Into the World of Japanese Woodblock Printing

Woodblock printing is hard, and David Bull makes it look easy.


I discovered David Bull last summer– the England-born printmaker shows his delicate process of carving and printing through his YouTube Channel. He seemed to simply follow the lines with his knife, cutting the hard cherry swiftly.

While working on the organ a couple months ago, I accidentally bought some warped mahogany. I was still new to woodworking, and did not know how pick and buy the right wood from the store. Completely warped, the slabs of hardwood were unusable for any cabinetry work. After watching Bull, I finally found the wood’s use.

I had two main motivations for starting woodblock printing.

  1. To practice my chisel techniques
  2. To make something that somewhat resembles art.
  3. To distract me from studying for finals

Photo Dec 05, 8 57 01 PMFirst Impressions

For my first try, I decided to make something so easy I could not possibly mess it up: A smiley face. I start by drawing the design in black sharpie. Then, I use a box-cutter to cut out both sides of the lines. I use a half-inch chisel to chop out the large parts of the wood, then the very tip of the box-cutter to notch out the details.

My first mistake was with my tooling. The box-cutter did a fine job of outlining when doing large strokes, but was clunky and uncontrollable when doing detailed curves. The blades dulled with use, requiring me to use more force with less accuracy as I continued to carve. Furthermore, my flat chisel was far less efficient than the preferred gouge that Mr. Bull uses to remove excess material. Many times, the straight edge of the chisel would dig in farther than I anticipated and removed the top layer of the sharpie-covered wood I wanted to keep. One can see this specifically inside the right eye of the smiley-face, where the chisel knocked a large chip accidentally.

Printing was much more straightforward– finding the balance between crisp lines and the dampness of the paper was the only major obstacle.


After playing around with silly designs, I began making illustrations.

As it was finals’ season, I thought of adding a somewhat-education element to the block printings:

Overall, it was a fun project that really did practice my chisel skills. Maybe I will buy a real woodblock printing blade, some nice hard cherry to carve, and professional ink and try again in the future.


The Wonderful Game of Go: Part 1

Move  37

Lee Sedol, 9-Dan and 18-time world champion, plays his 18th stone in the second game against Google’s AlphaGo AI. AlphaGo quickly places its 19th, move 37 overall, and commentators around the world deem it as a mistake by the infallible AI. Sedol leaves the board and walks out of the room.

A game of Go in progress. Source: Wikipedia

The game of go has recently gained public eye due to advances in AI from companies like Google. Due to the game’s seemingly infinite move choices (over 300 possible moves each turn and around 10^(10^48) possible games) and inherent pattern-recognizing gameplay, it serves to test an AI’s learning better than the classic chess-test could ever do.

Another main benefit for using Go as a benchmark for artificial intelligence technology is due to its simple rules. The goal is simple: Whichever of two player’s stones completely encapsulate the largest area wins the game.









In small games, both player’s moves form a natural divide on the board with easily defined areas, but as the board gets bigger, areas of both players create a vast and whirling shapes with their respective stones. The strategy of the game revolves around a player’s offensive maneuvers towards the other’s area, and the defense of their own.

End Result of Match 3 between current world champion Ke Jie (white) and Google’s AI AlphaGo (black)

This has been in my drafts for a long time. I will put another part to this soon, but I want to get more current stories out there so this will be it for now!

Pipe Construction Continued

After experimenting with the cardboard pipes, I began to build the pipes for the actual pipe organ. As stated in the last post, PVC was deemed to be the best material to build them from.

The first thing I needed to know was how much PVC and what sizes to buy. I figured that there would be three sections of pipes: low, medium, and high registers (This was eventually simplified to just low and high sections.) The low section would be 1-inch diameter pipe, and the high would be 3/4-inch diameter.

A pipe’s tone, although mainly a product of length, has many factors in diameter and material. I used Raphi Giangiulio’s amazing length calculator (I will be referencing Raphi’s work in a lot of the future blog posts. I cannot give him enough credit for his attention to detail.) for all my internal lengths. To take into account of the PVC material and the roughness of the formula, I added around 3 inches to each measurement. To lay out the cuts on the pipe, I made a sharpie line at 1-inch, then another full line at the end of the pipe.

This was the first prototype of the mouth of the pipe. This was connected to a full length of piping, but was cut off and used to build other pipes. There are two major things that need to occur in order for a pipe to sound.

  1. The air has to be pushed into a very thin layer of air called an air-sheet
  2. This air-sheet must be ‘cut’ by the upper lip.

Sadly, this made no sound. As I had just started using the miter saw to do cuts, I couldn’t do delicate and shallow cuts necessary to make a small opening for my pipes. This prototype just let out too much air, and the air that was compressed into an air-sheet had no direction from the pipe’s sides to guide it to the upper lip.

A simple design was proving to be the best when it came to the pipe construction. I first would make a very small cut on the 1-inch marker I mapped out previously. Then, setting the miter saw to a 45 degree angle, I would cut from above the 1-inch marker down to where the first cut ended. To create the air-sheet, I cut a thin piece of slightly-undersized dowel, sand down to a flat side, and used athletics tape to make a tight fit around it. Any wholes were filled with hot glue after it was adjusted correctly.

Adjusting is a large part of pipe building. Once I have the mouth and the languid (flattened wooden dowel), more adjustment is needed until it sounds perfectly. I found that the pipe played better when the sides of the mouth were closed in with a thin sheet of wood. I assume that this helped channel more air onto the cutting edge of the upper lip.

Photo Dec 22, 1 36 05 PM
Triangles of Balsa wood were set on the corners of the mouth with hot glue.

To finish a pipe, I would then carefully adjust where the dowel was, sometimes tilting it slightly to make the air-sheet thinner. The pipe was then cut to tone, using a miter saw and an electronic tuner. The tone didn’t have to be perfect, however, as a tuning slide would be added on each pipe to allow myself to quickly make the whole organ in tune.

From Raphi Giangiulio’s organ, showing the tuning slides and tuning shades from left to right respectively.

The tuning slides ended up being a much more interesting problem then I expected. I first tried just a paper sleeve that would tightly fit on the top of the pipe, however it looked cheap and didn’t keep its place very well. PVC couplings were the next best choice.

The PVC coupling solved a lot of the problems I had with the paper: They fit extremely tight on the pipe and fit the look of the pipes themselves. Also- there is a divider in the middle of the coupling, restricting the movement of the pipe to only half of its whole length. To combat these problems, I used a grinding bit in a cordless drill to remove the dividing ridge, and then used a hand saw to cut a vertical line as seen in the second picture. The kerf of the handsaw blade gave just enough give in the coupling to allow it to have a moveable fit on the end of the pipe. The slider only works if the whole slide is whole, so I plugged the new-found cut with a thin, sanded piece of oak, as shown in the third and final picture.

This video was made around two weeks into the building process, Oct. 7th, 2016.

Pipe Organ Pipes Introduction

As stated in the last post, I began my work on the pipe organ by experimenting with the pipes themselves.

Organ pipes come in many different materials, sizes, and sounds. Some contain brass reeds to sound like trumpets and horns, others are made of lead and tin, creating a pure and constant tone. I will only be explaining a third type, called flue pipes, as that is what I used on my organ, and are the simplest to build. Flue pipes work like a flute or recorder, and are commonly made of a hardwood.

Photo Nov 18, 7 07 35 PM

This picture may show a metal pipe, but the design is relatively the same to a wooden pipe.

1. The resonating pipe. This part of the pipe determines the tone the pipe plays when blown. The shorter it is, the sharper the pitch.

2.The upper lip. The most important part of this section is the lower edge, where the wind-sheet is cut in half. half of this airstream is left to resonate in the pipe, and the other half is released into the atmosphere.

3. The languid. This flat section pushes air to the front edge of the pipe. It is slightly shorter than the diameter of the pipe, allowing air to only leave from a small sliver.

4.The lower lip. This section works with the languid to push the air into an even, flat stream. The distance between the lower lip and the upper lip is called the mouth height.




Here are some pictures of actual real organ pipes:


All organ pipes rely on how large the wind-sheet is and how large the mouth height is. Generally speaking, larger pipes have larger wind-sheets and longer mouth heights, but every pipe in my experience needs to be individually sounded.

Photo Oct 23, 8 33 41 PM

Photo Oct 23, 8 34 00 PM










To make my very first prototype, I cut up an old school id card and some used flashcards. I made this using a tutorial I found on youtube, by a guy making an organ out of cardboard. Sadly this first prototype did not even make a sound. In hindsight, I realize that the upper lip can not just be folded up like that, and would have done better if I had fully removed the flap.

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I continued my experimentation by creating rectangular pipes. And these actually played pretty well! As you can see, I was varying the width to height ratios.

With my success at making a playing pipe, albeit a poor quality one, I had to decide how I should make the pipes for the actual organ. My options included:

Wooden Pipes:


  • Easy to build
  • Sound great
  • Have a nice, classic look


  • Very Expensive

PVC Pipes:


  • Cheap
  • Have a decent sound


  • Look cheap

As a broke high-school student, I felt the low cost per pipe of the PVC outweighed their looks. I began my work on the PVC pipes.


Inspiration/Introduction to Pipe Organ

I was introduced to the idea of making a pipe organ in a couple ways. Unlike being inspired by one thing, many different inspirations kind of piled on top of one another and pushed me to make a commitment for the project.

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Around the summer of last year, I began to follow an engineer-turned-woodworker on youtube named Matthias Wandel. His channel includes a variety of different project and tips that he come up with. As I devoured his hundreds of videos, one stood out to me especially. In college, Matthias created a wooden pipe organ with four octaves of pipes. This interested me partly because its just a cool idea and mostly because I had a musical void that needed filling, as I opted to drop my wind ensemble class to join an engineering one. I began researching more, going onto his website for for information.

After I watched Matthias’s video, I wondered if I could possibly do it myself. I had what I thought was a large amount of tools (a chop saw, two cordless drills, and a skill saw), and a I was expecting a good couple hundred dollars from a summer job I was doing. However, I did not go through the idea that summer.

Other inspirations include Wintergatan’s viral marble machine, which to me was a perfect example of a musical instrument on a budget, and a book called Organ Building for Amateurs by Mark Wicks. This book was written in 1887, a fact that many others and I only discovered after the author made unhappy remarks towards then-created electric actions.wintergatan-marble-machine.jpg

I don’t remember if I committed myself to building the organ, and started by experimenting with pipes, or if I began experimenting with pipes, which spiraled me to commit to the whole organ. Either way, I starting researching and experimenting with organ pipe designs. I will continue with this topic in the next post.

Stay tuned!

Alex Kristoffersen’s Project Blog

This blog will include write-ups, progress reports, and general tangents of mine. I may not post consistently, and save large amounts of new information for one post.

My first posts will be about my homemade pipe organ project. As I am nearing full completion currently, I will have to go back and write posts about my past experiences. I will try to give an accurate description of the troubles and successes I had as I was making the organ. I will post a lot of pictures and credit those that helped me!