Poplar Letterforms and Cyanoacrylate

After cutting the chipboard letterforms, I decided it was time to test the Winchell font in wood.  I discussed some possibilities with Luke, and he told me that cutting hardwood up to a 1/4″ is feasible on the laser cutter, but thinner is better.  I opted for a few different hardwood choices in 1/8″:  maple, walnut, cherry, and mahogany.  We’ll cut prototypes out of each of these, then make decisions about quality, grain, hardness, and once we know which wood works best, we’ll stick with that.  For now, because Luke had it hanging around the wood shop, we cut some letterforms out of 1/16″ poplar.  If you look closely, you can see the burn/smoke marks on the backs of the letters.  IMG_5171

Poplar is one of the the softest hardwoods (for a complete list of woods and their hardness, check out the strangely intriguing Janka Hardness Scale).  It made clean letterforms quickly, but the thin sections were extremely fragile.  1/16″ inch is simply too thin.  These letters are also about 1/2 the size of the intended final product, so it’s important to remember that as we scale up the letter in height, the width of those thin sections will increase as well.IMG_5175

In addition to the poplar prototypes, I had a chance to visit a local woodworking shop and inquire about adhesive possibilities.  As I said before, adhering the letterforms to a substrate is going to be one of the most challenging aspects of the project.  We need an adhesive that is thin, works well on a porous surface, is easy to manage, and forms a bond impervious to solvents.  After a short consultation, I was led to Titebond’s Instant Bond Wood Adhesives.  Titebond’s wood adhesives are pure Cyanoacrylate, which is a really cool form of super glue that starts off as a monomer and uses the moisture in the air to polymerize.  It’s an acrylic resin (essentially a plastic) that can seep into the capillaries of a substrate (like wood grain) and form a deep, lasting, plasticized bond.  I’ve looked at the solvent list of chemicals that decompose CA (as it’s commonly called) and none of those are normally present in the print shop.  I’ve test-glued two letterforms to a substrate, but have yet to be able to expose them to a solvent or print them.  I guess I’ll find out soon enough if all these fantastic claims are true!IMG_5172

Published in: on November 13, 2009 at 8:35 AM  Leave a Comment  

Meet the First Font

As I said before, technical concerns did take some precedence, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to make any old typeface.  I’ve selected three local artists to help produce the fonts:  Mike Basinski, Rich Kegler, and Hyeyoung Shin.  In addition to those three, I will be attempting to design my own font as well.  In the coming weeks, I’ll introduce each of the artists, show some of their work, and explain why I chose them for this project.  But for now, let’s take a look at the first font: Rich Kegler’s  Winchell.


Winchell is the only typeface known to be designed here in Buffalo, NY (prior to the formation of P22 Type Foundry).  Rich Kegler, owner of P22 Type Foundry and head of the WNYBAC discovered a 36 pt. drawer of this font and used that, as well as many other extant samples, to digitally craft an updated version of Winchell.  Read about the history of this font, as well as technical and artistic decisions that Kegler made, here.

If it looks familiar, that’s because it’s the font we used to cut the chipboard letterforms!

Published in: on November 9, 2009 at 10:15 AM  Leave a Comment  

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3

The Q

Letter Pile

Published in: on November 8, 2009 at 12:53 PM  Leave a Comment  

The Early Stages

Even before making decisions about which fonts to create, I had to decide how to make them.  Most wood type is made using a pantograph router, which utilizes a traceable pattern and a mechanical arm to duplicate an image in wood.  In the case of type, a letter could be modeled in any material, then used as the pattern for the pantograph router.  The advantage of the router is that it can quickly and easily remove all of the other unwanted material (wood) from the face of a piece of type – this eliminates any hand carving that might be required to remove excess wood.  However, router bits are round and often reasonably large compared to the elements of a typeface, so one of the major disadvantages of using a router is its inability to generate sharp inside corners.  Many such details would have to be hand carved.  A modern incarnation of the router was also an option, namely, a CNC router.  The CNC would have allowed me to work from computer generated templates, but it still would have been susceptible to the same problems as the pantograph (round bits, no sharp inside corners, scale restraints, and hand carved details).  The third, and final option (I discussed hand carving all of the blocks with a few people and was strongly advised against so ambitious and undertaking), was to use a laser cutter to slice the letterforms out of thin hardwood, then adhere those letterforms to blocks that would make them type-high.  The laser cutter boasted a number of benefits:  sharp corners, speed, no hand carving, fine details.  But it did have one major drawback:  it couldn’t produce a single letter out of a single block of wood that was already type-high, because the laser wasn’t suitable for removing the excess wood on the face of the block.  This requires that the letter itself be adhered to a substrate; this two-piece construction may be a major weakness of the final product.  The type will be subjected to repeated use and repeated pressure, as well as constant exposure to ink solvents.  In order to resolve these issues when the time comes, a number of different adhesives will have to be considered.

After deciding on the third option, I was lucky enough to connect with Master’s candidate Architecture student Luke Johnson here at SUNY at Buffalo, and he’s been helping me convert Illustrator typeface files into Autocad files for the laser cutter.  In fact, we’ve run a test typeface through some chipboard and produced some amazing prototype letterforms.  Tomorrow we will be testing different types and thicknesses of wood, and then I’ll be adhering those wooden letterforms to a substrate (after I find suitable wood and get it planed to height) – soon we’ll have our first testable mock-up.

Check out the pictures, more to come soon!



Published in: on November 6, 2009 at 12:59 PM  Comments (2)  

First Things First

A little background:  I’ve been printmaking in one form or another for over ten years; I’ve been letterpressing for four.  My interest in typography and mechanically assisted handmade objects has consequently led me to want to produce not only letterpress documents, but also letterpress implements – in this case, wood type.

Why wood type?  Because of my love of wood type, letterpress, and all things uniquely functional.  And because I thought it would be easier (albeit slightly) than casting metal type.  I also enjoy the particular “feel” of wood type, both as a physical object and as a printmade index (or visual trope).  I had tossed around the idea in the past, but because of lack of technological resources and collaborators I had to put those plans aside.  At the moment, I’m in a particularly good position to realize this project:  I have full access to University labs and tools, I have a group of dedicated advisers and technicians, and finally, maybe most importantly, a few artists willing to lend their creative energy.

Over the coming week, I’ll be introducing each of the people involved in this project, as well as fleshing out the details.

Stay tuned, get to know the people who are doing the work, and see how it all transpires.

Published in: on November 5, 2009 at 9:11 AM  Leave a Comment  

Wood Type? Are You Crazy?

Possibly.  But that remains to be seen.

This blog will detail the daily trials and tribulations of creating a series of wood type fonts for letterpress use.  The project is the brainchild of artist, poet, letterpresser, and bookmaker Chris Fritton (me), and it is based in Buffalo, NY.  This is a labor intensive project (also broad in administrative scope and creative ambition), but I hope to draw together a number of different artists in order to utilize their specific skills and execute the work in a timely, efficient, and cost effective fashion.


The project will be funded by me alone, but the man-hours donated by all of those involved will also constitute a massive contribution to the end result.

Stop back and check the progress each week as we make technical decisions, seek advice, go to production, and eventually (I hope) put our newly constructed wood type to use!

Published in: on November 3, 2009 at 4:11 PM  Leave a Comment