Trimming wooden letters
Short description
Within the Applause project, Studio tipoRenesansa is focused on production of wooden letters for relief printing. Along with lead letters, wooden type was traditionally used for printing for more than 500 years. Although printing with movable type was invented in Europe, upon its decline in the 2nd half of 20th Century the majority of wood type production knowledge was lost, very much so in Slovenia.

In the United States of America, however, wood type production was blossoming, and to this date, there are two commercial manufacturers still in business with full process recovered. Besides that, a little town Two Rivers (WI) was once the headquarter of America's biggest wood type factory, that later became Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum (HWTP). A massive collection of 1.5 million pieces of wood type makes it the world's biggest collection of its kind. A group of volunteers still keep a small scale production alive.
The purpose of my one-month stay in 2018 in the USA was threefold. Main goal was to visit all the three producers and actively learn the process. Based on the knowledge gained we intend to set up a similar workshop and start wood type production from invasive alien tree species Box elder (Acer negundo). Second purpose was to study relevant archives with a specific focus on wood type specimen books. In most cases they are difficult to find (sometimes only a few copies still exist). Studying the originals is important to understand design principals and details, which especially applies to chromatic wood type. The third goal?

Rochester (NY) was the first stop. Mrs. Gary McCormick from Virgin Wood Type and her late husband Bill inherited 100 crates of type patterns from American Wood Type Manufacturing Co. From the same company they bought a large custom made pantograph, one of the three machines essential for wood type production.
Their production starts with pre-ordered sweet maple planks that are first cut to smaller sizes, which are further, used as end-grain pieces. The face where a letter is going to be engraved is polished and treated with shellac to seal the grains. The slabs are now mounted on one side of pantograph. On the far side of the pantograph a pattern of a letter is fixed and both pieces have to be carefully registered.

Marko Drpić and Gery McCorrick from Virgin Wood Type

Pantograph has a few vital parts: electric power router, a tracer and a mechanical linkage in form of parallel rods that connects them. Moving a tracer along the borders of a pattern moves a router bit on a maple slab, reduced a few times, depending on the size of the letter being made. Tracing is done by hand and physically demanding due to the robustness of the pantograph. Once routed, the letter is cut to the right width on a trim-saw. Instead of an inch scale, this type of saws use typographic unit called pica (Didot point in Europe). Next step includes manual trimming of all the inner corners of a letter that are rounded due to the rotation of a router bit. Trimming is done with a sharp blade. A set of letters already trimmed is than proofed on a proof press. This helps to discover all possible mistakes: wood cracks, chipped-of parts, scratches, untrimmed areas.

Still in Rochester, Institute of Technology houses one of a kind collection of books, type specimens, manuscripts, documents, and artifacts related to the history of graphical communication, the Cary Graphic Arts Collection. During the visit I was focused on wood type specimens, mostly dated to the second half of the 19th century.

Second stop was Moore Wood Type in Columbus, Ohio. A small workshop is run by Mr. Scott Moore. His background in teaching all kind of production methods, from manual carpentry to robotics, enabled him to recover the process of wood type production to the finest detail. Although not traditionally done he first glues end-grain slabs in a bigger slab (approx. 30 x 30 cm) which makes milling much more efficient. Here I have learned how these slabs are thinned on a very special and rare machine called block leveler. This step is important as it provides good foundation for the next step — drum sanding, which bring slabs to the right thickness. This process needs 0.01 of a millimeter accuracy as wood type is often printed with metal type and the heights of both have to match. The routing was further done as described above, only on a table top pantograph.

The final step was HWTP in Two Rivers. During my visit the museum hosted around 250 designers, typographers and printing professionals from around the globe on an annual Waysgoose conference. Full demonstration of wood type production was given to the participants. There the original machinery and tools are still in use, with the exception of log trim saw and a huge block leveler which don't meet today's safety standards. Three days conference was an excellent opportunity to exchange information with the leading professional from the field.
Author of text and photographs: Marko Drpić, Founder of Studio tipoRenesansa

Other news from this project

APPLAUSE project video

APPLAUSE at a glance - watch the video

The project APPLAUSE addresses unsolved questions with regard to invasive alien plant species in terms of the zero waste approach and circular economy...
APPLAUSE - invasive tree species

Invasive tree species in the forests of Slovenia

Foreign plants have been introduced into the new environment for various reasons, such as nutritional use, usefulness of plant parts, such as wood, am...
APPLAUSE journal 2

APPLAUSE Journal 2: A new system to tackle Invasive Alien Plant Species

Ljubljana has been progressing in the development of its circular model for IAPS management. ...
APPLAUSE design workshop

Design workshop An Object of Change

Designing sustainable products from wood and paper from invasive non-native plants at the Academy for Fine Arts and Design of University of Ljubljana ...
Satellite image Japanese knotweed

Detection and mapping of Japanese knotweed with the use of satellite images

Did you know that we can detect and map Japanese knotweed with the help of satellites?...
Giant Goldenrod

We successfully made paper from Invasive alien plant species - Canadian / Giant Goldenrod

As partner in Applause project, the Pulp and Paper Institute (ICP) successfully produced 350 kg of paper from Invasive alien plant species, this time ...
zoom-in 1

APPLAUSE Zoom-In 1: Setting up a new circular approach to IAPS management in cities

In her first Zoom-in, UIA Expert Jorgina Cuixart presents Invasive Alien Plant Species (IAPS) and their impact on cities. ...
Ljubljana journal 1

APPLAUSE Journal 1: The project’s first achievements and lessons learnt

Check out Ljubljana’s initial steps in the first UIA Expert journal...
APPLAUSE - Food preparation workshop

Food prepration workshops for APPLAUSE project

One of the main focuses of the APPLAUSE project is the use of selected invasive alien plant species (IAPS) as raw materials for food. Selection of IAP...
Extractor ASE 350

New modern research equipment – a system for accelerated solvent extraction of solid and semisolid samples

We appreciatively announce that a new piece of equipment has been purchased at the Biotechnical Faculty, Department of Wood Science and Technology (BF...
Szeged Ljubljana invasive plant research

Chemical analysis of »IAPS« wood -our recent research activities

In the frame of research activities on the Applause project, intensive investigation of the chemical properties of Invasive Alien Plant Species (IAPS)...
The exhibition hall

Opening of the exhibition in the City Hall Ljubljana: Unused Potentials of Invasive Alien Plant Species

Removed invasive alien plants in Slovenia are currently composted or incinerated, but in the pilot project of processing Japanese knotweed into paper ...

First steps towards new products made of woody alien plant species

The main focus of the first phase of the APPLAUSE project is on localisation and harvesting the alien plant species....

Two UIA projects for a joint kick-off!

Two UIA selected projects from Slovenia - Maribor`s Urban soil 4 food and Ljubljana`s Applause have presented themselves to public at a joint kick-off...