Lower Case: Incriminating Evidence Red

I spent the early part of the day shellacking the lower case letters from the Winchell font, and I was trying to learn from my mistakes yesterday with the capital letters:  don’t sand the face of the letterforms even if they have imperfections because it ruins the serifs, put on a third coat of shellac so the letters resist the ink better, and spend more time in make-ready using the right materials.  I followed these new rules, and voila:  clean, sharp prints.

I had a little trouble early on with some of the letters not inking correctly (see pictures), but after raising them a small amount, the rollers were coating them evenly.  I also used softer packing on the tympan tonight so that the letters would emboss deeper into the page – and also, as I suspected, the deeper embossing meant the paper was able to pick up some of the weaker serifs.

I chose a strange color we have at WNYBAC called “Incriminating Evidence Red” from an old Buffalo ink company. Don’t let the name fool you, it’s not really red at all – it’s fluorescent orange.  It’s difficult to tell from the pics, but the color is unimaginably bright and really pops on the grey tone page.  I used the same Canal paper that I used for the capital letters, and even spent a little time tonight overlapping caps and lower case letters.  Eventually, I’m going to do a three-color overlapped specimen sheet:  Capitals, lower case, and numbers and punctuation.

Tonight went far smoother and the results were much better.  I plan on revisiting the capital letters now, possibly giving them another couple coats of shellac, and when I print them again, spending more time with make-ready.  Check out the gallery for more detailed pics.

Published in: on December 16, 2009 at 5:32 PM  Comments (5)  

Specimen Success! Requisite Failure!

I’ve been busily plugging away at the final stages of the wood type:  cutting the letters into individual blocks, shellacking the pieces, and finally, trying to print the first specimen sheet.

Cutting the letters into individual blocks required the kind of precision that any normal table saw or miter saw simply couldn’t provide.  When determining side bearings (the distance on each side of the letter), I opted for the easiest route:  none at all.  Or at least close to none.  The advantage of making 10-line type is that the addition of 10 pt. leading in between letters as spacers is simple – translation:  no side bearings, no problem, if something looks too close together, just space it out on the press bed.  In order to cut that close (in some cases making trim cuts of a few hundreths of an inch on a tiny little block), I had to use a saw specifically designed for making print furniture and cutting wood type, etc, in this case, a Hammond Glider Trim-o-Saw from Kalamazoo, MI.  It’s an amazing piece of equipment:  the entire left side of the table is a sled that slides forward while the tiny piece your working on is trapped in an adjustable jig (that also acts as a perfect square).  If a cut isn’t close enough, you simply pull the sled back, adjust the piece a click or two, and zing it off again.  I cut all the capital and lower case letters today in about 2 and half hours.

After cutting all the pieces of type, I took them to Adele Henderson’s Topics in Printmaking class at UB to present them and discuss the project.  Hot off the saw, the project and the results were well-received.  I was itching the whole time to get home and begin shellacking the pieces so I could use them, so before leaving school, I mixed up a solution of 50/50 shellac and alcohol to take home with me (as described previously, cutting the shellac lessens the body and shortens the drying time).

Shellacking proved fast and simple – I used a fine bristled quality oil paint brush and immediately buffed the shellac into the surface of the wood (in the manner of a French Polish).  I started with just the capital letters;  after two coats and an hour to fully dry, I thought it was high time to put these little devils to use.

I was apprehensive when I arrived at the WNYBAC print shop, but I tried to remain optimistic.  So many things could go wrong:  the type could be too low, too high, unable to withstand the pressure of printing, or it could simply give a poor image.  I laid out a simple specimen on the bed of our larger Vandercook, inked up the rollers with a deep, saturated, robin’s egg blue, and tripped the press to ink the letters.  It was immediately apparent that not all the letters were perfectly type-height, because the weren’t inking evenly.  This was a result of inconsistent 1/8″ maple stock used for the letterforms.  It was easy enough to fix – a few sheets of paper tucked under the letters, and they were all inking properly.  I spent a while fiddling with different paper types and taking a number of different proofs, adjusting letters and spacing, etc.  I noted that the few letters that were made of mahogany weren’t printing as well, but it was to be expected because mahogany is very porous and has a very wide open grain.  The wood grain was very evident – not distracting, but definitely not clean, and definitely recognizable as somehow different from the maple letters.  I slapped a little more ink on the rollers to fill in some of the grain and forged ahead.  I packed the tympan with some thin sheets of stiff paper, made sure the registration was perfect, and washed my hands to edition. 

I selected a beautiful grey tone Canal Paper in an unusual size (20″ x 9″) from Papeterie St.Armand Montreal, and got to work.  The first few prints were of questionable quality, but passable.  After the packing settled in and the type got seasoned with more ink, the next few prints proved more successful.  I was getting a solid impression from all the letters, the mohagany was still showing woodgrain, and some of the maple letters proved to have small defects on the face (I can’t do anything now but claim they’re marks of character).  I also noticed that my make-ready packing under the letters needed to be a little more precise.  I was getting an uneven image where sheets of paper smaller than the whole block were placed under a letter – in other words, certain letters were (ever so subtly) revealing the shapes of the packing beneath them.  Even though I’d taken great care to do a perfect job sanding, some of the serifs showed signs of uneven inking/image.  Overall, however, the specimen sheet was a success – until tragedy struck.  One of the letters, a mahogany capital “L”, fell apart!  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  My super glue had failed me.

I couldn’t finish the whole edition, but that’s okay.  I might as well save some of that expensive paper for lowercase letters and numbers.  After inspecting the “L”, I realized it had never received additional glue around the edges, and I suspect the overly porous nature of the mahogany soaked up much of the glue before it could make an effective bond.  All of the other letters show no signs of wear, and definitely no signs of delamination.  I’m taking it as a fluke, and not as an indication of the longevity of my type (I hope!).  Luckily I have an extra “L” and repairs are in the works.

In the next few days I’ll be shellacking the lowercase letters and trying to get a specimen sheet out of them as well.  Until then, enjoy the pics!

Published in: on December 15, 2009 at 6:51 PM  Comments (1)  

Stick Up

Spent the better part of this afternoon adhering the letterforms to the substrate wood – about half of lower case letters are complete.  After they’re complete I’ll be using a printer’s saw to slice the blocks apart.  More on that saw soon. 

Published in: on December 10, 2009 at 6:23 PM  Leave a Comment  

Final Winchell Laser Cut

Today was the last day of cutting letterforms for the Winchell font with the laser cutter.  Everything went fairly well, but a slight misalignment caused the loss of a few capital letters (C, G, O, N, M).  Luckily I had another small piece of wood, and although it’s mahogany and not maple, I used it to cut clean versions of those caps.

With all the cutting behind me, I’ll be moving on to a little more sanding then adhering the letterforms to the substrate.  Onward!

Published in: on December 5, 2009 at 7:45 AM  Comments (1)  

Just Plane Right

This morning Chris Siano from the UB sculpture dapartment was kind enough to help me plane down my piece of rough cut maple.  The planing went easy enough – Chris has an amazing caliper that measures down to the thousandth of an inch, so getting everything just right proved to be a breeze.  We planed the entire board down to around .785 inches, and when the letterforms are added, it brings everything just up to type height.

After planing the 4″ wide board, we ripped it down the center with the table saw, giving us two strips of just over 7′ that were close to 2″ wide.  These pieces were then sent through the planer to achieve the standard dimension of 10 line type (1.666″).

Everything looked great UNTIL – I realized that some of the capital letters in the Winchell font extend beyond those dimensions.  Specifically, characters with rounded edges at tops and bottoms (O, Q, U, S, C, G) show a tiny bit of overhang.  So the I, L, T, A, etc. all fit perfectly, but the O, Q, U, S, C, G have set up another obstacle.  Time to make a decision about whether or not this overhang is acceptable or if certain caps need to be scaled down a fractional amount so that they’ll fit on the block.  In the interest of time (it’ll take a while to resize each letter in Autocad) and money (I already have a number of these letterforms complete) I’m leaning towards forgiving the minor overhang.

Published in: on December 3, 2009 at 5:29 AM  Leave a Comment  

Mistakes, Sanding, Substrates, and Lucky Breaks

Last week the type project suffered a small setback when the tech in the laser cutter lab removed a few sheets of 1/8″ maple before the laser could take a second pass.  The letterforms weren’t cut all the way through, and because it had been removed, realigning it perfectly with the laser was impossible.  Unfortunately those letterforms (and the pieces of wood) were a total loss.  Luckily more sheets needed to be cut, and they came out perfectly.  Result:  I have about 1/3 of the final letterforms, and they’re ready to go.

Normally wood type is sanded to an amazingly smooth finish before it’s cut using a pantograph router.  I decided it would be easier to sand the letterforms before adhering them to the substrate, and it’s worked out well.  I’m sanding the print face of the letterforms starting with 220 grit sandpaper, moving to finer grits successively: 500, 1000, 1200.  Flat sanding the pieces on a marble slab (with the sandpaper on the table facing up) ensures that the serifs and other edges aren’t rounded off.

After some research I found that wood type is/was often sealed with a few coats of shellac.  This prevents the ink, especially oil based ink, from soaking into the wood grain. It’s necessary because if ink soaks in, changes in humidity and natural aging can force the ink back to the surface and cause mottling on the face of the type (resulting in an uneven print).  Cutting the shellac 50/50 with alcohol can reduce the body of the shellac, increase its rate of absorption and shorten drying time.  After some experimentation, I found the 50/50 solution could be applied with a brush, allowed to stand briefly, then buffed and massaged into the face of the type block.  After two coats, there was no noticeable residue on the face of the type, but it was sealed and resistant to ink.  A thin coat of shellac protects the type, but it still allows the wood grain to show when it prints, which is important to me.  When traditional wood type was made in a traditional fashion, the face of the letter was shellacked and buffed to a perfectly flawless printing surface; I don’t want to achieve that kind of printing surface because I’d like the type to announce itself as wood type – to create that visual trope we associate with wood type.

Finally:   today I visited a place called Buffalo Forest Products after getting a lead from a sculptor at the University.  He suggested that I might be able to find rough cut hardwood lumber there for cheap, and boy was he right.  Originally I was considering 3/4″ stock hardwood from a place like Home Depot.  The problem with the 3/4″ stock was that even after adhering the 1/8″ letterform to it, it wouldn’t truly be type height.  It would be .875″ – true type height is .918″.  I know .043″ doesn’t sound like much, but it definitely would’ve required placing paper or cardstock under the finished type to raise it up and print it.  In the interest of cost-effectiveness, this was the suggestion many people at the Hamilton Wayzgoose gave me:  just do it on 3/4″ stock and build it up.  And I was going to – but today I found that Buffalo Forest Products sells 1 and 1/8″ rough cut maple for 1/4 of the price of finished 3/4″ stock at Home Depot.  Translation:  a maple board I can plane down to type height was 9 dollars instead of 36.  I get the right wood and the right height for less money.  Score one for the little guy!

Tomorrow morning I plane the substrate to type height (.918″) and 10 line  (1.666″).  By Friday, the final Winchell letterforms should be cut, and I may even use the laser cutter to etch each letter into the substrate so I can easily align them correctly when gluing them down.  More on that soon!

Published in: on December 2, 2009 at 4:50 PM  Comments (2)  

What I Learned at Wayzgoose

I promised a more detailed run-down of the Wayzgoose, and here it is:

I decided to attend the event after my friend Rich Kegler (owner of P22 Type Foundry and founder of WNYBAC) told me that he’d include a snippet about my type project in his presentation on Friday night.  I thought the plug would provide me with the perfect opportunity to court all the experts and solicit advice – and I was right.  Over the course of the weekend, I was lucky enough to make the acquaintance and bend the ear of Bill Moran, Nick Sherman, David Shields, and Colin Frazer, among many others.

The person I was most excited to meet was Nick Sherman, a skate rat, typographer, artist, and tireless wood type advocate who worked painstakingly to produce the Intercut Wood Typeface in 2006.  Although his project was executed on a CNC router and involved a very different process, I still believed he’d be a great resource – and he is – not just to me, but everyone.  What on earth does that mean?  Check out his outrageously thorough and ambitious site woodtyper.com.  Nick’s understated and quiet demeanor belies the depth and intensity of his intellect.  He responded positively to my project, and after considering the prototype blocks I showed him, he voiced concerns about the height of the letterforms and the possible weakening of thinner sections of the letter, i.e., the serifs.  After assuring him that the final letterforms were to be twice the size (which would widen the serifs considerably), he was convinced that the project was a go and seemed excited about seeing the final results.  When I wrap this up, I hope Nick will find it in his heart to feature my meager achievement on Woodtyper!

David Shields, an Assistant Professor of Design at the University of Texas, Austin,  has an obsessively deep knowledge of a niche subject (wood type and typography) coupled with an amazingly warm personality (two things I don’t often find co-present in a person), and to boot, he’s the gatekeeper for the phenomenal Rob Roy Kelly American Wood Type Collection.  David was intrigued by the potential for cost effective creation of wood type that my project presages, as well as the simple mode of production.  We discussed how it might be possible to create a usable font for less than 200 dollars (at this point, this is a rough estimate of the final cost), and how experiments like this open the door for artists everywhere to begin producing something that hitherto seemed exclusively the privilege of people with access to professional wood shops or antique print shops.  We also briefly discussed the possibility of using laser-etching on a wood block to create ornamental frames and borders (akin to something that might now be achieved using photopolymer plates).  David also, almost immediately, urged me to build the blocks I brought with me to type height and print them – put them to the test, so to speak.   Meeting David was a great experience, and it wasn’t just because he was interested in my project.

Colin Frazer is the head of The Press at Colorado College, an amazing letterpress shop “dedicated to the art of making limited edition books and broadsides.”  We had plenty to talk about because, believe it or not, Colin is working on producing his own wood type.  He, like Nick, is using a CNC router to do the job, but he’s using the traditional material: end grain rock maple.  That is, if he can find it.  One of the biggest problems Colin’s run into is finding the raw materials he needs to finish his project, and the tools necessary to plane/sand them perfectly to type height.  As we walked around Hamilton, we both drooled over pallets of finished and unfinished end grain maple, but to no avail.  Colin was full of energy, full of ideas, great to work with in the pressroom, and the finished letter he showed me (apparently only a prototype) revealed unbelievable attention to design and detail.  To be honest, I was jealous.  Here I am super-gluing doo-dads together.  Did I mention the trip was as humbling as it was inspiring? 

Finally, I got to meet Bill Moran, Artistic Director and resident Renaissance man of the Hamilton Wood Type Museum.  Bill is to be commended, first off, for organizing an amazing event.  He is tireless in the way Rich Kegler is tireless, and his love of the space (and the idea of the space) is palpable (not to mention, contagious).  Bill had plenty to say about my project, but most interestingly he explained that what I was doing wasn’t new at all – in fact, it was exactly how Edward Hamilton had gotten his start back in 1880.  Hamilton produced composite wood type using a foot-pedal operated scroll  saw to create the letterforms out of holly wood, and then adhered those to a softer base wood, like pine.  He called his wood type “hollywood type,” and it became so popular that soon after its introduction he was able to quit his job and produce type full-time.  It was great to hear that there was a successful precedent for what I was doing, and to hear that the motivation (cost-effectiveness) was exactly the same.  I really admire what Bill, Jim Moran, and Jim Van Lanen are doing with Hamilton, and I hope to return soon.

Published in: on November 30, 2009 at 3:49 PM  Comments (1)  

Hamilton Wood Type Museum Wayzgoose

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to visit the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin for its First annual wayzgoose.  The event featured an amazing array of lectures (Rich Kegler, Paul Brown, Juliet Chen) as well as some amazing demonstrations and workshops.  A veritable mecca for wood type enthusiasts (rivaled only by the Rob Roy Kelly collection at the University of Texas, Austin), Hamilton was the perfect place to go to get advice on my project.  Where else would I find so many people interested in the same print implements or who had considered so many of the same problems and possible solutions?

I’ll skip the laundry list for now, but I will come back to it.  Until then, some pictures from the event and of the wood type collection.

Published in: on November 25, 2009 at 6:19 AM  Leave a Comment  

Laser Cutter in Action

Today Luke and I hit up the laser cutter in the UB Architecture Department to cut some letterforms out of hardwood.  The Universal laser cutter worked really well even on maple and walnut.  I’ve decided that maple will probably be the way to go – but I still may test the sheet of cherry wood I bought.

Soon I’ll be adhering these letterforms to a block of the right height to make them type high, then a few more test prints.  After that, the files will be scaled up and the actual production will begin.  Until then, look for more entries on the artists and craftsmen involved, and check out this video of the laser cutter in action!

Published in: on November 19, 2009 at 8:58 AM  Leave a Comment  

The Glue Sticks!

After getting the advice about the Polyacrylate glue, I set up shop and tested it out.  The glue is ideally suited for the purpose:  thin, clear, fast-tacking and fast-setting. It was easy to use; I simply placed a few drops on the back of the letterform, flipped it, held it in place until it tacked.  Then I ran a thin line of glue around the edges where the letterform edge met the base wood.  It took the glue a few minutes to set up completely, and then I let the pieces rest for about an hour.  At that time, I lightly sanded the face of the letters to remove excess glue.  Since these were prototypes, I didn’t bother removing the excess from around the edges.  The plastic tipped applicator is far too large to be exact – when doing the final pieces of type, I’ll be using a syringe.

Once the glue had set, I realized it had definitely plasticized the wood (seeped into the grain and actually stiffened and reinforced the thin areas).  It held fast, and even when I attempted to pry it off with a pen knife, the letterform wouldn’t separate from the base wood, the wood itself simply chipped.

Although this run-through was hardly scientific, it led me to believe that the Polyacrylate was a very feasible option.  In order to wrap up this test, I took the block to the print shop, doused it in all of the available solvents to test its resistance, and finally built it to type height and printed it.  Check out the results!

Published in: on November 17, 2009 at 4:38 PM  Leave a Comment