Further Bits and Pieces

The odd­ments that are essen­tial to letterpress

Composing Sundries
Com­pos­ing Sundries

Assum­ing you find or have found a small press and a few cases of type, what more will you need? Per­haps it’s rather a mat­ter of identi­fy­ing what else came with it? Type needs to be assembled, togeth­er with non-print­ing spa­cing mater­i­al, into rect­angles of met­al, firmly locked together.

Those spaces resem­bling the shanks of the type are quads and the square sec­tion ones, approx­im­ately the same size as the shank of a cap­it­al M, are called em quads or mut­tons, those half that width are en quads or nuts. Thin­ner ones are used between words, em quads and thick­er fill up the ends of short lines. To sep­ar­ate the lines of type, which if set sol­id might print an over-dense page, one needs sets of leads — strips of thin met­al which, like quads are less than type-high — cut to lengths slightly less than the chosen width of a column of type set with an em quad at both ends of each line. Quads and spaces are inter­change­able between typefaces of the same point size; nev­er­the­less one needs a sur­pris­ing amount — the same goes for leads.

To fill out the chase (the met­al frame which fits onto the bed of the press) one needs a selec­tion of lengths of wood, plastic or met­al called reg­let: which is also less than type-high. Large hol­low Quads, called clumps,are also use­ful to fill out the chase. You must, how­ever, leave space for quoins (expand­ing wedges) along two adja­cent edges of the chase, these will, when tightened, lock the forme of type firmly in place.

To set lines of con­sist­ent width, one needs a com­pos­ing or set­ting stick and it should be accur­ately square, rigid when locked to length, and light enough to hold with sev­er­al lines of type assembled in it.

This guide kindly con­trib­uted by John R Smith of the Old Forge Press. Ori­gin­ally appeared in the news­let­ter of the Oxford Guild of Printers