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Jan 7 / Scott

A new card to complete the set

One of the best things about making replacement letters is the opportunity to see all of the beautiful things that were used to print with on a letterpress.

This summer, Don Black, of Don Black Linecasting in Toronto brought me one of my favorite challenges, a missing 10 of spades from a set of small scale, “Army Cards.” This full set of playing cards, including the face cards and the Ace of Spades were a hidden prize in a wood type cabinet my daughter helped him find in Ohio.

The cards are only 2 inches tall so that the full set could fit into the pocket of a soldier or sailor with room to spare. I have not been able to confirm this but I have been told by several “Older” printer friends that this is what these cuts would be used to print.

They are metal cuts that have been hand nailed to cherry bases to bring them up to .918.” It is not a very pretty job of construction, but they do register in the proper position when you check the math. I scanned the original 10 of clubs to get the proper position for the 10 spades, and the original 9 of spades to get the art for the “spade.”


I dropped these scans into Adobe Illustrator and created to proper pattern for the missing 10 of spades. It was drawn at three times actual size in the computer then scaled to the final size. For a laser pattern I had to reverse the card art to white and placed it on a black background. I have learned from experience you have to scale up the black negative space to allow for trimming. You also have to add .003” to the white impression area to correct for wood that is lost to the laser side heat.


The new 10 of spades was laser cut into new end grain hard maple along with two other printer’s replacement letters and trimmed to match the size and shape of the other pieces of card type.

Don seemed pleased with the replacement card, giving him the full set of 52 for his private collection.


Dec 11 / Scott

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

One of my favorite parts of cutting new wood type is working with gifted printers and graphic designers on their special projects.  One of the best joint ventures has been with Jennifer Farrell of Starshaped Press in Chicago.  Jennifer is a friend of both my daughter and me.  She has been on the Moore Wood Type Advisory Committee since I started four years ago.

When she and her daughter visited Columbus this summer, we spent some time planning about what new wood type designs we could work on together.  She suggested a box set of snowflakes that she would design and I would cut in larger sizes with one of my pantographs and in smaller sizes with the laser I have access to.

We spent over a month working out the design problems and the limitations of actually cutting designs with a pantograph.  She submitted eight designs that she created from actual photographs of snowflakes and settled on the six that we felt represented different variations that printers would like.  We also decided to cut the set at 8 line and 10 line with the pantograph, and the exact same designs in 4 line and 6 line with the laser.

The deal was that I could make minor corrections to her designs to make them easier to cut on the pantograph.  When I suggested changing the shape of one negative space to allow the pantograph tracer an easier path, she reluctantly agreed, but wanted to see an exact proof of what she had designed cut before I proceeded with my “Correction”. I am glad I did not make any changes to her beautiful designs.

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Aug 2 / Scott

New wood type from historic designs

MWT version

One of the most common questions I get when a make a presentation on wood type history at a college or university is “Where do you get your designs for your wood type?”

Two of the new items I am getting ready to add to the MWT type stop are perfect examples.  They are the MWT Line ornament #32 and MWT Line Ornament #33.

I had first noticed these line ornaments two years ago when going through an old type case at Paul Aken’s Platen Press Museum in Zion, Illinois.  I never fail to leave his Museum without pictures of rare, old wood type he has collected.  When I got home, I started searching through historic type specimen books.  I found both of them from two different wood type producers.

Number 32 uses round elements and spokes in a fan shape design.  It was first made by the Tubbs Manufacturing Company and is found in the 1905 specimen book.  They called it a #66 Space ornament.  It is also found in the Hamilton #14 Type Specimen book as Fancy Ornament #16.  Both versions are similar but show some variations.

I put all three sources into an Adobe Illustrator file and started correcting the math.  All wood type design is math. The resulting vector art file can be used to make large patterns for the pantograph, and the smaller, the same vector file controls the laser I use to cut wood type in end grain hard maple.

This design is very involved, with lots of hand trimming.  The round ball were distorted, the spokes of different widths, and one version has a central round dot and the others had a round dot with a shoulder within the spoke area. I am very happy with my final design. This ornament is laser cut at 4, 6, 8, and 10-line size.  12 lines and larger is cut on the pantograph.  When laser cutting wood type you also have to distort the stroke on some line values to correct for the .003″ lost to the laser “Kerf”.

Line ornament #33 is found in the Morgans and Wilcox Specimen book form 1893. It is called Fancy Ornament #13.  When Hamilton bought out Morgans, they included it in their specimen books.

I have been selling them at type conferences and given them away to printer friends for over a year. Both of these new items will soon be available in my on-line store and I will follow the tradition of selling them in pairs.