An Excellent Film for English Monotype Operators

That is, for people who operate an English Monotype Composition Caster (as opposed to the American Lanston Monotype machine). Even more specifically, given the mix of English and American equipment now in use, for users of English composition moulds.

There is an excellent film describing the care and maintenance of the English composition mould available on Vimeo. This film shows the teardown, cleaning, and reassembly of this style of mould, and also shows how the mould and casting cycle operate using a special mould made of transparent plastic. The maintenance instructions also mention the parts of the mould which should not be disturbed, as these moulds contain several eccentric screws/pins which are factory-set to provide proper mutual alignment of some of the parts.

Some of the other English-made moulds have a similar internal structure and much of this film would be applicable to those as well. The way to recognize such moulds is by the hollow screw on the right side, where the oiler attaches. This screw acts as a oil passage to the side of the blade, and also applies spring pressure to the side of the blade during assembly.

On note, though: I find that the audio timing is off by a second or two. You don’t see anyone talking so it is not a lip-sync issue, but there are sequences where they do things like name parts while pointing them out, and I find that the voice seems to be naming the next or previous part through each such sequence.

Also, they specifically use benzene to clean the parts, which would nowadays be discouraged both because of the fire hazard and also because benzene is a carcinogen. For that matter, although I actually like the odour of most solvents, benzene just gives me a headache! For cleanup one can use paint thinner, or for stubborn crud, lacquer thinner, brake cleaner, or carburettor cleaner (although the latter two evaporate in an instant, which may be too fast).

All this with a mix of understated British humour!

Progress on the Mackenzie Printery’s Linotype (Lower Reed Comb)

This is yet another repair I had to make on the Linotype at the MacKenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum.

The keyboard assembly has a row of 91 short pushrods, known as the Lower Reeds, which push up when a key is pressed, ultimately releasing a matrix from the magazine above. The magazine has 90 channels but there is also a lower reed for releasing spacebands.

These reeds are supported and aligned by a double comb made of brass (part number H-2484). The lower part of the comb has closed slots for the reeds to pass through, but the upper part of the comb is just open teeth to space the reeds apart. These teeth are vulnerable to damage if the keyboard is swung out on its pivot (e.g. for maintenance) when some of the reeds are raised (e.g. due to keyboard jams), unless the operator takes precautions to prevent the raised reeds from striking the lower ends of adjacent upper reeds.

The comb is mounted on a steel support bar (H-2485) by several screws (H-207), and the entire assembly has part number H-2580.

The keyboard at the museum has had three of these comb teeth broken off; two had been repaired in the past, and now I have repaired the third one in the same manner.

View from the top of the comb showing the bent and broken teeth.

Another view of the damaged teeth

The comb is formed from sheet brass, and it would be pretty much impossible to weld/braze/solder on a replacement tooth. However, the repair used on the other two teeth is fairly easy to repeat. A 1/16″ hole is drilled in the steel support bar exactly where the comb tooth should be, and a short piece of 1/16″ brass rod (I used brazing rod) is inserted. In my case the rod was a good enough fit in the hole to stay put, but if necessary a locking compound (such as Loctite™ 638) could be used to retain the rod.

The hole was not as accurately positioned as I would have liked, especially where it broke through the rear of the steel bar, but the tolerances in this particular area of the Linotype could be described as “sloppy” so it was easy to bend the rod to line it up good enough. The two teeth from a previous repair, as well as a couple of intact teeth on the comb, were also gently bent back into alignment.

Reinstalling this comb was a bit of a juggling act because of the need to keep 91 lower reeds from going astray. I think it was easier to install this bar and comb, and remove the other bar (which has a vertical stop for the reed motion) instead. I could then drop all the lower reeds into the comb, using a steel ruler to prevent them from falling out or dropping too low (the reeds have a notch in their side which limits their vertical movement). I could then use the ruler to raise all the reeds a bit so the bar could be reinstalled. I suspect an alternative might be to trip all the keyboard cams so they would hold the reeds up in such a way that the bar could be reinstalled.

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Linotype Knife Block R&R

The knife block on the Linotype at the Mackenzie Printery Museum was pretty much impossible to adjust due to dried out lubricant.

This block controls the position of the right knife which trims the thickness of the cast slug to its finished size, and it should be set by the operator to match the size of the mould being used. If it is set too wide (too large a size) no trimming will occur and you will have an overly-thick slug with a rough surface that may not lock up well in the forme. If it is set too narrow it will be trying to trim off too much metal and the slug will likely jam when ejected from the mould.

The actual knife position for each size is determined by selecting a set screw (which in turn has its own set screw to prevent its going out of adjustment); the slide that holds the knife is pushed against the end of the selected set screw by spring tension.

Because it would be difficult to rotate the selector wheel with the slide bumping along from one adjustment screw to the next, the knife block also includes a rotary cam which pushes the slide keeping it just clear of the adjustment screws, at which point the selector wheel can be easily turned.

To do this the knife block knob can rotate a bit without the selector wheel, engaging this cam, then rotate with the selector wheel to select a new size, and finally rotate back without the selector wheel to disengage the cam leaving the slide pressing against the newly selected set screw.

Engaging the rotary cam closes up the knife a bit, and this would be impossible in the case of a jammed slug, so there is another control on the knife block that allows the selector wheel lock to be disengaged without engaging the cam, allowing the user (with some difficulty) to select a wider position to clear the jam.

All this leads to a rather complex-looking mechanism between the knob, selector wheel, and selector wheel locking pin.

On this particular caster, the knob was seized onto its shaft by lubricant that had dried and turned sticky, so it was impossible to release the selector wheel lock and choose a new size. I remove the knife block and, in my basement workshop, I disassembled, cleaned, oiled, and reassembled it, and it now works like a charm.

The knife block mostly in pieces. The orange and violet bits are shims, which I assume are colour-coded by thickness.

A couple of the parts were difficult to assemble and disassemble (even had the block not had gummy lubricant). In particular, there is a two-part guide that forms the right hand side of the ejection chute for the slug (the two light-coloured parts on the left in the above photo). The hockey-stick-shaped piece screws to the slide that carries the knife, then the rectangular plate (which floats a bit and has a spring behind it) mounts over it, covering its mounting screws. The problem is that the shoulder screws that hold the floating plate go in from the back and there is very little room to get a screwdriver in to remove or install them. It would be much easier if the floating plate had holes in it over the mounting screws for the fixed guide; you could them screw the two together before installing either onto the block.

One thing that might make this easier, which I did not try, would be to remove/install the floating plate with the selector wheel and the guide bracket (the curved piece lower left in the photo) not installed. This might just give a better alignment to use a screwdriver on the shoulder screws. The downside of this is that you then must spend more time handling the heavy knife block with this rather fragile piece of sheet metal sticking out.

The knife block does not appear to have any facility to oil this knob and its shaft without at least removing the knob and its linkage to the selector wheel. There are a spot or two where you can apply oil and hope it wicks into all the necessary places, but no proper oil holes.

I have a YouTube video. showing reassembly of the block (and implicitly its disassembly), how it works, and with a few tips on servicing it.

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Progress on the Mackenzie Printery’s Linotype (Broken Upper Reed)

One of the tasks I had in getting the Linotype at the Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum working was to repair one of the keyboard reeds which I had broken (I blame the service manual for failing to warn of the possibility of this happening).

The Linotype typically contains 90 of these push rods, which rise from the operator’s keyboard to the top of the machine where they operate an escapement mechanism to release a matrix which determines the shape of the letter. Each reed operates one channel in the matrix magazine to release a particular letter.

The keyboard itself also contains short lower reeds which raise the upper reeds to release a matrix. The keyboard is mounted on a vertical pivot so it can be swung out for servicing, but if (due to a keyboard jam) one or more of the lower reeds is stuck in the raised position when the keyboard is swung out, they will strike the lower ends of nearby upper reeds. This can cause either the upper or lower reeds to be bent or broken off, or can damage the comb that keeps the reeds lined up properly. This is exactly what happened to this caster.

When swinging out the keyboard it is crucial to check for stuck lower reeds and manually raise the upper reeds as needed to clear the lower reeds, but the manual contains no such warning.

The lower reeds are soft enough steel that they can generally be bent back to their proper shape, but the upper reeds are hardened steel and so will break off rather than bend back.

I repaired the reed by welding on a new bottom end, after cutting the broken end off clear of any guides it runs in. I’ve posted a YouTube video showing the intermediate steps (though none of the actual work).

It took me several tries to repair this: My first patch was cut from mild steel, and it was only when trimming the broken end that I determined the reeds are hardened steel and so using a mild steel patch would probably not last. My second (and subsequent) patches were cut from O1 tool steel which can be hardened, but it took me three tries shaping the joint and welding it before I had something that could be machined to the proper shape. The steel was partially hardened by the welding heat, and such a thin part is very difficult to anneal because the metal cools too quickly in open air. I did some of the shaping with a saw and files, but I also had to use some grinding tools in my Dremel to shape the hardened parts.

After adjusting the S-bend to the appropriate offset I hardened and tempered the part and reinstalled it in the Linotype, where it has been working fine ever since.

I actually did this repair in June 2022; I’m just slow posting about it.

The comb that guides the lower reeds was also damaged, and I have addressed that repair in a separate post.

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Monotype Repairs: An Enclosure for a New Pot Temperature Controller

The finished box. Dimensions are 5×7×5 inches.

While using my Monotype Composition Caster recently, I’ve noticed that the pot temperature has been drifting. On several occasions I’ve found it to be quite a bit hotter than the setpoint, to the point where I had to select a temperature a couple hundred degrees (F) cooler than what I wanted. This was after recalibrating the controller once.

I couldn’t trust that the caster would hold a stable temperature so I’ve been working on replacing the pot controller system with a modern electronic temperature controller which uses a thermocouple to measure the temperature of the molten type metal.

One thing I needed that I neither already had nor could find anywhere was a metal enclosure that was big enough to hold the new control electronics but small enough to perch comfortably in place of the old Partlow controller. I ended up making an enclosure myself, and documented my trials doing this in a new YouTube video.

As is often the case, projects like these move at a glacial pace, so my caster has been down for about three months waiting for me to finish this new controller. I hope that now that the case is complete the rest of the work will go faster.

Update: Temperature Controller Finished

As of the end of April 2023 I have the new controller completed, and other that tweaking the viewing angle a bit, it is working well.

American Typecasting Fellowship Meeting this April

After one cancellation and one virtual meeting both due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Typecasting Fellowship (ATF) will be holding its first in-person conference since the August 2018 conference hosted by M&H Type in San Francisco.

This year’s event will be hosted by Scott Vile at Ascensius Press in Buxton, Maine, and also nearby in Portland, on April 28-30, 2023.

Please visit Scott’s Facebook page for more information or e-mail him at to get updates.

I will will be attending this meeting and probably be giving a presentation, topic yet TBD but related to the Monotype Composition Caster. As a result I will be missing this year’s Grimsby Wayzgoose, which is unfortunately the same weekend.

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2023 Grimsby Wayzgoose, April 29th

The 45th Grimsby Wayzgoose Book Arts Fair will take place at the Grimsby Public Art Gallery in Grimsby, Ontario, from 9am to 5pm on Saturday, April 29th 2023.

We will have a table at the show, selling some of our handmade and marbled paper, new and used books on topics such as hand papermaking, bookbinding, and marbling, and a selection of tools and materials for these crafts.

We will also have a section in this year’s Wayzgoose Anthology, as usual prepared at the last minute!

I (Kevin) can’t make it this year, as I will be at the American Typecasting Fellowship meeting in Maine that weekend, but Audrey and Lily will be in Grimsby to see you.

Air Compressor for the Monotype Caster

I’ve been using a compact air compressor to run my Monotype Composition Caster. The machine uses pneumatics to control what matrix it casts, when to start a new line, how wide to make the adjustable-width casts, etc. Originally the caster would read its control information from a 4″-wide punched paper ribbon by applying compressed air to one side of the ribbon and detecting the holes because they don’t block the air. My caster now uses computer-controlled valves to inject air into the same holes, but even without the ribbon the machine is still controlled pneumatically.

The compressor I had been using was probably 20 years old, and it was taking it forever to build up pressure. I expect that the piston, cylinder, and/or valves have worn out. Being that old, and an off-brand, spare parts were out of the question, so last spring I bought a new compact compressor to replace it.

The noise of the old compressor was pretty loud, but its replacement seemed even louder! I can stand all the clatter the caster itself makes, but when the compressor ran I couldn’t think straight without hearing protection.

The new compressor. Note that I’ve replaced the “universal” quick disconnect with a “type A” one because I find that the former leak if you tug sideways on the hose at all.

This week I noticed that Princess Auto had on sale a compact compressor which was described as being particularly quiet, so I decided to take a chance and bought it. Wow, what a difference! This compressor is about as loud as a loud refrigerator, i.e. not loud at all. When I turned it on, Audrey’s comment was “is that it?”. With the caster running I don’t think I would hear the compressor at all.

I should point out that the caster itself can be quite noisy, especially when casting composition (text) because of the matrix case flying back and forth, so I often wear hearing protection as well. But at least now people at the other end of the room won’t jump when the compressor starts up.

This compressor also has a proper parts list, and the piston seal is a Teflon ring which could be made from scratch if the OEM part is no longer available.

The old compressor will now be relegated to the basement for occasional use with an air stapler.

Adjusting the Second Transfer on a Linotype

Continuing my work on the Linotype line caster at the Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum, this weekend I adjusted the second transfer alignment, where the matrices are transferred from the second elevator to the distributor bar.

On at least two occasions I have had matrices hang up there, preventing the second elevator from descending to pick up the next line of matrices. Read more ›

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Sticking Monotype Air Pins

Recently while trying to cast some fonts on my Monotype Composition Caster, I have found that the galley cycles did not operate reliably, forcing me to watch the casting run like a hawk to manually trigger the galley cycle to start a new line of type.

The caster is set in “double justification” mode, meaning that a galley cycle is triggered by both justification-setting air channels (0005 and 0075) being activated together in the same cycle. Watching the caster in action, however, I saw that only the coarse (0075) one was activating. This was sufficient to correctly set the justification because it was followed by a 0005 (only) cycle that set the fine justification and re-enabled the pump. But without both channels acting together there was no galley cycle and the (supposed) new line would be combined end-to-end with the just-finished line.

I also noticed that, first thing in the day, when I applied air to this channel, it would take 5-10 seconds for the pin to raise, when it should really snap up within a fraction of a second. If I pressed it down against the force of the air and released it, it would pop up again right away, but the longer I held it down, the longer it would take to pop up again.

The pin turned out to be sticking, but not due to mechanical friction. Instead a film of oil between the flat bottom of the air pin and the flat bottom of its cylinder was delaying the rise of the pin due to suction. The longer the pin stayed down, the more complete the film became, making it harder for the pin to rise again. Read more ›