Monday, August 16, 2010

One more trick on the eternal quest for perfect registration!

For my last print (previous blog post) I wanted to print through the press and maybe do a reduction or two on some of the blocks. With so many decisions to make along the way, the most flexible approach to registration is to resort to the traditional Japanese kento-cut-on-block method.

My usual M.O. is to cut the key block, kento and all, and print several copies on prepared hanshita paper to simply paste on the color blocks. I have a left handed toh to avoid flipping the block while cutting the kento; I have pretty good transfer and glue skills and getting better all the time at actually cutting the darned things straight and square.

And yet I always have to strive for another tweak that will make my art life less stressful and more efficient. The solution is so simple I don't know why I didn't think of it before.

Roughly, the tools needed, left to right:
-Close-up glasses if you are over 50 (yeah, even barely over 50)
-The block, of course, with freshly pasted hanshita or drawn kento
-A smallish steel square
-Cutting tool of choice, shown a toh and a standard utility knife
-Clamps behind the block, the quick release type
-Cat licking itself (optional to make things interesting)

1. Here we go, step numero uno is to carefully place the square EXACTLY on the kento marks.

You can place the square inside the line or outside the line or right on the line as long as you do it the same way on every block.

The easiest thing is to place it exactly ON the line, then you don't have to remember anything.

2. Once the square is on the line, clamp it down to the block with the quick release clamps firmly on two or (better) three spots.

For this step, the block has to be placed slightly off the edge of the table or work bench.

There is an illustration of clamping down the square. Notice I made some "tick marks" on the hanshita to help me find the beginning and end of the kento.

3. After clamping, just cut along the square keeping the blade perfectly vertical to the square.

I like to make a very "soft" cut at first and dig in gently with subsequent passes. Digging too hard on the first few cuts can result in the knife slipping away from the square.

And yes, I can cut with my left hand, not just faking it for the picture. Teaching the left hand to cut if you are right handed does wonders to avoid fatigue of the joints.

As I mentioned before, I have both a left and right handed toh for cutting kentos. But a simple and much cheaper solution for the initial cuts is to use a standard utility knife. The blade is certainly strong enough for Shina ply and other soft woods and will also work on cherry with some repeated cuts.

I must say there is a world of difference between using the toh and the utility blade! Even my cheapest toh digs into the wood much easier than the soft utility blade. But the utility knife does an amazing good job in a pinch.

Check it out, perfectly squared and straight kentos! Every block, every time, perfect registration to the mil!


  1. Perfect! registration seems to come down to a collection of little things and straight Kentos certainly is one.

  2. Great solution. I use a kento nomi chisel, but they're ridiculously expensive. Tried using a cheaper chisel, but couldn't find anything as thin as the kento nomi. (Must be why they're so expensive.) Another plus with your method is that you can make your kento any size you want instead of being confined to the width of the chisel. I admire your continual quest to refine and streamline your methods.

  3. great idea clamping the square to the block! thanks for sharing; I'm going to start using this technique on the kentos on my tarot series!!!

  4. Maria, thanks for the great tip. It looks like it will really help make things easier. Thank goodness the cat is optional or I'd be in trouble with Lucy-dog.