Monday, August 22, 2011

Building a low-tech block print registration jig

One of the many events during the upcoming Birds in Art weekend at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum is "Artists in Action." Eight of the artists whose work was selected for this year's exhibition will be "doing their thing" up close and personal on Saturday morning, September 10.

Guess who's one of the eight?

Because we are headed to the Wisconsin event by air rather than by car I decided it would be a good idea to ship my tools and materials ahead. Going through airport security with a bag of carving tools? Not too likely.

The complicating factor is that my handy-dandy, home-made, low-tech registration jig is BIG– the base is about 18x24 inches and can accommodate blocks almost that large. We've only got about 90 minutes for our demonstrations, so I plan to work on a small 5x7 block. My "Big Jig" is overkill, AND expensive to ship.

Hmmmm.... This calls for the (last minute) construction of a little, portable jig!

Simple materials for a registration jig

Profile view of the "outside corner" molding. They didn't do a good job
of cutting this, did they? No problem. I made sure this was placed to not interfere.

Step 1: Assemble materials. A quick trip to the local lumber yard produced the necessary wood parts from their scrap bin, cut to perfection by the carpenter-in-residence. Total cost for materials and shop labor: $5.00.

1/4" tempered Masonite board, 9x12"
2 pieces of 1x2 (pine or whatever)
2 pieces of 1" outside corner molding

Also required: wood glue, flat head screws, clamps, drill/screwdriver, and a 90-degree triangle or other squaring tool.

Glue and clamp 1x2 strips to base.

Make sure it's square as you glue and clamp!

Step 2: Glue the 1x2 strips to the edges of the Masonite board. Clamp. I did mine one at a time so I could make sure they were square and not slipping. (Step 2.5: For extra strength you can countersink flathead screws from the underneath side. I didn't do this.)

Make sure molding is flush with inside edge.

Glue and clamp!

Step 3: Glue the corner molding on top of the 1x2 strips. Make certain the molding is flush with the 1x2 on the INSIDE edges (towards where the block will be) are flush, not the outside edges. (See above.) Check for square. Clamp.

Gap? What gap? Doesn't matter.

This funny little gap at the corner doesn't matter. If you wanted to be fancy you could miter the corners, but it's not necessary.

If you're not planning to heave this thing around, you can probably stop at this point and have a completely serviceable jig. But this one's going in a box and bouncing across the country, so I added some screws for extra strength.

Flathead screws with countersink to make them flush with the top of the molding.

Step 4: Counter-sink some flathead screws to secure molding to 1x2.

You're done! There are a few other little "finesse" things you could do.. like the mitered corner mentioned above, or ripping down the corner molding so it doesn't stand up quite as high along the outside, but I don't have tools for those details and they're not critical.

5x7 block in the little jig, with shims. Ain't it cute?

Here's my little 5x7 block in the jig with some shims to create the wider margin I want on these prints.

Piece of paper checks the width of the side margins. Perfect!

With a piece of paper set on top you can see how the shims let me adjust the side margins.

Ready to go!

Whew! I hope this all makes sense. It's not a perfect system, but it has worked great for me for many years. You can check out this earlier post to see a description of my larger registration jig in action.


  1. What a fantastic idea. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you , thank you, thank you for this post. Have been trying to find something like this for awhile.


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