Viewing entries tagged
letterpress lexicon

 A Letterpress Lexicon, Part 4: Spacing Out


A Letterpress Lexicon, Part 4: Spacing Out

Hi, Friends of St Brigid Press!

Here is the long-awaited fourth installment in our occasional blog series ~ A Letterpress Lexicon ~ about the words and phrases that identify printing's particular tools and processes. Enjoy!

If you missed the first posts in this series, you can find them here:

A Letterpress Lexicon Part 4 ~ Spacing Out

We space out daily here at the Press ~ all for a good cause. ;-) 

You might already know that every single letter of the alphabet that we set and print here is a physical piece of metal or wood ~ a piece .918-inches tall, with the reverse image of the letter on the top, in relief. 


Hand-set type:

Moveable type, which makes everything possible here at the Press. Here, the letters of the word "haiku" in metal.

Well, every single SPACE between every word and every line is also a physical piece of metal or wood. These pieces are made a little lower than the top of the letters, so that they do not pick up ink.


The forme:

In this photo, you can see all of the metal spacing material surrounding the metal letters. The spacing material is a bit lower in height, so it does not get ink on it, and comes in various sizes according to the size of the type (12-point, 24-point, etc.). The spacing between the lines of type is also metal, cut to length.

The spacing material is cast to a point-size matching the size of the type body being set ~ from tiny 6-point to giant (and heavy!) 72-point in our shop. Spacing is also cast in various standard widths, so the typesetter can put larger or smaller spaces between words, as desired. These widths range from multiples of an "em" (the square of the type body; for example, a 12-point-by-12-point square) to "thins" (brass and copper slivers to fill in the smallest gaps in a line).

In addition to letter spacing, strips of metal also need to be correctly sized and set between lines of type ("leading" or "linespacing"). This strip material comes in various widths and can be cut to various lengths (also called "slugs") ~ all tailored to ordering the printed page. 

The whole point of spacing is to surround the letters and lines as snug as possible. A loose letter can print unevenly, and even become damaged. 

The final step before printing is to surround the whole forme (the letters and spaces) with "furniture" ~ blocks of wood (sometimes metal) in various standard sizes that fill out the chase. Two quoins (a kind of lock) are placed in as well, and when turned with a key the quoins tighten everything together. 

When the forme to be printed is locked up tight, I can lift it off the table and into the press without fear of everything collapsing onto the floor.


The printer:

Emily, holding a tightly locked forme in mid-air. If the spacing material has been set correctly, the whole thing can be transferred easily to the printing press. If it has NOT been set correctly... well.. catastrophe can ensue. 


The printed page:

Now, when you see a printed page, you'll think of the actual mass and work of all that "white space"! Shown here, a leaf from Jeff Schwaner's Wind Intervals.

So, that's the story of SPACE at St Brigid Press! 

Thanks for spacing out with us for a few minutes ;-)


A Letterpress Lexicon, Part 2

1 Comment

A Letterpress Lexicon, Part 2

Hi, Friends of St Brigid Press!

Here is the second installment in our occasional blog series about the words and phrases that identify printing's particular tools and processes ~ A Letterpress Lexicon. Enjoy!

(If you missed Part 1, you can find it HERE.)

Today's 3 words are


TYPECASE:  A typecase is a wooden tray, divided up into numerous small compartments, in which the letters, numbers, and punctuation of a font of type are organized and stored. 

TYPESETTING:  This refers to the action of composing words from the individual pieces of type. A printer reaches into their typecase, picks up the desired letter, and literally "sets" it in place beside the last letter placed. 

COMPOSING STICK:  This is the tool that holds the pieces of type that are being set (or, "composed"). Usually made of brass or steel, the composing stick is held in the non-dominant hand while the typesetter lines up each desired letter. The stick is adjustable, according to how long the line of type needs to be. 

And here's a little video to put these three words together!

Thanks so much for joining us on this journey into the World of Letterpress!

If you haven't already, take a second to sign up below for our occasional newsletter, which features posts like this one, as well as updates on our printing projects here at St Brigid Press.

1 Comment

A Letterpress Lexicon, Part 1


A Letterpress Lexicon, Part 1

Hi, dear Friends of St Brigid Press,

As many of you know, I love language. And one of the things that has been exceedingly enjoyable about learning the craft of traditional printing is learning its associated lexicon ~ the words and phrases that identify printing's particular tools and processes.

In this occasional blog series, "A Letterpress Lexicon," I thought I'd share with you some of my favorites. Enjoy!


Today's three words are


CHASE:  A chase is an iron or steel rectangular frame into which the type to be printed is placed. After the type is secured, the chase is lifted into the bed of the printing press, the type is inked, and an impression is made upon paper.

FURNITURE:  Wooden or metal furniture is used to surround the block of type within the chase, taking up any extra space between type and chase edge. Wooden furniture, such as we use here at St Brigid Press, is traditionally made from kiln-dried hardwoods, and comes in standard sizes to fit the job.

QUOIN:  A quoin is an adjustable metal wedge used to tighten and "lock" the type and furniture in the chase. Although there are a variety of styles, all quoins operate with the basic principle of applying pressure to secure the form, allowing the chase to be safely lifted into the printing press.

And here's a short little video that puts all these pieces together!