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. read more…
A good friend, who knows of my love for Wood type and type specimen books, loaned me his original copy of the 1905 Tubbs Manufacturing Company Wood Type and Borders book. This is one of the gems in any collection for letterpress printers or old men like me who are cutters of wood type.
On one of my trips to the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin I took research photos of catchwords, stars, and ornaments from their collection of type specimen books. The trouble with taking photos out of books is the lens distortion and lighting. I try to use historical materials in my designs. For several years now I have using Adobe Illustrator to trace and correct these photos and make patterns for cutting wood type. My friend knew it was hard to get usable images in bad lighting.
The Tubbs book is full of beautiful old wood type designs. I could take photos with a copy stand and studio lighting. The modern trend in designing computer fonts and giving them unusual names has a historical foundation. Tubbs came up with the Tubbs Foxy Grandpa Series. The page even included a drawing of what they consider to be the “Foxy Grandpa”
I especially like that the center of the uppercase and lowercase “O” slant in opposite directions. I have already created 7 new catchwords and ornament patterns from the Tubbs #5 Specimen Book. When I finish some existing orders I hope to start cutting more wood type to sell based on this book.
One of the goals of Moore Wood Type has always been to cut wood type based on historical sources such as type specimen books from William Page, Morgans & Wilcox, Tubbs, and, of course, Hamilton. I have also been cutting type as special orders for printer friends, and also whatever odd type my daughter Erin wants for one of her print jobs.
I am very proud to say that Erin is a Graphic Design Instructor in the Art Department at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She has helped revitalize their letterpress program and teaches several different courses dealing with printing and design. Last year she had a design competition in her letterpress class to design, “a modern ornament or catchword.”
I made a presentation to the class on the history of wood type design and production, showed them how to cut type with my small line pantograph, and set down some simple guidelines for the competition. I also brought the pantograph to her college and let each class member cut a piece of wood type so they would understand how it works.
The winning design would be selected by the retiring department chair, Tom Effler, who is also the inspiration for the name and logo of Miami’s Curmudgeon Press. Then Moore Wood Type would cut the design in maple at 6, 8, 10, and 12 line size and donate a full set to Curmudgeon Press, to the designer, and of course a set would end up in Erin’s Inky Winke type cabinet.
Students began with hand sketches, as a group critiqued the design based on the guidelines as well as aesthetics, then traced the selected ornament in Illustrator. Participants included printmaking and metals grad students, an art faculty member as well as graphic design and architecture majors. read more…