So you cannot make a linocut without having the tools for the job - and this blog is about the tools I use, and how I look after them. If you buy good quality tools and care for them by sharpening them and storing them carefully, they will last you a lifetime. Most of my tools are at least 10 years old. Some people who use tools regularly as part of their hobby or job talk about having a relationship with their tools, and I completely relate to this. Over time, you develop a familiarity with your tools, which is best for a particular part of the process, and how to look after them so they continue to perform effectively. For me, there is also a deep connection with my tools in that I take them in my hands and manipulate them, I can create a work of art. This direct activity is satisfying and fulfils a need which I think many people have - to see something tangible produced as a consequence of their input and energy. Printmaking, and the use of my tools, is something which provides balance in my life, and acts as an antidote to the amount of time I now spend using a computer or other technology.
The tools I use are called 'Swiss Cutting Tools' and I buy them from Intaglio Printmakers. In my opinion, there are 3 essentials. A fine tool for outlining the linocut and creating detail and texture; a u-shaped scooping tool for clearing small areas of lino; and a flatter, larger tool to clear large areas of lino. Although I do own other shapes of tools, these are the 3 I use all the time. It is essential to store your tools carefully. As you can see, I store my tools in a tailored pouch, designed for the job. Ideally, store your tools so their cutting edge is protected, and they cannot bash into anything. Be very careful not to drop your tools, as this can chip the cutting edge. The close ups show the very important cutting edge.
You must sharpen your tools regularly. The sharper your tools, the more precise your cutting will be. Before you start cutting, freshen your blade by using honing paste and a strop - you should also do this regularly throughout the cutting process. If your tools have become blunt, you can sharpen them using a cutting stone. Although I am no expert in sharpening tools, I have developed a technique over time which I share in the film below. It may sound counter-intuitive, but the sharper your tools are, the safer you will be. If you are trying to drive a blunt tool through lino, you are more likely to lose control and have an accident as you will need to use more force, rather than delicately gliding through the lino with a sharp tool. If you want to learn more about the linocutting process, you can download instructions for free here.