Make a bench hook for safer linocuts

Why do linocut artists need a bench hook? Making linocut art involves cutting gouges in lino with very sharp tools. The danger of cutting yourself, and cutting yourself quite badly at that is pretty high.

This is why every instruction manual on lino cutting says ‘for a safer linocut experience that won’t lead you directly to A&E, always cut away from your body and never cut toward your hand’, or words to that effect.

However the UK’s best selling linocut kit includes a red plastic guard that is far from ideal in my opinion. In fact it encourages you to break the golden rule, as in order to use it you do end up pointing your cutting tool directly at your non-cutting hand. Just one slip and on a bad day you could be cutting a deep v shaped gouge directly into your own wrist.

I admit that the manufacturers are at least trying to keep you safe by including a guard at all, but I believe the best thing to do is dispense with the red plastic thing and make yourself a proper bench hook.

A bench hook

Bench hooks are rough and ready devices. They can be made from scrap wood, and can be completed by someone with absolutely no woodworking experience, but they do a great job of keeping you safe from cuts. So there is no excuse not to make a bench hook and help ensure that you don’t need to head off to Accident and Emergency any time soon.

How a bench hook keeps you safe

A bench hook is simply a board with a lip at the bottom to hook to the front of your table. At the back there is a second lip at the top where your lino can rest sit securely and never slip as you apply pressure while carving. As long as you carve toward the back lip, your non-carving hand can stay well away from the sharp tool tip.

You can buy bench hooks from diy shops, but they are so easy to make that there really is no point in spending out on a shop-bought one.

A bench hook for linocutting can be made from just three or four pieces of wood. You dont even need screws or nails to pit one together. Wood glue is all you need to join the pieces.

What size should a bench hook be?

Aim for a board size somewhere around A4 size. You really do not need to be exact about it. My bench hook (shown above) is 11 inches long and six inches wide. This is simply because that was the size of the first lump of scrap I grabbed hold of (an old offcut from an oak kitchen worktop). I cut two pieces of half inch square batten for the top and bottom lips and glued and clamped them for 24 hours till the glue had cured. Wood glue really does end up stronger than the wood it is joining, provided that you clamped the pieces well and that there were no air pockets.

How rough can it really be?

The top and bottom of the main board do need to be flat and smooth. This is so that your lino doesn’t buckle while you are actually cutting it on the bench hook, but other than that it can be as rough and ready as you like or as neat as you want. Too rough and you might get a nasty splinter which is no fun, so a bit of time sanding down rough edges is definitely time well spent.

You may have noticed that I left the gap at the right of the top hook. This is because I am right handed and although it will mostly be used for linocutting, my bench hook may well be used to saw timber at some point. That gap makes sawing straight cuts really easy.

Whether you buy a hook or make one yourself, my main advice is that you do actually use it. There is no excuse for wasting the hospital’s time fixing up your self inflicted wounds just because you couldn’t be bothered to use a bench hook when making linocut art.

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About the author

Loves to learn new things and make stuff...properly. Born and living in the Thames Valley west of London, England. I have an office job during the day, but evenings and weekends are all about making.