Posted by Cait Coker. This is part 2 of a series on getting a press and setting up a print shop. See part 1 here.
Remember how Virginia Woolf once said “Real printing will devour one’s entire life”? This post is about enabling printing to devour your life. However, I’m going to do my best to enable in a cost-effective way. Have any tips? Please share them!
This post assumes you have already purchased and successfully moved it into its new home. Congratulations! Believe it or not, what follows is often the easy part. I’m going to rank all of the materials listed by necessity, so you’ll have an idea of what’s necessary to have versus what’s just nice to have. Cost estimates will be provided with commentary.
Type and spacing material (quads, leads, slugs, coppers): $250–$2,250
In my experience if you buy type new it will usually take something like 2–3 sets of a font to actually fill a job case. At the Book History Workshop at Texas A&M, ten cases were used by twenty students each year; so in order to teach a class of 20 students you would theoretically have to buy 20–30 sets (which are commonly sold as a pack of upper case and a pack of lower case letters, plus numbers and punctuation) at around $110–$150 a set, or a total of $2200+.
I'm drawing my price estimates here from the M&H foundry, which sells by font sets like that, plus spacing material by the pound. Now, for what it's worth, you can also buy type used on a happenstance basis. Twice I have bought type from printers selling out their shop through Craiglist for about $25 a case, though sometimes the cases would be light and sometimes rather heavy; I’ve also seen type fonts for similar prices and much higher for sale on Ebay. If you are building a printshop as an institution, you’ll be better off by buying directly at a foundry so you can have the correct amount of type for a single font right off, as opposed to collecting odds and ends.
Cabinets/job cases: $200+
A proper cabinet is actually less important than the job cases themselves, which usually run in price from $20–$50 individually. Job cases are built so that each sort of type has a designated spot that can be learned with a visual guide and eventually with muscle memory. If you’re not using a job case and are making do with something else, you’re not going to be able to get that typeset efficiently. Type cabinets vary widely in price, but should ordinarily be purchased for around $250 or so with the job cases. Check Craigslist regularly, and the classified ad sections of printing resources below.
Galleys and galley cabinets: $25–$200
These will usually go together (thankfully), but their price is subject to fluctuate depending on size—galley trays are fairly uniform in size with a few exceptions, but the cabinets variously hold 25, 50, or 100 slots.
Furniture etc.: $25–$250+
This is largely happenstance; I bought a box of wooden furniture (the wooden spacing material you use for your lock-up) for $25, but I've seen full cases with a variety of pieces sold for $250 regularly. Wooden quoins are correct for period work but I don't know that I've ever seen them actually for sale; the norm at this point is to have metal “speed quoins” with a key that are on average about $50–$80 per set (you’ll need two per chase, one for the short end and one for the long end).
Composing sticks: $25+ each
These can reliably be found on Ebay and can be found in a variety of sizes. Having different ones for each student won’t necessarily present problems, but when doing a group project, you will have to make sure ahead of time that each stick is set to the same length--otherwise you’ll get an unpleasant surprise when it’s time for the students to put their typesetting all together...
Chases: $25+ each
You’ll need one per press and sized accordingly. (You’re not going to be able to put smaller chases on bigger press beds. It’s just not gonna happen for a bunch of reasons I’m not going into here.)
Mallet and plane: $15–$30 each
These are for lock-up; they might sound like something you can skip or substitute, but they are necessary for planing down your type without actually damaging it.
Type brush: $6-$10
This also sounds like something you could skip, but you probably shouldn’t. Sometimes you’re going to get your type dirty, or you’re going to buy some secondhand that’s been sitting in a garage for thirty years and looks it, and you’re going to need to wipe it down and brush it off. What you really need is a brush with very soft bristles that’s dedicated for that purpose, but most brushes sold in stores have very coarse bristles.
Ink: $10–$30 per tub.
You need very little ink and it will go far. If you’re only teaching periodically, as opposed to all day every day, you will be perfectly fine with a small tub of black ink, and maybe a couple of tubes of colored ink for contrast. You’ll see both rubber-based and oil-based inks; the aesthetics of them can be argued by fine artists, but in general, you’ll be fine with either.
Ink knives: $8–$15
For the ink. Obviously. Just buy the ink knife; if you try using something else, you’re only going to break it/dirty it forever.
Ink brayers (or ink balls if you’re kicking it old school): $125+
For brayers you’re going to need a soft rubber that will go easy on your type. In a lot of craft stores there are small, hard rubber brayers for block printing that retail around $12, which are great for blocks, but not for type. Love your type; take care of it, like you would a small, spoiled pet or something. Nothing but the best for your type! Wood and lino blocks, abuse those at will if you want, but not the type!
Inking “stone”: $25+
You actually have a fair amount of flexibility on this one, as a sheet of plexiglass can serve adequately for working your ink with brayers. It’s more traditional to have a large stone (such as granite or marble) for the purpose that can also double as your imposing stone too. You can buy large stones at your local home improvement store, often at a discount if they are previously used or damaged; so long as it is smooth and level on one side, you’re good.
For cleaning the type and brayers. You can find a couple of fairly inexpensive water-based solvents, as well as some harsher chemical ones. I recommend California wash, which you can dilute with water. You may want to get a plunger can to nix any spillage, which would be another $25–$60; you may also want to get some pomade for rollers, where applicable, to keep the rubber in good condition.
Gloves for cleaning: $8+
Treat yo’self and get some heavy duty rubber gloves that can take lots of ink punishment. Your hands will thank you. But you will still need to get some
Gojo, or other pumice-based soap: $12+
This stuff is designed to remove oils from your person, and you will need it. Bonus for its exfoliating properties for healthy, printerly skin!
Disposable shop rags $15+
Just get a big box of these from Home Depot or Lowe’s or whatever. Remember to throw away soiled rags directly into a dumpster. Alternative: Keep very soft clothes that can be washed and reused; the sticky whicket there is you will also need to get a metal container to store soiled rags in until they are washed because they can be a fire hazard!
Tympan and frisket paper: $50+
Prices will vary based on size, but generally a single packet or roll can keep you going for a while. Remember you will need to cut a new frisket for each project.
Paper for printing: $50–$200+
This depends on number of sheets, quality and weight, etc. especially, if you want handmade papers that have the chain lines for that proper historical explication of imposition and so on.
This is for tying up your standing type when it’s not in use.
Why yes, there are special printing/craft tweezers and I absolutely recommend them. These will have longer grips and slightly flatter forceps to grip the pieces of type when you’re correcting.
Aprons: $15–$30 each.
No matter how many times you tell students that you’re going to get messy, someone is going to wear their Very Most Favorite Garment Of All Time and is going to be appalled at ruining it forever. Get aprons; they are usually cheaper in bulk! Get them with pockets if you can, because pockets are handy.
For cutting string, frisket paper, etc.
Adjustable wrench: $10–$20
One of my printing manuals consistently talks about “your printer’s wrench.” A printer’s wrench is a wrench held by a printer. You will inevitably need it for something or other. If it’s adjustable, you’ll be even more prepared for whatever somethings come up.
Paper cutter $25–$250+
This should be self-explanatory, but just in case: Don’t try cutting pages one at a time with scissors or whatever to save money. Get a paper cutter. Even a cheap one will have a grid so you can maintain cutting dimensions with ease.
Nice To Haves
These are items that are helpful but can be done without, or compensated for in some way.
Lead cutter: $50–$200
By no means necessary, but so very helpful. You can use these to cut your spacing material down to identical sizes, which makes your lock-up so much easier. While it’s educational to have all manner of pieces and to let students sort spacing out for themselves, you will inevitably run into problems with lock-up. Lead cutters can be found periodically on Ebay or in classified ads.
Type gauge to check type height: $20–$75
You’re usually not going to need one of these, but: American and British type height is 0.918” (23.32mm), while Continental type height is 0.928” and other heights exist in Russia, Asia, and so on. If you’re buying your type new this isn’t a problem, but this might pop up if you’re buying secondhand.
Line gauge: $8
This is a ruler that includes measurements in picas and sometimes functions as a straight edge. Get a metal one; wood ones are cute and retro and chip when you drop them once (ask me how I know) and plastic ones will be ripped to bits in no time (...ask me how I know).
Galley magnets $8+ a piece
Galley magnets can be used like string with standing type, and can also be used in place of furniture if printing with a flat-bed press.
Ladies of Letterpress (http://ladiesofletterpress.com/): This site has forums to ask questions, classified ads to buy or sell equipment, and information about workshops and other book arts classes held across the US. They also host a yearly conference.
American Amateur Press Association (http://www.aapainfo.org/resources-for-letterpress-printers.html): Includes list of type foundries, roller manufacturers, engravers, helpful movies and publications.
Briar Press (http://www.briarpress.org/): Extensive forums and classified ads sections.
About the Author
Cait Coker is a doctoral candidate in English literature at Texas A&M University. She is currently working on her dissertation, "Liminal Ladies: Reconstructing the Place of Women in Seventeenth-Century English Book Production." Contact her at: cait.coker (at) gmail (dot) com.
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- Jul 1, 2019 Research Trips: A Beginner's Guide
- Jun 1, 2019 Building a Letterpress Reference Library
- May 1, 2019 Teaching Manuscript: Writing with Quills
- Apr 1, 2019 Why It Matters: Teaching Women Bibliographers
- March 2019
- Feb 1, 2019 Roundup of Materials: Teaching Book History
- Jan 1, 2019 Building and Displaying a Teaching Collection
- Dec 1, 2018 Critical Making and Accessibility
- Nov 1, 2018 Teaching Bibliographic Format
- Oct 1, 2018 Teaching Book History Alongside Literary Theory
- Sep 1, 2018 Teaching with Letterpress
- Aug 1, 2018 Teaching Manuscript: Circulation
- Jul 1, 2018 Setting Up a Print Shop
- May 1, 2018 Teaching Manuscript: Commonplace Books
- Apr 1, 2018 Getting a Press
- Mar 1, 2018 Teaching Ephemera: Pamphlet Binding
- February 2018