New Product Photos: Vats and Drying System

We’ve added a couple more pages describing more of our products:

The can also be found through the Products item in the main menu on each page.

Posted in Things we sell

Monotype Computer Control: A Long Overdue Update

My last post about this project was over a year ago, wherein I mentioned that I had purchased the aluminum stock to make the main parts of the valve unit. A lot has happened since then, to the point where I brought it along with me to the 2016 ATF conference to see how it fitted on other casters.

Here is how the valve body looked when I first tried it on my caster (July 2016):

The valve body installed on my caster as proof of concept.

The valve body installed on my caster as proof of concept.

Briefly, the compressed air comes in through the manifold and is distributed to the four pneumatic valves. The manifold also connects all the dump ports where the air is released when a valve is closed. Each valve controls eight air channels, which emerge on the far face of the valve arranged equally around a circle. The two labyrinth plates and the gasket between them carry the air from these four circular port arrangements to a single row of 31 ports on ⅛″ centers (one valve port is blind), to match the layout on the caster’s paper tower. An aluminum mouthpiece angles the ports by 45° so they meet up with the ports on the paper tower cross girt.

This is similar to the unit made by Krzysztof Słychań, but it uses machined channels rather than hoses and fittings to connect the valves to the caster ports.

The valve body has arms which hook onto one of the crossbars of the paper tower, and the weight of the valve unit provides enough pressure to seal a gasket between its mouthpiece and the paper tower cross girt.

Eventually all the electronics will be on a circuit board around the manifold, and an arm will link to the connecting hook to detect the part of the caster cycle where the air valves should be open. The unit will be fully self-contained, with just a power cord, compressed air inlet, and USB port. As with Bill Welliver’s interface, it will still use a computer to run it.

The rear labyrinth plate. Some passages penetrate to this layer directly from the valve ports and follow the channels to the outlet ports along the centre line. The remaining passages follow channels in the front labyrinth plate directly to the output positions.

The rear labyrinth plate. Some passages penetrate to this layer directly from the valve ports and follow the channels to the outlet ports along the center line. The remaining passages follow channels in the front labyrinth plate directly to the output positions. This was the first plate I made, and you can see some misalignment between the holes and channels due to a loose clamp bolt on the mill.


Drilling the air passages in the mouthpiece. This was awkward to do because of the 45o bevel involved.

Drilling the air passages in the mouthpiece. This this involved some tricky work holding because of the 45° bevel involved.

The valve body is a close fit on the paper tower. I don’t want it too sloppy because this might allow too much misalignment between the output ports and the ports on the paper tower. On the other hand, too close a fit makes it too tight to put in. The only dimension I had to work from was the width between the side covers of the paper tower on my caster, and I have no idea what manufacturing tolerances are involved. To see how well it fit on other casters, I brought it along with me to the ATF conference in upstate New York

My Show and Tell goodies for the conference

My Show and Tell goodies for the ATF conference

The electronics for the controller included a power supply, a microcontroller in the form of a Maker conference badge, and the drivers for the valves wired up on a breadboard. Everything was mounted on an ugly piece of plywood. The bin also contained an unusual Monotype mould for making cored type (I think it was 24-point), and a few laminated caster adjustment cheat sheets to pass around.

The microcontroller was not yet ready to do actual casting work, but I had it programmed to run the air channels sequentially, holding each one for about a second before switching to the next.

I got to try the valve body for fit on three of Mike Bixler’s comp casters, but unfortunately it would only fit on one, and even there is was a tight fit. This was during the show-and-tell segment of the conference, and there were a few interested people having a look and asking questions. Unfortunately I seemed to be spending most of my time explaining that the software was incomplete and only running a test cycle, as that was ultimately the answer to several of the questions.

I also hooked up compressed air to the valve to see how well the caster reacted. Some of the air pins snapped up smartly when activated, but others were sluggish or just didn’t move at all. I had seen similar results on my own caster, but I didn’t have a record of which ports worked well and which did not.

So my take-home from this was that:

  • There is some interest in this from ATF members
  • I need to make the body a tad narrower to ensure it fits all casters
  • I need to look into poor air flow problems
Posted in American Typecasting Fellowship, Caster Computer Control, Kevin, Other people Tagged with: ,

The 2016 ATF Conference, Day 4

Actually, there was no official Day 4 for the conference, but the Bixler foundry in Skaneateles and Virgin Wood Type in Rochester both had open houses again for those would couldn’t make the other times. Rochester was on my way home so I stopped off at Virgin to see their facilities.

They are located in a residential cul-de-sac, backing onto some freeway or other, with the dusty mechanized cutting taking place in the garage, and everything else in the house. The faces are cut using a router pantograph with a fixed spindle and moving work table. Several pieces of type are cut at once and later cut apart during finishing.


The pantograph: the spindle is just to the right of the lamp reflector. The tracer (in Jim Grieshaber’s hand) moves the work table through the linkage arms. A foot pedal raises and lowers the spindle.

The patterns for cutting are typically made by laminating cutout shapes (usually of thin plywood) onto a base. The cutouts are sometimes made by hand, but can also now be cut using a laser cutter. They have to be thick enough to resist wear from repeated passes of the tracer, and also to prevent the tracer from jumping up over the edge.

Although the wood used to make the type is end-grain, there is still a bit of wood fibre attached to the edges of the letters, so after separating the letters, the next step is to clean up the fuzzy edges left by the router bit. This is done by hand using a small fine flat file for the straight edges. The trick is to remove the fuzz without rounding over the edge.

Another finishing step is to clean up the inside corners which are too sharp an angle for the router bit to reach. For obtuse angles this is done with a sharp knife, but for acute angles a special punch is used. In either case the trimming is done almost by feel off the adjacent straight cuts so the trimmed edge aligns with the rest of the router cut.

When the type is finished, proofs are taken using carbon paper (so as not to ink the new type) on a flatbed press and the proofs are inspected prior to approving the type for shipment.

I’ve posted some YouTube videos of the process, showing the milling, edge cleanup, corner trimming, and proofing steps.

One product they have are chromatic faces, where there are two pieces of type for each letter, to be printed using transparent inks of two colours. The printing areas of the type overlap, so you get not only the two original ink colours, but also areas which show the combination of both colours. Although this could be extended to more than two colours, they’re currently only producing a two-colour version. There is an illustrated example at Virgin’s web site. These are made from a single multi-layer pattern to provide consistent register between the colours.

Posted in American Typecasting Fellowship, Conferences and Meet-ups, Kevin, Past Events

The 2016 ATF Conference, Day 3

The third day of the conference took place primarily at the Press & Letterfoundry of Michael and Winifred Bixler in Skaneateles, returning to the hotel in Auburn for the closing banquet in the evening.

The morning started with Mike and Winnie Bixler telling us the history and some projects of their foundry in The Who, What, Where and Why of the Bixler Letterfoundry. After the presentation, there was plenty of Q&A and as that tapered off things transitioned to the open house at the foundry.

As part of the open house, some of the casters were ready to run (without incident this time), and many of the books produced by the Bixlers were available for examination. People milled about looking at everything, including some gorgeous cabinets Mike himself made for storing his matrices and other equipment.

This is one point where my memory, three months later, is a bit fuzzy. I was reasonably sure that I had been running the Supercaster, casting thistle ornaments for a while during the open house, but clearly I also cast some during the workshops on day 1 because they were sold in the auction. I’m going to have to start taking better notes, or perhaps writing these blog posts in a more timely manner!

Lunch was available at the foundry, but the open house continued into the afternoon as well.

Mid-afternoon there were two more presentations:

Richard Årlin, from Stigsbergets Stamp och Press, in Stockholm, Sweden, showed us his work in making a font from his own punches. In addition to cutting his own punches, he has his own jigs for punching the mats so as to minimize the amount of finishing required by holding the mat and punch in standardized positions. His YouTube channel contains several videos showing some of his work.

Bradley Hutchinson, from, in Austin Texas, spoke about some of his recent work, including producing a new casting of Victor Hammer’s Andromaque face using matrices electroformed by Andy Dunker. Bradley provided a handout with a sample of the result, along with another sample printed in Poliphilus and Blado.

After the presentations, the program listed a Show and Tell session but there wasn’t much extra to show so it pretty much blended into the rest of the open house for the remainder of the afternoon. I took the opportunity to show the computer caster interface I’ve been working on, although it was not yet ready to actually run a caster; all it was doing at the time was cycling through the individual ribbon channels to test valve action and air flow.

After the open house, we returned to Auburn for the closing banquet. After supper, there was a discussion of business such as the location for the next conference, followed by a presentation by Rich Hopkins on the beginnings of the ATF, circa 1978. All this was punctuated by loud thunderclaps from a heavy thunderstorm that developed that evening.

Posted in American Typecasting Fellowship, Conferences and Meet-ups, Kevin, Past Events

32nd Annual OCADU Book Arts Fair

Coming up in only 5 days: The 32nd annual OCADU Book Arts Fair, open from 10am to 5pm on Saturday, December 10th, 2016, in the Great Hall at OCAD University, 100 McCaul Street in Toronto. Per the organizers:

OCAD University’s printmaking department presents the 32nd annual Book Arts Fair. Come and browse the unique handmade and crafted works by over 65 vendors! Book artists, printmakers, small publishers, students, professional artists, papermakers and printmaking suppliers.

The money raised by donation and raffle tickets goes to student awards and initiatives in the OCAD Printmaking Department. Suggested donation of $5.00 (or more!) at the door.

the Papertrail will have a couple of tables there, selling handmade paper, marbled paper, supplies for marbling and bookbinding, and books on various topics related to the book arts. New for us this year: for those of you into letterpress and e-mail addresses, we will be selling packs of @ signs in five sizes (8, 8 on 10, 10, 10 on 12, and 12 point).

Sorry for the short notice… Hope to see you there!

Posted in OCADU Book Arts Fair, Past Events, Us

The 2016 ATF Conference, Day 2

The second day of the conference was spent at Wells College, in Aurora, on the East shore of Cayuga Lake.

We started off with a hearty breakfast at the dining hall.

The dining hall, grand on the outside...

The dining hall, grand on the outside…

...and grand on the inside. This was actually a photo after lunch. Most of the people are ATF but in the lower left there are a handful of students around in the off-season.

…and grand on the inside. This was actually a photo after lunch. Most of the people are ATF but in the lower left there are a handful of students around for the off-season.

It was another dreadfully hot day, and many of the buildings we were in that day had no air conditioning, including this dining hall. I used more napkins mopping sweat than wiping my mouth.

Fortunately most of the business that day took place in a lecture hall in one of the newer buildings.

The lecture hall, just after first break, with Bob Magill preparing to talk about the Sterling Type Foundry

The lecture hall, just after first break, with Bob Magill preparing to talk about the Sterling Type Foundry

Our first session that morning had Greg Walters describing his adventures with his monster pivotal caster, casting 120- and 144-point type while cowering behind a shield. The machine doesn’t really deserve to be called a “pivotal” because it does not automatically close the mould as part of its cycle. The operator must close the mould, seat the matrix, and raise it up to the nozzle. Then a hydraulic cylinder pumps the type metal into the mould. Not so much the pressure, but the sheer volume the pump can produce along with the strong likelihood of leaks in the mould explain the need for the plexiglass shield.

Greg also discussed strategies to deal with the large air bubble which is trapped in the upper half of the mould cavity. Some strategies helped, others blew open the face of the type, yielding see-through type (two pieces of which were sold at the auction).

He had been using a jury-rigged clamp to hold the matrix to the mould, but while rummaging around his shop looking for something else he (or a visitor, I forget now) found the real matrix clamp sitting in the gear case of some other piece of equipment acquired on the same day as the monster pivotal.

Matrix holder for Greg's monster caster. The matrix is attached using screws to the large adapter plate.

Matrix holder for Greg’s monster caster. The matrix is attached using screws to the large light-coloured adapter plate (or perhaps that is actually a matrix…). To get the matrix tight enough to the mould Greg used a pipe on the capstan “handle” bolts to get enough torque. Similar force was needed to extract the matrix from type that included built-in kerns.

The next presenter was Ed Rayher (of Swamp Press), with An Archeology of Type. The archeology aspect came up in various ways. He presented some lettering from the tomb of Eurysaces the Baker in Rome, and also a project of his producing a revival of the Doves Type typeface. He also mentioned his work with Barbara Henry in developing an asemic (free of semantics, i.e. meaningless) font, where the printed result looks like lines of text but in fact do not contain any known letters, in effect going beyond Lorem Ipsum.

David MacMillan told us about the Nuernberger-Rettig Type-Maker, a slightly-improved pivotal caster. There are only five of these known to still exist: One is in storage at the Henry Ford Museum, and the other four at at Skyline Type Foundry. The improvements over a standard pivotal include a transmission that allows casting speed adjustment suitable to a wide range of type sizes, and a patented mould jet which leaves the jet attachment point inset into the foot of the type, eliminating the need to plow a foot groove to clean off the scar left from snapping off the jet. The type still had to be stacked by hand and dressed, however, just as with most pivotals. David’s presentation slides are available online.

After a short break, Bob Magill presented Dingbats and Ornaments: Is there a Future for Sterling Type Foundry? The Sterling Type Foundry was until recently run by Dave Churchman, who passed away earlier this year. Dave’s son, Andrew Churchman, has apparently taken on the task of (slowly) selling the contents of Dave’s (in)famous “Boutique de Junque” but it was not at first clear what would happen to the type foundry. Bob has come to the rescue, and will be continuing to run the foundry into the indefinite future.

The last presentation of the morning was from Stan Nelson, with the extremely long title Sorting Oneself Out, The Great ‘Tugalong’, A Fan of Heavy Metal, or Pulling One’s Weight; or Exploring the Fine Art of Shoehorning Too Much Stuff Into Too Little Space. He chronicled the construction of his new shop and the adventures and decisions involved in moving into it.

The group then returned to the sauna/dining hall for lunch and rehydration.

After lunch we were back in the comfort of the lecture hall for two more presentations. The first, by Bill Welliver, was A Retro Approach to Automated Type Casting. Type casting is pretty retro on its own, but this talk was about the retro nature of the automation. Bill presented several products from Monotype intended to stave off the death of hot metal due to the introduction of processes such as phototypesetting and computer-based composition systems. Although they were state-of-the-art at the time, they are certainly retro compared to modern systems. These systems and similar ones for linecasters to make them photoset text only added a few years to their lifetime.

The final presentation of the day was Saving the Dale Guild Typefoundry Artifacts from Dispersion: A Story of Distance in Time and Space, by Patrick Goossens, which chronicled how all the equipment from the Dale Guild typefoundry came into his possession. The Dale Guild foundry was created by Theo Rehak with equipment purchased from the auction at the closing of American Type Founders in 1992. After a few years, Dan Morris and Micah Currier purchased the foundry, keeping Theo on to mentor them in all aspects of type founding. Later Micah bought out Dan’s interest in the foundry and in 2013 decided to move it to his original stomping grounds in Salt Lake City. At that time some of the surplus equipment was sold to Patrick, and the remaining equipment was stored in a shipping container where it remained while Micah considered his options. In 2014 he decided to give up on the foundry and sold the whole container of equipment to Patrick. As a result all the Dale Guild equipment now resides in Patrick’s hands in Antwerp, Belgium.

The swap meet was next, in another of the non-air-conditioned buildings, but at least it was directly upstairs from the slightly cooler bar, The Well. I bought a few odd items, including a box of Monotype cellular sorts matrices.

An assortment of symbol and ornament mats in a nice box. The annotations inside the cover are completely irrelevant. The only mats I've sorted out so far are the @ signs in the top row.

An assortment of symbol and ornament mats in a nice box. The annotations inside the cover are completely irrelevant. The only mats I’ve sorted out so far are the @ signs in the top row.

The swap meet didn’t really take two hours so I took some time to wander about the campus a bit. I found their papermaking studio located in an ex-greenhouse attached to one of the buildings.


Needless to say, it was not in use during this hot weather.

At the end of the swap meet we returned to the lecture hall for the ATF auction.

The afternoon ended with a visit to the Long Library to see a selection of Victor Hammer‘s punches and matrices. Victor is known, among other things, for producing the typeface American Uncial while he was teaching at Wells College during the 1940’s.

Some of Victor Hammer's punches and matrices. They were unfortunately behind glass and dimly lit, making for difficult photography.

Some of Victor Hammer’s punches and matrices. They were unfortunately behind glass and dimly lit, making for difficult photography.

After a buffet dinner at the dining hall, we had a tour of the Wells Book Arts Center. Most of the rooms were cramped preventing a single group tour so many people went ahead of the tour or stayed behind in some of the rooms that held items of particular interest.

As evening neared, people headed down to the lakeshore near the College boathouse where some took the opportunity to cool off with a swim in Cayuga Lake. We ended the day with a view of the sun setting across the lake.

Swimmers in the lake. Hot as I was, I'm not a strong swimmer so I stayed on the dock.

Swimmers in the lake. Hot as I was, I’m not a strong swimmer so I stayed on the dock.

Dramatic clouds make for a photogenic sunset

Dramatic clouds made for a photogenic sunset. The sunset was actually listed in the conference program and Richard Kegler was a bit concerned that it might be spoiled by overcast skies.

As I’m writing this three months after the event, I hope I didn’t get too many details wrong!

Posted in American Typecasting Fellowship, Conferences and Meet-ups, Kevin, Past Events

A product possibly useful to papermakers

I was in the local Costco today and I spotted this chopping block:

20161128cutting-board-at-costcoIt is a 2″ (2cm) thick end-grain chopping block. People who do their own fibre processing may find this useful for cutting or hand-beating plant fibres. I don’t know how well it would stand up to the abuse it would get, but it might be worth a try.

Posted in Pulp preparation, Useful gadgets and ideas

The 2016 ATF Conference, Day 1

The ATF conference started on Thursday, August 11th, with a flex day giving attendees several options:

I opted to attend the two technical sessions at the Bixler foundry.

Michael and Winifred Bixler run their foundry and private press in a beautiful old building on the northern outskirts of Skaneatales.

The Bixler type foundry

The Bixler type foundry

Read more ›

Posted in American Typecasting Fellowship, Conferences and Meet-ups, Kevin, Past Events

The 2016 ATF Conference

Last August I attended the 2016 American Typecasting Fellowship (ATF) conference held in the Finger Lakes area of upstate New York along with about 50 other people, primarily from North America, but a few from further abroad. Here’s a photo of most of the gang, along with some of the hosts. This photo was taken after the closing banquet so a few people had to leave early and aren’t in the photo.

The conference was spread across several locations: Our central base of operations was in Auburn NY at the north end of Owasco Lake, with some opening tours in Rochester, a day at Wells College in Aurora on Cayuga Lake, and another day at Skaneateles on the north end of Skanealetes Lake.

I drove to the conference, with the air conditioner running full blast in the blistering heat that week, and stayed at the conference hotel in Auburn. The only real problem on the trip was the border crossing into New York at the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls. There was a long wait, with the traffic being backed up all the way from the border inspection area across the bridge into Ontario. I still have to come up with a way of describing my trip in a manner that doesn’t send the border guard off in the wrong thought direction—somehow the word “conference” seems to set off their Spidey senses and I then have to explain them back to the mundane actuality of the situation. Perhaps next time I’ll call it an “informal conference” for which they will of course ask me to explain my hedge words: only 50 people, most of whom already know each other, no one is paid for anything, sort of like a big family reunion!

I’ll be detailing each day in a separate upcoming post.

Posted in American Typecasting Fellowship, Conferences and Meet-ups, Kevin, Past Events

Blog (and website) more fixed

Warning: Extreme Web geek talk ahead!

Well, at the time of the last post I thought I had everything on our website working again, but I was wrong. There appears to be a bug in WordPress (which has nothing to do with our server change) that, if the link name for the post happens to start with the prefix of the path of the blog URL, the article cannot be found using its permalink. The URL to our blog is, so in the case of recent posts about the blog being broken and then fixed, whose link names are, for example, blog-fixed (so the full URL to the post is, the WordPress code looks for a page whose link name is -fixed rather than blog-fixed (and fails to find it).

I worked around the problem by manually changing the the link name (“slug” in WP parlance), which is generated from the post title, from blog-something to xblog-something.

This had not been a problem previously because our old permalinks looked like, which includes the post date. The page link always starts with a year number which can never be equal to the blog path.

I tried searching the WP problem database but could not get a sufficiently specific search to determine if this was a known problem.

I also changed our static web pages (outside WP land) from XHTML to HTML5 because our new server can’t insert charset= modifiers into the Content-type HTML headers of the web request replies. The old files had the encoding in the <?xml ... ?> header but this was being ignored because the browser content-type was text/html rather than application/xhtml+xml. I could have fixed it by changing all the files to .xhtml extensions but I would have had to change all the internal links as well. Instead I removed the <?xml ... ?> header, added a <meta charset=.../> and changed the <!DOCTYPE from XHTML to <!DOCTYPE html> which implies HTML5.

Speaking of changing links, WP has another oddity. When you define things like menus, you can make the menu items link to a WP post, a WP page, or a “custom” link which is just a fixed URL. When you change the permalink format on your site options, the menus that link to posts and pages automatically produce the referenced URL in the new format. On the other hand, when you link from the content of one post or page (or comment) to another post or page, the link is always a fixed URL that does not change when the site’s permalink format is altered. The only way to correct this is to modify all the post, page, and comment text to change the URL in the links. I will eventually do this using a direct query to the underlying MySql database, but in the meantime, I have the web server configuration set to redirect old permalinks to the new permalink format using a 302 status. This will also benefit people who have their own bookmarks or links to specific articles.

As for the reason for all these changes, the system that hosts our web site has recently been upgraded from an unsupported old release of OpenBSD to a more recent one to ensure we could be up to date on security fixes. We had been using Apache as the web server program, but this is no longer available for OpenBSD. For a while the maintainers flirted with Nginx as a web server, but they also dumped that and went with a basic httpd that is very sparse in terms of configuration options.

Posted in About this blog, Kevin