In the Woodshop: Learning as we go along

Mardell Doubek, David Carpenter, and I have now been working together since July to learn how to cut wood type on the pantograph. We started out with long grain scrap wood and have now “graduated” to end grain maple. The difference between the two woods is like night and day not only in appearance but in terms of cutting ease. It is now a pleasure, instead of a chore, to cut type.

While we felt ready to cut the real stuff, we knew we had a limited stock of processed wood to go along with our amateur skills. For those reasons, we decided to start with ornaments in a variety of sizes and shapes. The ultimate goal was to have something to sell not only at the 2014 Wayzgoose but online and in the gift shop. (The ornaments are available for sale now in the store.)

What quickly became apparent is that the act of cutting on the pantograph is just a small part of the entire wood type making process. We had to assess our stock of processed, usable wood. We had to start checking the accuracy of already cut wood by using a combination of the printer’s rule and Hamilton gauges. We had to become proficient in using the original Hamilton type-high saw paying particular attention to the idiosyncrasies of this well-used, 50+ year old piece of equipment. Many of these requirements only became apparent when we had issues with consistency between pieces while we were actually cutting on the pantograph.

On the pantograph, we made good use of our machine set-up skills having to re-calibrate the pantograph each time we moved from one size type to the next. Second and third routing skills were also employed to cut further into the tight corners and peaks of some of the letterforms.

The final step in the process of creating a piece of original Hamilton wood type is the trimming table – cleaning up the rough edges with a file, smoothing out bumps and ridges that sometimes occur in the pantograph cutting process, and fine trimming of areas that the router bit can’t reach. The fine trimming is still a bit of a mystery to us. Fortunately, Dave Artz, the last Hamilton trimmer, works just around the corner and 2015 is our year to pin him and his knife wielding skills down once and for all!

All of this training has been made possible by a very generous grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds provided by the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. Because of them, the manufacturing of Hamilton wood type lives on!