Setting Type

Handset composition from stick to stone.

A step by step look at preparing handset type for printing, from the composition stick to the imposing stone, from lock-up to the print. Below are several step by step photos with accompanying description showing stages of the imposing process.


Type is set and justified in the Composition Stick.

In another installment, I'll go over 'stick composition' as I do it, but for now, here are some highlights. What you see is the position the compositor sees the stick as he or she composes. This enables the setting of type from left to right. The stick is held in the left hand, and type is inserted using the right hand. The type is set upside down, "nicks-up". Each piece of type has a particular notch on the side, called a nick that helps the compositor keep the type facing the correct position, and and as well, the desired font, if the type comes from another font. Justification - in this case 'center' justification - is accomplished by placing quads and spaces from each side of the line and working inward to the type line or text line.


Transfering the type from the Stick to the Stone.

The composition stick and type are laid upon the "imposing stone". In this case, the 'stone' is the graded iron type bed removed from a 9x13 Kelsey handpress.


"Forme" transfered from stick and onto the stone.

The 'forme', as the grouping of type is now called, is removed from the stick, and set upon the stone as seen in the photo. I usually grab some wood 'furniture' to place around the forme in case some type pieces decide to fall from the edges.


Blocking in the Forme.

Here is the forme with four pieces of furniture around it. Notice how the furniture is set. Each side goes the length of the forme, and overlaps. There is a bit of space left between the furniture pieces, as will be explained as we go along.


Placing Chase around the Forme.

Here, I placed the chase I will be using around the forme. I try to keep the forme centered, and a bit higher than center if possible.


Adding Furniture and Quoins

The idea is to spread the pressure out to cover as wide an area as possible on the chase walls. Chase sides can be thin, and care is needed to prevent warping. I try to place quoins one 'furniture-piece' away from the forme, or block. I also place my quoins on the side opposite from where the gauge pins will lie. Since I always place my pins on the bottom and to the left on the typmpan, the quoins go top and right of the forme.


Adding Furniture and Quoins

Notice that I replaced the piece of furniture to the top of the forme? That was so I could fit the quoin in, and still keep the forme slightly above center. During this process, it is normal to interchange furniture pieces as the need requires. I use two types of quoins, both wedge ratchet and the "Speed" quoins shown here. I prefer the Speed quoins for their lack of movement while tightening, but they require a "key" which is different, a bit smaller than the old style ratchet, or "rat-tail" wedge quoins.


Filling Out

Before I tighten the quoins, I want the furniture fairly snug. This way I do not have to max out the amount of spread available with the quoins that I use. I always want to apply the least amount of pressure needed to hold the forme in place. Notice how the furniture graduates in size from smallest near the forme to widest at the chase sides. I never place the quoins directly against the forme or die/block. This would focus pressure against the wall in a smaller area. Again, the idea is to 'discuss' the pressure all along the side wall, as much as is possible to avoid localised focus of pressure which can torque, or even break, a chase.


Spaces around the forme

Notice that the furniture around the forme does not butt directly one against the other. This is to provide compression room as the furniture compresses during tightening. Sometimes I must re-adjust the space in order to ensure that all pieces within the forme receives pressure. As I tighten the quoins, those spaces get a bit smaller. If they butted up against the adjoining side piece, the pressure would be absorbed by that piece, and the forme would receive a smaller amount of pressure. This can result in a loose forme, and spilled, or "pied" type either on the stone . . . . or later, on the floor.


Planing the Forme

Tightening of the quoins is done a little at a time. First one side, then the other, then planing. As the type receives pressure, there is a tendency for the forme to buckle just a bit. Planing keeps the type level. As I tighten first the top, then the side quoins just a bit, I plane the form by placing the plane over the face, lightly tapping it with the mallet. I don't strike the plane with the mallet head, however. I hold the mallet upright and tap the plane with the handle using firm vertical strokes. For larger formes, I will use the mallet head, but on these small pieces, it's not necessary. I am very careful with the corners of the forme, where plane pressure can come to a point focus, possibly damaging the type there.


Testing the Forme

I use the key for this. After I am satisfied that I have a lock-up with adequate pressure, I'll test it by lifting one side of the chase, pushing on the forme to check for loose type. If there is loose type, I'll add coppers to the affected lines of type. I will not add pressure beyond what is safe for the chase. Aside from protecting the chase itself, excess pressure also torques the chase out of square and out of level. Thus care - and only the amount of pressure necessary to safely hold the forme - is ever applied to a chase. Applying coppers or brasses to the forme can be tricky as well. Shimming up one line can possibly loosen another line, and so on. I have had cases where I had to break down the forme, or parts thereof, re-set, and re-lock. It is an art. Part of the reason why apprenticeship took seven years! Not a week-end work shop or a semester class at school. And trust me, I'm no master!



This is usually done before the lock up. In this case, I opted to do a quick proof on the press itself. If the forme was larger, I would have run a proof directly from the stick on my Showcard Proof Press to check spelling and in most instances, type condition and/or damage. Some of my fonts are over 90 years old, and some pieces, especially fonts like this cursive font that has large swashes, will incur damage by simply dropping pieces of type into the case during distribution, the putting-back of type from a forme. In this case, the press itself is a better gauge to check for ow spots and type damage. Corrections are simple on something this small. Besides, I needed to mix the ink and test it as well. So, killing two birds with one stone, this is the result. Because this is a client's address, I "photoshopped" the address out.


Make Ready: Setting up the Platen, Packing and Tympan

Usually one piece of red hardboard and two pieces of bond paper serves for packing. The paper that covers the packing is the Tympan sheet. Special oiled paper was used for the Tympan, but these days, actual tympan paper can cost a fortune. I use a roll of photo print paper from a local photo lab. It was used for their C41 process prints, and was damaged in shipping. I caught them before they tossed the roll out. It fits both my Pearl and my 8x12 C&P perfectly. I use the backside of this print paper because it is smooth and is just as waterproof as the back. This comes in handy because and impression is made on the tympan, and lines are ruled around the image to center the stock used for printing. I can wipe the image clean after set-up, so it leaves no offset on the printed piece.


Make Ready: Tympan Ready for Impression

The top bale is snapped over the tympan paper, the packing is all set, and the gripper bars have a large rubber band stretched across to serve as a means of keeping the stock - in this case, envelopes - from sticking to the forme. It's a just-in-case measure. As it turned out, it was not necessary.


Make Ready: Taking the Impression

All that I want here is a very light inpression, just enough to determine where I want to place the envelope to print in the center of the rear flap. I used one of the envelopes to set my marks. What I do is determine the horizontal position first by placing the envelope such that I just see the top of the image, enough to center the envelope horizontally. Once I find that point, I make a mark on the left side of the envelope. In this case, I drew a line down the side. Next, I determine the vertical position by placing the envelope to the right of the image so I can see a little bit of the image on the left side of the envelope. I then make a mark - or draw a line across the top of the envelope. I place my gauge pins on these lines. Two on the bottom, one on the left hand side. I feed from the right. The video on the prior page shows the marking and pinning operation.


Make Ready: Ruling for the Gauge Pins

Here are those lines. Once you get the hang of it, you can get pretty accurate the first time. After I set the pins, I roll the presses with the envelopes in place an do a trial print. I will adjust the pins from there, makeing the necessary vertical, horizontal, and leveling (oblique) adjustments on the pins. Also, impression is checked, adding or removing packing as needed. In another installment I will go over build up, fills, cuts, and other 'spot' adjustments that are sometimes necessary, especially when using older fonts of handset type. The printing from this set-up can be seen in the "Presses" section, the video showing the Pearl OS Model 3. There, you will see the gauge pins set, the envelopes being fed, and the job being run. Also, I run a magnesium die during this same run.