Thursday, October 17, 2013


Here, at the press, we use presses. And letters (type). Think of this post as a recognition of some of the other tools necessary to our work. Those of you who have never printed on a letterpress before will learn a whole new and utterly useless vocabulary and those of you who use these tools every day—well, you just might learn something too. 

Our galleys, or galley trays. Used to hold type which has been composed (put together) but not yet printed or printed but not yet distributed (put away).

The word originally appeared meaning low, flat-built seagoing vessel of one deck. Printers allegedly started using the word around 1650 because of it's similarity in shape. (Really? These look like boats?) I'd like to think it's because the type is in transitionnot at its home drawer, not at its destination of the press bed, but traveling. Like it were, say, on a boat.

Our quoins. Not coins, contrary to the belief of many. Expandable sticks that "lock" a forme into the press bed by way of horizontal pressure. From a 16th century word for cornerstone which came to mean wedge which for obvious reasons came to be applied to these.

Our furniture. I can't even find a printing-related definition of this word. Used for filling the press bed once the forme is in place so the quoin will have something to apply pressure against. In a sense, it's what is used to furnish the press bed after the forme is in place.

Our planers used for leveling type in the press bed. Also known affectionately as blocks of wood.

Our type height gauge. Used to gauge the height of something one wants to print. So that thing can be adjusted to be type-high (.918 inches)EXACTLY. Not absolutely necessary but an impressively sensitive and accurate machine.

Our pica rulers. Used for measuring in type-based units known as picas. Pica is Latin for magpie so clearly the word came from when magpies would steal printers' rulers. Because, you know, they like shiny things.

Our guillotine. This can cut through a stack of paper as thick as your head in one clean swipe. It could probably also cut through your actual head. You can guess where its name came from. Used for cutting paper. Although I did once meet a man who ran a lumberyard and used an old guillotine blade he had outfitted with a couple handles to peel bark off of logs. He had an impressive beard.

That long metal lollipop-looking thing is our roller gauge. The diameter of the metal cylinder is exactly type-high, which is why it's handy for making sure the rollers are the right distance from the press bed to ink up type.

Our composing sticks. Used for setting type to an even line length. And our wayzgoose.

Dear tools of the press,

Thank you.

We couldn't do it without you.

With love,

Taryn Wiens

No comments:

Post a Comment