Lasers and Wood Type
For the past six months I have been a member of a shared Technology Group in Central Ohio. One of the workshops I have taken is how to use the group’s 60 watt laser. Just like the learning curve to using a pantograph to cut wood type, it has been another learning curve to integrate the laser into making wood type.
I now use the laser to cut out my patterns in 1/4” baltic birch plywood that I did cut with woodworking tools. I still use the same vector art files I used to make the vinyl sign making material patterns in the past. However, I have discovered that the laser cut patterns are smoother and more accurate on long straight lines.
They do have their limits, but having access to this modern tool has completely changed the way I think about patterns. I have recently used it to make replacement letter patterns in 1/8” plywood for Igloo Press. They are only used for a few pantograph tracings and will never be used again.
The other major change to making wood type is to use the laser to cut a “Type reading” design into the end grain hard maple slabs I can already produce at exactly type high.
I have several pieces of edge grain laser cut wood type in my collection from friends who also have access to a laser. The difference is by cutting into end-grain the resulting thin impression sections are just as strong as if they were cut on a pantograph. Think of it as a pantograph with a very, very, .003 inch cutter. Sharp corners and NO TRIMMING. I can also cut type down to 2 or 3 line from my existing pantograph files.
The process is not cheap. You have to remove the “smoke and resin” layer that forms on the surface, and you still have to seal them with shellac. I still cut the majority of my wood type with the pantograph, but it has opened up a whole new area of making printing type.
As a gift for the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum’s reopening at it’s new location, I cut the Hamilton logo they are currently using in end grain maple. I cut it in several sizes to give them options if they ever decide to use this new type. I also have been cutting state outlines with both the pantograph and laser for my printer friends and special orders. I even laser cut some “Australias” for the Wayzgoose visitors from “Down Under” at the Hamilton Wayzgoose.