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!