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May 16 / Scott

The Block Leveler is Alive!

The Hacker Block Leveler I recently acquired from a good friend originally came from the American Type Founders (ATF) auction. He had purchased it to level the feet of European metal type down to the American Standard .918″ type height. When he found out I was reviving the production of wood type, he offered to sell it to me to save the 400 passes I was wasting with my surface sander to bring the glued-up slabs to perfectly flat. That still does not include the 150 additional passes thru the machine to get the mirror polished “friction finish” on the printing surface; starting at 80 grit abrasive, ending with 2000 grit; but it will save me hours of sanding time and help me make better maple slabs.

My daughter Erin, taped me running the Hacker Block Leveler and has produced
the following video on the operation for everyone to see how it works:

The 500 pound machine was brought home in my trailer down a steep, winding, mountain road back to Ohio and into my garage. I spent the next 4 months adding three new motors and a series of pulleys to slow down the feed rates. Every step in the process of converting the leveler from a hand-fed and hand-rotated machine to the “sit back and watch” version I now have was a learning experience.

Thirty five years of Industrial Arts experience and lessons from building my other machines helped. However, I was building something that did not exist in a working, powered form. The block leveler at the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum is a massive machine with a 16 inch horizontal carbide blade and a leather belt drive feed screw 12 feet long.

I have always had the gift of designing furniture, machines, and stage props in my head, including all the steps needed to produce it. Every step in making my block leveler went through many experiments and prototype pieces. I ended up with a bucket full of odd pulleys, belts, Acme threaded shafts and metal bars. Thank goodness there was a Tractor Supply store near my workshop.

The original Hacker Block Leveler I purchased was set-up to surface metal type, including a factory installed chase in the rotating table. Vandercook  had also designed it to surface the back of wood slabs down to type high (.918″). However, even though the table was machined to hold a self centering wood vise, ATF had not taken that option. I reversed engineered my own system  and then was lucky enough to find the original Hacker U.S. Patent drawing for their wood vise on line. I kind of combined the two concepts into what I have now and it works GREAT! I am using the new block leveler to establish a reference plane on the bottom of the glued up hard maple slabs. Then I flip it over and spin down what will be the top surface of the slab into as parallel plane .050″ over size.

After a trip to my very accurate surface sanding machine that I designed and built, the polished slabs will make the return trip to the block leveler to cut away any wood from the BOTTOM of the slab to leave me large pieced of end grain hard maple at exactly type high. YEA!


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