Making type by hand

One letter at a time…

Type used for letterpress printing is manufactured by a metal casting process – primarily for smaller sized lettering from 4 to 72 point – the larger sizes are predominately manufactured from wood. There are a small number of metal foundries still producing type but very few commercial outlets manufacturing in wood.

Currently as more wooden type is dispersed and separated through online auction sites and antique shops, sold as decorative objects rather than for printing it has become quite difficult to obtain a full case containing the same typeface. Therefore letterpress printers are always searching for methods to generate new type or replace damaged letters.

We have experimented with a number of different techniques in an attempt to make our own ‘hand cut’ wooden type. Our first trials were using medium density fibreboard (MDF), carving some very large letters and a complete poster design by hand.

 

The experiments worked well and resulted in some very big type, a range of ornaments and a completed poster layout. The large type was ideal for motorway signage but not very useful when all we owned at that time was a very small, table top Adana printing press.

The MDF worked well but after a lot of printing began to degrade, so we elected to find some solid wood and attempt the process again. Our second experiments used a small section of Douglas Fir (a UK grown softwood). The wood has an open enough grain for hand carving and is strong enough not to degrade when compressed during printing. Rather than begin with a small letter we elected to start (again) with a slightly oversized numeral. Luckily for us we now have a huge proofing press for printing at such a scale.

With a little time, adjusting packing and getting through quite a lot of makeready we were very pleased with the final, printed outcome. Quite good for our first attempt with real wood.

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Stage three – an electric pantograph – text and images to follow…

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Studio B – Milverton – Somerset – TA4 1LA – UK

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© Middleton – 2019

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