Cutting Linoleum (Sb)

I’ve been on the road and otherwise occupied with sundry things during the month of July, but I’m back and getting back to work.

One of the first things I did was to drag out the old stack of golden linoleum I had at the back of the studio. I ordered some in bulk when I bought my etching press two years ago.

Common ‘battleship gray’ linoleum ages relatively quickly, and can harden over the course of six months, leaving a brittle crust on the surface which is hard to carve. Regular linoleum is made to do that because it is a floor covering. After an initial softness, making it easy to lay down, it hardens to resist damage and wear.

This makes it great for printing plates, as it will age to a harder surface after it has been carved. But you can’t really store it for very long.

Dick Blick sells two kinds of linoleum made for the art industry. Wonder-cut, which is their softest version with the longest hardening time, and Golden which is between the harder gray and the softer Wonder-cut for shelf life.

Why not buy Wonder-cut? If you are going to shelve the materials for an undetermined amount of time, such as a school classroom, it is fantastic. It will remain soft for much longer. But if you are going to use it within a year or two, remember that it won’t harden for you either. Your plates will remain soft and liable to be damaged easily.

I meant to use the linoleum within a year, so I bought large sheets of Golden which matched the maximum width printed with my etching press. Thus I could cut it down to odd sizes if I wanted to. Unfortunately, I did not use it immediately, and I was initially unsure as to its current condition.

Luckily, though the top sheet was exposed to air and light, and not soft, the other sheets, which were wrapped in plastic and protected from UV light are still nice.

Judicious application of heat increases the softness of the linoleum as well. I use an old shrink wrap gun, much like a heavy duty hair dryer, to apply heat to areas of the block. A hair dryer would probably work too, or a small heater like they use to apply embossing powders to inks. Laying the block in hot sunlight, on a radiator or on a warm electric griddle for short time works as well. I put it on my car hood once, in August. Worked great.

Clothing irons or things which would apply heat on contact would probably not work as well, as the linoleum gets sticky if it is too hot. Don’t heat it too much or you will have a hard time touching or working with it.



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