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Georgianne Liesch, Jennifer Anne & David Carpenter—Demonstration of Wood Type Cutting at the Museum

Georgianne Liesch and Jennifer Anne at the Pantograph with finished type. (Michael Ditmer)

Fri., Nov. 6 | George, Jennifer, and David gave an in-depth overview of the process of making wood type at the Hamilton Wood Type Museum. George, whose father ran the type shop at Hamilton and owned his own printing business, now works with apprentice Jennifer to keep the traditional techniques alive.

George started cutting type in 2014, learning from the last pantograph operator, Mardell Doubek. Thanks to a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board, George is able to train Jennifer in this historical process; they’ve been working together for about ten months.

George and Jen walked us through the steps of cutting type, from choosing a pattern and a pre-finished round of wood to cutting and finishing the type. The rounds of wood are end-grain maple, milled to height, sanded, and shellacked. David cuts the round to strips of a certain line height, and the strips are locked into position in the cutting side of the pantograph cutter. A pattern is chosen and locked into the tracer side of the machine. Many adjustments are needed to ensure that the type will be sized correctly, from adjusting the placement of the pantograph’s arms to choosing the right size router bit. Each pattern has different requirements; it’s clear that most of the work in making type is the preparation.

Once the pattern and the woodblock are in place, the air-powered router spins at 50,000 rpm and cuts into the block: the movement of the cutter is controlled by the movement of the tracer bit on the pattern. All copies of a letter for one font would be cut at the same time to ensure that they are the same. Then the pieces are handed-over to David for finishing. First, they are cut to width on the type saw. Then, the inside corners are cut to shape with a knife (the router bit leaves rounded corners and most type has sharp corners in the design.) It’s amazing to think that every single piece of wood type has gone through this extensive process, from cutting to hand finishing. Next time you print from wood type, take a moment to thank all people who made it!