So, I splurged and actually bought some carving material from Japan made by a company called SEED. (If you go to their website, it looks like they make erasers and things like that as well, and I'm charmed that they put as the title for their product category "Curving Erasers".)
|SEED Horunavi carving blocks - yellow at the top, two other packages underneath|
|This came with the SEED Horunavi block - I have no idea what it says, but I like it ;)|
The cost per slab is more expensive than other blocks (around $14 USD - gah!) but is made pretty much unreasonably expensive when you factor the cost of shipping to Canada into that equation. (Nonetheless, I bought a few slabs so I can include this review. FOR SCIENCE!).
I have to say: before we get into the substance of this review, this material and company wins HANDS DOWN in the heretofore unrecognized category of cuteness. The cuteness factor is very high with their materials: the packaging, etc, is amazingly adorable and completely distracts me from my poor* Japanese reading skills.
I actually bought three different items: a complete carving set (which came with a carving block) and two other carving blocks. Look at those pictures above! They are so freaking adorable!
*poor in this context means a complete lack and non-existent understanding of the language.
So right off, these are some of the most colourful carving materials I've used. I decided to use the block that was included in the carving set which was white with a thin bright lime green top on it. Ostensibly, the green top helps you see where you've carved. As I got carving the material, I realized the white part of the stamp is not opaque, but instead has a nice bit of translucence to it. The block is pretty velvety feeling - super heavy but super soft, although not squishy like Mastercarve.
Also to note: the material has a fairly strong plastic smell right out of the package. It does dissipate fast, but the material still smells that way if you put it right to your nose.
Size and Weight:
The material is the thickest of any material I've used, coming in at a whopping 11 mm total thickness. The thin piece of green on top is just shy of 1 mm of that total. I'm thinking that, unmounted, this is probably the best choice based on thickness alone for stamp carving.
|SEED Horunavi - a very thick stamp carving material...|
The material itself is very heavy - in fact, when I received the package in the mail that included the blocks, I was a little startled at how heavy it was - particularly since I'm used to the heft of my Stampeaz orders.
Okay, so I was a little nervous to try a heat transfer on this block. The packaging of the slabs show very clearly a pencil transfer on the back, and the carving set actually came with higher-end tracing paper. I was a little worried that written somewhere in/on the packages it said something along the lines of: do not use acetone or heat. Ack. But, fortune favours the bold...
|Heat transfer onto SEED horunavi material - the little splice is where the iron touched bare material|
My head transfer was technically very good with nice dark lines transferring really easily. But warning: this stuff melts super easily! I inadvertantly touched the side of the block with my iron and it melt/crumbled away as if I had actually touched a slab of butter instead. A little frightening and something to keep in mind when I make future transfers on this stuff.
Initially, I thought: oh jeez, this stuff is going to crumble like Speedy Cut. It just had that feel. As I carved it, I noted that I developed little grains off of the block while handling it just like the little grains you get using an eraser. They were much finer though and blew away really easily.
Since my carving came out really well, I didn't want to actually TRY to wreck the stamp, so I made a test stamp and put it to a very vigorous rubbing test to see how hard I'd have to rub to crumble off text or parts of the design.
|The "test" carve after VERY aggressive rubbing. Some minor pilling and a huge amount of force to actually break off a side.|
Result: I'm impressed! I actually went to town a couple of times rubbing the block progressively harder and harder trying to get it to crumble/break. No go. If fact, the amount of pressure I used to finally make the stamp break up was an amount of force you would only use if you were in fact trying to wreck the stamp. Two thumbs up on that account.
Initially, I tried using the brand new knife that came with the carving set but very quickly had to stop: the knife works a little different and I didn't want that to skew my carve, but more importantly, the knife was so sharp, I had a terrible time trying to control my carving.
In fact, even when I switched to my trusty Xacto, the knife slid through the material so easily that I found it super difficult to control. I actually swapped out my blade for a dull one - am I desensitized to the hardness of carving blocks due to carving on firm cut for so long?
Anyways, in many respects, the ease to slide the knife and gouge through this material made it a pleasure to carve. No cramps or soreness in my hand, and the carving went very speedy. For the knife carving, the pieces release really well with no elasticity.
With a gouge, I tried my Speedball with a 1V and as I said, it was a pleasure. I would note that the 1V is not actually a big enough gouge to cut through the lime green part of the block - only on subsequent passes and clearing everything out did I cut through to the white underneath. When I tried my 2V, it did cut through to the white on the first attempt.
|The finished carving, click to enlarge.|
I will say that although the top layer being a different colour is nice, it wasn't as helpful as the StazOn trick. Consider: the different colour is almost 1 mm thick and many of the parts I'm trying to differentiate are must smaller than that. So, while it's pretty, it's not functionally helpful for the types of carving I do.
Beautiful. The velvety texture holds the ink well and the bit of softness to it allows you to give it a nice even pressure.
I really like it! Because it ends up being so expensive to acquire it, I probably won't use it a lot, though I will certainly be happy carving the remainder I have. It's really quite soft, so it would be perfect for anyone who has trouble with achy hands, and it is the perfect thickness for an unmounted stamp.
This particular stamp is currently unclaimed - I would be happy to send this to a letterboxer who would like to plant it and has >10 plants themselves. Send me a message on AQ if you meet these criteria - first come, first serve, and I will update this with the letterboxer who will be the recipient.