab your palm with one of the blades, and while not life-threatening, it's a bit more than annoying.

To avoid that, always keep your hands behind the blade. At first, you'll naturally want to place a guiding hand near the top of your block, but it doesn't take much to slip. You have to stay especially mindful if you're rotating the block to carve a new angle. Always keep that guiding hand back, and carve away from any body parts. A block hook is a useful tool that minimizes the need to hold the block in place, so I highly recommend getting one.

Carving a Speedball Speedy Carve linocut block

You also want to make sure your block is soft enough to carve with minimal force. That's not a problem with Speedball Speedy Carve, but if, like me, you use something like Blick's Battleship Gray, the carving is not as effortless. That extra force may result in slippage of the blade. I also found out the hard way another problem that could arise from carving too stiff a block. I woke up one morning with the right side of my neck incredibly sore. I thought back to what I had done the previous day and realized that the pain was a result of the lino carving I had done. With every push of the blade, I was exerting force that strained my arm. That strain moved through my shoulder and up to my neck. It wore off after a few days, but after that, I smartened up.

Some printmaking studios have heating blocks that allow you to lay a block on top to quickly and evenly heat them up. If you're printing at home, all you need is a hairdryer. Just run it over the block for a couple of minutes each time you carve, and you're good to go. Now, however, I don't have to deal with the hairdryer since I'm using Pfeil Tools. As I mentioned in my recent review, these provide a smooth and effortless cut without needing to heat the block.

So, fellow printmakers, have fun, stay safe, and keep a box of bandages nearby just in case.

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