The Linotype at Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum

Over the past several weeks I’ve been spending Saturday mornings at the Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum in Queenston, Ontario, near Niagara Falls. This museum is located in the historic house where William Lyon Mackenzie lived for a while and produced the Colonial Advocate which strongly critiqued the government of the time, fomenting unrest which eventually led to the Upper Canada Rebellion and establishment of a more representative government in Upper Canada (what is now Ontario). The building is maintained, and tours and guides are provided, by the Niagara Parks Commission, and a separate group owns and maintains the majority of the printing equipment located there. I’ve been a member of this group for many years, and recently I became a director.

Amidst their collection is a model 5 Linotype linecasting machine.

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Niagara Falls Update

We took a day trip to the Falls last Friday, and this time we visited the Niagara Parks Power Station which we missed on our last visit. This station was built in 1905, was in operation for 100 years, and now hosts displays about the development of the station itself and hydroelectricity in general.

When in operation, this station had 11 generators running at 250 RPM to produce 25Hz power. This frequency has been obsolete in North America for decades (we use 60Hz), but local industrial customers were still using it.

You can also take the elevator to the bottom of the pit and walk along the tunnel which use to drain the turbine outfeed to the Niagara River downstream from the falls. The tunnel is well-lit, large (considerably bigger than a train tunnel), cool (refreshing on a hot day) and very humid. At the end of the tunnel there is a viewing platform in the gorge where you can see the Falls and, depending on the wind, get soaked by the mist. Rain ponchos are available free right by the tunnel exit. On the elevator trips you can see the turbine, drive shaft, and penstock for the adjacent generator (I think it was the #2 unit) through the gloom.

The exit of the tunnel, directly facing the American falls. On the platform itself you can also see the Canadian (Horseshoe) Falls and most of the gorge.

We all felt this was a worthwhile stop. It may seem a bit expensive at first, but by Niagara Falls attraction standards it is actually a good deal.

A Good Casting Day

After much thought about my problem with second shot, and with little help from any manuals, I’ve got my caster to behave properly.

The second shot problem was caused by an incorrect adjustment in the pump crosshead and linkage area. The pair of levers that operate the pump have a slotted hole and spring plunger in the link that joins them. When the pump is not in use, this plunger is supposed to be compressed a tiny bit, and it ensures that the pump piston is firmly held at the top of its stroke. The plunger also compresses if the pump piston jams in the down position; very old casters did not have the slot, so a jammed pump would either stall the caster or break something.

The adjustment is described in Casting Machine Adjustments, on page 161 in the copy I consulted:Note that the reference to the pin 32H1 being in the center of the hole in the lever refers to the older casters; in newer casters like mine this hole is a slot in the lever and all that is necessary is the 1/64″ clearance produced by a half turn of the adjusting screw.

Here is the adjustment on my caster, as seen from the rear:

Upper arrow is the adjustment screw 31H8, lower arrow is the locknut 31H9. The yellow thing is a sensor for my pump stroke counter.

On my caster, there was no overthrow in the adjustment, and the pivot pin in the linkage had a bit of drag but was not fully loose, and that was enough to allow a bit of a squirt as the pump descended after casting.

The frustrating part of this episode was that the two manuals that described the “second shot” problem never mentioned to check this adjustment. They just contained vague explanations about spring pressures being wrong with no hints as to how to check or adjust them:

From the ‘Monotype’ Composition Caster Manual. A very similar explanation exists in The Monotype Casting Machine Manual.

With this problem tackled, and a new type clamp installed in the type carrier, I got a good font cast:The run was still not problem-free, but the remaining issues did not disturb the lines of type. The remaining problems were:

  • The first type in the line would occasionally fall over in the type channel if it was very narrow (e.g. ‘i’ or ‘l’). This letter would then fall out of the channel altogether, but for font casting missing one lowercase letter is not important, and it also did not leave a significantly shorter line. I thought the type channel had a ridge which engaged the nick of the type, which should prevent this; this is something else to look into.
  • On one occasion, the galley cycle was missed; I had to stop the run, remove the extra types that should have been on the next line, and rewind the computer interface to the start of the line. The galley trip is a touchy adjustment; if set too sensitive it will trip during a single justification cycle (which it should not), and the sensitivity depends somewhat on the caster speed.
  • During the galley cycle, the rule would sometimes snag on the type in the channel and lift it up as it rose; the type would drop down again each time before the column pusher moved in onto the galley, but there is definitely a chance this might derange the type. This might be due to a slight curve in the rule causing it to press the type against the column pusher a bit.
  • I still have a bit of a temperature control problem: Keeping the casting running cool enough for larger type meant that the nozzle could freeze when casting a long run of narrow characters. I got around this by shutting off the mould cooling water while a long run of narrow characters was casting. This is only an issue for font casting; in true composition casting one does not encounter long runs of i’s and l’s! A very distant possibility in the future would be to have the computer interface automatically control the motor speed control of the VFD to vary the motor speed based on a running average of the widths of the type being cast.

Introductory Papermaking Workshop, August 6th 2022

After much delay, we will be holding another Introductory Papermaking Workshop, on Saturday, August 6th, 2022, from 9am to 4pm at our store in New Dundee.

Our workshop last August was held mostly outdoors on our covered porch, but what with lots of things cluttering up our shop and having to dance around COVID restrictions we have not scheduled anything since then.

Well, now we have our shop cleaned up, and indoor gatherings are allowed with no masking requirements, so we’re ready for another workshop. We would still prefer it if attendees had their vaccinations up to date and wear masks, but we are not going to insist on it, and we ourselves will not always be wearings masks, particularly when we are addressing the entire group.

Unfortunately, as with everyone, inflation has hit us, and we have had to increase our workshop fees. This workshop now costs $80.00 plus 13% HST for a total of $90.40; there is no additional materials fee.

We have room for 8 attendees, so if you would like to attend, please contact us to book your spot. We don’t insist on prepayment, but if the course fills up, priority will go to people who have prepaid. You can cancel and get your prepayment back up until a week before the workshop, but after July 30th no refunds will be issued if you cancel. If we cancel the workshop for any reason all prepayments will be refunded.

Another Bad Casting day

Yesterday, I tried to cast another font of 12-point Caslon Old Style (Lanston 12-337E). The computer and pneumatics worked flawlessly, but the type kept misbehaving in the type channel.

The caster seemed to be doing something known as a “second shot”, where a bit of molten metal squirts up and adheres to the foot of the type after the jet is cut off.

This metal causes the type to ride high in the type channel, not pack tightly to the adjacent type, or force the (spring-loaded) type channel to open up a bit and so allow the other properly-cast type to fall over or turn sideways. The type also jams as it transfers from the type channel to the galley. Sometimes the metal breaks off and is dragged into the type channel area where it prevents the type of lining up neatly.

There are actually two causes of extra metal at the foot of the type. The other cause is known as “bleeding feet” which occurs when the jet is cut off before the metal has solidified completely, and a bit of metal oozes out through the still-molten part of the foot of the type.I have several reasons to think this is second shot and not bleeding feet:

  • The caster is running borderline too cold as evidenced by the fact that in the same line as the bad feet I was also getting nozzle freezes. Bleeding feet occur when things are too hot.
  • The extra metal almost peels off completely with only a tiny patch left adhering (though still enough to affect height-to-paper). I think bleeding feet would produce a solid well-adhered blob of metal.
  • The metal looks like a squirt; it has the appearance you would expect from the “splat” of molten metal and looks like all the other metal decorating the floor and walls around the caster. Bleeding feet would tend to produce a compact, nearly round, blob of metal.
  • The amount of metal exceeds what I would ever expect could ooze out of the foot of the type.

That being said, I’m at a loss to explain how this is happening. It has to be occurring after the type carrier and mould crossblock have moved completely to the right, exposing the foot of the type. By that time the pump has completely returned to its idle position. I only found one troubleshooting hint in the manuals relating to second shot, and it was a rather hand-wavy explanation of the source of the problem which did not really fit with how the mechanism moves. I’ll have to re-read that in detail to see if I can make sense of it. I’ll also review the timing diagrams I found in a (very old) manual to see the exact timing between the pump motion and the type carrier motion.

One strange thought I just had, related to the caster running borderline too cold, is that before the nozzle drops away from the mould, it (the nozzle) freezes just enough to seal it. After the nozzle drops away, heat conducted up from the nozzle base re-melts the metal, so any residual pressure in the area would cause a little squirt of metal. Again, I’d have to take a close look at timings to see if this is plausible (and still would need a theory on the source of the residual pressure).

Perhaps I could also take a slow-motion video of the pump operating to see if anything odd happens when a second shot occurs. The problem here would be identifying which pump cycles in the video had a second shot and which did not. Murphy’s law will of course dictate that if I try doing this the problem will go away!

The problem perhaps seemed to be worse when casting narrower type.

One problem analysis technique I sometimes use is to consider what has changed since last time (when the problem did not occur). Before this casting run I removed the pump body, cleaned the piston, chased oxides out from around the heating elements, drossed and cleaned the metal, and reinstalled the pump. I also topped up the metal, giving a very full pot. Serves me right for trying to run things sparkly clean!

A Little Monotype Alignment Conundrum

I recently cast a font of 12-337E Caslon Old Style from a 15×15 matcase using my Monotype computer interface.

Upon rummaging around I also found that I had loose cellular matrices for the quaints in this font. That would be mostly the long-s and its several ligatures, but also include matrices for ‘ct’ and ‘st’ ligatures, so I decided to cast some of these to include with the font.

Rather than opening up the diecase to add these two matrices (and finding an appropriate location for them to get the correct width), I chose to use my 40A single cellular matrix holder (illustrated on page 104 of the Lanston Plate Book).This replaces the composition diecase, and the caster was manually positioned to H 6 to position the matrix under the centering pin (I could have used the computer interface and pneumatics to position this but I didn’t want to fire up the noisy compressor). By consulting a table in the rear of The Monotype Casting Machine Manual I found the settings for the justification wedges to allow casting these 14- and 15-unit types in row position 6 (normally 9 units). I engaged the dog (normally used for display casting) to force use of the justification wedges even without compressed air and cast the type.

The part I found odd was that the ‘t’ on the ligature hung over the edge of the finished type. I had to tweak the alignment by about 5 thousandths of an inch to remove the overhang so the ‘t’ in these ligatures would align just like a single ‘t’ in the regular font.

Looking at the matrices does not show any such misalignment. In these particular close-ups five thousandths of an inch would be about 10 pixels or 1/40th of the overall matrix size and would be clearly visible. Furthermore, the matrices are designed to be placed in the diecase with the regular font so you can do composition casting using the ligatures.

I’m at a bit of a loss as to why I got such poor alignment. Even if the matrix holder position needed some adjustment (by adjusting the draw rods), the matrix should still ultimately center on its cone hole (pushing the matrix jaw open if needed to allow the mat holder to shift). Such pushing around is of course in the long term rough on the centering pin and matrix cone holes (causing excessive wear), but the centering pin should be reliably strong enough to push the diecase around as needed. In any case I later checked the drawbar positions and they were fine—the centering pin was landing right in the middle of the matrix cone hole.

One thing, though, is that I was just finding the beard was overhanging the body of the type, so perhaps these mats have a wider beard than the regular ‘t’. I should cast some of these letters and proof them to see how the actual alignment turns out. If they truly have different alignment, in theory any computer program generating a ribbon file for composition casting could compensate for these matrices being out of alignment horizontally by kerning both sides, but that does not help when casting fonts.

Private Screening of Woodwriter

Last night we traveled to the Royal Cinema in downtown Toronto for a private screening of Woodwriter: The Wordless Art of George A. Walker. College Street in Toronto’s Little Italy was abuzz with pedestrians enjoying the wonderful warm spring evening.

This documentary film produced, directed, and edited by Jeff Winch, was partly funded through a Kickstarter campaign to which we contributed. The film presents George’s work, concentrating on his recent series of wordless biographies, along with a bit of his philosophy of life.

George is an old friend of ours from the letterpress/craft printing/book arts scene, and he has published a series of (so far) five wordless biographies of famous Canadians, illustrated entirely with his own wood engravings. These books are published by The Porcupine’s Quill and are available through their website as digital downloads or as physical copies sold through Abe Books.

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Wayzgoose 2022 Anthology

Well, it won’t be ready for distribution for several months, but this year’s Wayzgoose Anthology is on its way to the bookbinder.

This year our contribution is a bit of a farewell to Rhona Wenger, who just retired from the Grimsby Art Gallery, where she has been organizing Wayzgoose for so many years. It is based on cuts on a vegetation theme left from the now-dissolved Book Arts Guild of Richmond Hill (though one of the cuts might be a pair of serpents rather than intertwining branches).

Most of the blocks are lino cuts, but one, the nice “park” scene, is a copper engraving. Unfortunately, partway through the print run it was damaged by a bit of grit in one of the sheets of handmade paper. Bummer. I might try unmounting the plate and carefully hammering the pit out from the back; I suspect almost anything would look better than how it prints right now.

Especially with handmade paper, getting lino cuts and type to print well on the same page really requires two runs through the press, one normally inked with just the type and another very heavily inked with just the cuts to get the solids. Unfortunately I was running late getting this ready so I just compromised and got somewhat over-inked text and somewhat patchy blacks on the cuts.

Dundee Artisan Festival

We’ll be participating in the first annual Dundee Artisan Festival, next Saturday, May 7th, 2014, from 10am to 6pm. Most of the festival will take place in New Dundee Park, just a couple minutes’ walk from our shop, but in lieu of a booth at the park, we will be open that day for anyone who wants to visit.

The Festival will feature various artisans, as well as food and entertainment throughout the day.


For more details, see:

Now we just have to clean up the mess that has accumulated in our shop over two+ years of isolation!

Towards a better casting day

After analyzing the problems from my bad casting day, I’ve managed, with some success, to address all the problems (numbered to match the previous post):

  1. I disassembled, cleaned, and reassembled the mould, and checked the carrying frame height on the caster bridge. I got a little lost doing the latter so I’m not sure if there turned out to be any net change in the adjustment. The result was that the type came out cleaner with little flash. A close inspection of both the matrices and the mould show little wear on either.
  2. The airpins sticking either up or down were addressed by adding a better air regulator to the interface.
  3. I didn’t address the wear on the normal wedge, but one other possible source of wrong-length lines could be stuck airpins in the front pin block. This would select a cast whose width is different from what the line length was calculated for.
  4. A few days after the bad casting run I noticed that the tank on my closed-loop cooling system was empty, so I may have had insufficient cooling water during the failed casting run. This new run did not encounter any such problems.
  5. See #4 above.
  6. The communications issues turned out to be a failing clock on the laptop. After an hour had elapsed, the time would jump back an hour, causing the computer to relive the same hour forever. Some changes to the software or a new laptop resolved this issue (yes, “or”… see the linked post).

The new casting run went much better, but still not perfectly. There are still issues with airpins sticking either up or down, so I have to look further into air supply problems. I haven’t looked at the line length variation yet, which seems a bit pointless as long as the wrong matrix row is being cast. Other than the casting not containing the diphthongs ‘æ’ and ‘œ’, which is a software problem with the MCA and font scheme, the sticking airpins are the only problem left. Perhaps contamination in the air is causing the pneumatic valves to operate improperly, and I need a filter/water trap right at the caster.