Archives for posts with tag: woodtype

so, for the past billion years or so, i’ve been working on a typeface. Flapjack.

Flapjack started out digital (it was called Bismarck at that point). then i wanted to use it for letterpress printing, so i cut it in linoleum (that’s when it was redubbed Flapjack by a colleague). i like it so much that i thought that there should be a woodtype version and that’s where the trouble began.

i acquired a small pantograph machine which i thought/hoped would do the job. and then came the unbelievably difficult task of acquiring end-grain maple that had been surfaced to the required .918″ for printing. this just about broke our bulldog pluck, but we at the press figured that we could make the stuff ourselves, so we set out to gain valuable woodworking skills to assist us in this vital task.

along the way we learned a whole bunch of stuff which we will be detailing later on, but the most persistent question from those who would not understand what we needed to do was this : why don’t you just cut the type on a CNC machine? my answer to this was usually a two-word vulgarity followed by : because that would be too easy.

i think i knew i had to cut it in the way i knew i had to cut it in was because i just knew that i had to do it that way. doing it the long, painful and difficult way would satisfy some deep-seated need to do it that way and it would (i thought/think) achieve the look and feel that i knew i needed.

to that end, i’m almost ready to bring this woodtype experiment to a beginning and (hopefully) and end. but not before my wife intervened with the nerdbot3000.

the nerdbot is a 3d printer. she had purchased on for her school that turned out to be quite a lemon and didn’t want to bother her with the idea for generating type this way. but when she got the nerdbot3000 v. 2.0, and it was working much better than the first one, i decided to plunge in.

first off, i took the vector drawing of the uppercase G of Flapjack and manipulated it in a software program called Autodesk123D. to save build time on the nerdbot, i wanted to create a piece of type that could be mounted on a piece of .75″ plywood that i had used for the linoleum version. i extruded the raised part of the letter to 10 mm, left the base at 5 mm, exported the results and fed it into the nerdbot.

to my surprise things worked out pretty well. below you can see the actual printing of the honeycomb that formed the middle part of the Flapjack letter sandwich.



the printing too about 45 minutes to complete. the letter itself was attached to a printed substrate which allows for a smoother build and better adhesion of the material to itself.


after the detaching the letter from the substrate, this is what i had :


i held the letter up to the light so you could see the structure of the build a little bit better. this clearly shows the honeycomb pattern that the printer uses to build in strength while cutting down on build time and material usage. i was a little worried that the letter would simply crumble when it was proofed on the press.


i took it out to the print shop to ink it up and proof it. here are the first results :


the observant observer will of course see that i made an amateur mistake by forgetting to flip the letter in reverse at the beginning of the process. but i will tell that observer to suck eggs and remind them that i was excited to test the build and it wasn’t about whether the letter printed correctly the first time. i would be lying.

you can see that the printed image is rougher than a badger’s arse, so i did some benchtop sanding with 220 grit sandpaper to smoothing things out a bit and see how the edges would print. below is my next result.


i’m not really convinced that the nerdbot is the way to go for printing type. or at least to get a smooth, flat surface that i am used to with woodtype. the way that the printhead lays down the materials is just not conductive to traditional letterforms. i have seen one example on the old interwebs (actually, a friend sent it to me in a taunting manner because i had previously dismissed 3d printed type as being too rough for letterpress after experiments with my wife’s first printer) that factored the way the printer printed into the design of the letters themselves — they created ‘wireframes’ for the letters which meant a smooth surface wasn’t necessary.

when i looked at the final product the traditionalist in me was frankly appalled, but i understood what they were trying to get at. i’m not sure if they used an over-the-counter sort of 3d printer that i did (the article only mentions a ‘polyjet’ printer) and the photos are maddeningly lacking the detail that i need to determine if it’s the same basic build structure as mine is. but i think it’s safe to say that it’s similar.

i was quite surprised that the letter held up the way it did to a number of proofings. it seemed sturdy enough to withstand a short press run, but i would have to mess around with that a bit more.

the big factor for me was the time involved. 45-minutes for one letter means that printing all 26 letters would take approximately 20 hours. that’s without any punctuation or numerals.

it almost makes using the pantograph seem easy.

as someone who likes doing things with his hands, i find labour day satisfying on many levels.

no weird religion or colonial past to muddy the waters of enjoyment. it’s a holiday that has developed out of the labour movement of which i’m a part. it’s also a great punctuation mark in the year — dividing it between summer and fall (maybe a semicolon?). and fall is my favourite time of the year. a return to school, the onset of beautiful weather, and the earth’s magnificent slowing to winter.

this year i decided to celebrate labour day by printing a one-off poster. i have always loved joe strummer’s song ‘johnny appleseed’ and the line ‘if you are after getting honey / then you don’t go killing all the bees‘. to me it has special meaning about the relationship of work to the worker and the overseers of those workers.


to me the relationship of work to the worker is a large thing. the work you do defines you. if that work is not direct and tangible, i feel, you are somehow diminished as a human. it should have meaning. it should be a part of you.

part of my life’s work has been to find the work that i want to do. i’ve been lucky, but i’ve also been looking and working at it for a long time.

woodtype is a great and fun way to do thing graphically. no wonder the hipsters like it. the best thing about using woodtype is its directness. you lock it up, ink it and pull the proof.

in this case, i started with the word ‘IF’ and build the other words around it. trying to interlink them. one building on another.

locking everything together on the bed of the vandercook #2 proof press was a little precarious, and i used some magnets to hold certain words in place.


this particular press isn’t self inking, so i ink the type by hand — using the ink plate of the C&P to spread the ink out smoothly. it doesn’t take long before you get the feel of the right amount of ink to use. i usually refer to the self-inking vandercooks as ‘sissy toronto presses’ because they just seem too easy to use. i have used them. they do give better registration and maybe better inking (maybe). you don’t have to monkey around with the packing as much. you aren’t as tired at the end of the day. but i still like the old #2 better. it seems more honest. it also forces you to design in a certain way.

in the past i have used a self-created jig to make sure that my registration was relatively close, but mostly i design for the machine and for the woodtype media and things work out okay.

for this particular job i used some ‘safety paper’ (paper that used to be used to print cheques, etc) that was obtained through nefarious means (which i won’t go into). the surface is really smooth and it didn’t require much pressure to get a good impression. i also wanted to create a richer image, so i ran the sheets through the press a number of times using (in turn) red, purple and warm grey 1o. i also used the inkplate of the C&P to create the circular image in the background for some noise and texture. again, i like seeing the evidence of myself in the print.



i’m sort of at a loss as to what to do with them now. as usual, i’ll give some to friends, but my salesmanship is not great so they will probably languish at the bottom of the new paper drawer that i made over the summer.

happy labour day.