One of the many other “hats” I wear when I’m not cutting wood type is Technical Theater. I helped to start one of the most successful High School theater programs in Ohio about 35 years ago. For 20 years I designed and built the sets and props for plays and musicals. I have been told that very few Industrial Arts programs will work with their schools drama program. I always saw it as a practical application of the student’s metal and woodworking skills.
For the past 15 years I have still been involved with the theater program.
I build specialized props and set pieces that the current technical director does not have time to complete. Building the interesting and creative props allow me to keep involved with high school theater students after I gave up being the Technical Director.
I am currently building “Maurice’s Wood Chopping Invention”. Think of it as a six foot long mix of a “Big Wheel” bike with a wood chipper. The script calls for parts to fall off on cue, make noise when it moves and chop five fake basswood logs in half while the student who is playing Maurice pedals like crazy to power the machine.
The over size front wheel has to move the machine, steer it around the stage, and power the chopper. I decided the flywheel from an Old Style 10 x 15” Chandler & Price printing press was the perfect solution. However, it could only weigh 30 pounds, not 250.
Using poplar wood, epoxy, screws and wood glue I completed the new front wheel in only 3 days. A 24” steel replacement garden wheel provided a lightweight, solid core. It will eventually get a bicycle gears, bike drive chains and two recycled bicycle pedals.
The outer ring will be painted to look like old wood, and the flywheel center painted and detailed to look like the C&P press at the Printer’s Hall in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.
See…letterpress does have a place on the big stage!
One of the most requested items to add to my store is a three dimensional star, or what I call a William Page #2 star. It is used digitally on everything from western theme menus, to T-shirts to Dallas Cowboy football helmets..
I hand made the pattern out of 1/4” Baltic birch plywood and had it laser cut from my interpretation of the Page star. I worked in Adobe Illustrator from a scan of his 1878 type specimen book. Once I fixed the math from the scan, both patterns turned out very accurate. I have actually cut and hand trimmed about 10 of these stars for printer friends, special orders, and of course my printer daughter, Erin.
Trimming is the hardest part of cutting type. I understand why there was a long apprenticeship for trimmers in the 1800’s. The pantograph cutter is round, so both the inside points and outside oblique angles need trimmed. Not to brag, but I’ve gotten pretty good at trimming simple stars. The hard part is the inside. The long points are stamped with a hardened steel stamp ground out of an old metal file, just like at Hamilton.
The center five points are the problem. They can be cut to the proper point and shape with a trim knife. However, getting the center points to all meet at one spot without over cutting or leaving a gap is very hard. I also tried grinding a second steel stamp which worked out pretty well. My average for successful trimming is one good one for three ruined ones.
I am getting ready to cut and trim out 60 Page Stars in four different sizes to put in the MWT store. I needed to resolve the center point problem before I cut and trim them. I can not afford to waste 45 out of the 60 stars.
I did some research on this star that appears in every company’s wood type specimen book, and also checked my reference photograph collection. I discovered that everyone did it differently. Some have a perfect center or an open center. Some have a solid area in the center, and some had a very small solid center area. The very small solid center is the easiest to trim. I will be stamping the inside 10 points, and trimming the outside points with a knife.
As my daughter keeps telling me, “Each piece of wood type I make is a work of art. It is not cut with a CNC mill or a laser. It is made by hand.” I will do my best and give printers a chance to have this star. That is why I call these Page Stars “Printer Candy.”
One of the fun things about cutting wood type is doing research. I love old type specimen books and my collection, both on the shelf in the type shop and on my laptop, is growing. I was given these digital files from a friend at a conference in Chicago. It is not a complete set, I have plans to make a trip sometime to photograph it all.
They are pages from the George F. Nesbitt Wood Type Company in New York City. The type specimen book is pretty rare, dating from 1838. They are digital photos, not
scans, so they are slightly distorted, but were originally printed with the actual type that they were selling. I was told the company featured the unusual wood type but not many people wanted to purchase it.
Happy New Year! I will be starting a new tradition at MWT of burning all the scrap maple cuts and unsellable wood in the 5 gallon bucket by the trim saw. Nice to start the year off with an empty bucket and lots of new maple and patterns.
Thanks to everyone who have helped me this past year with type making equipment, advise, and orders.