Principles and Operation of the Ludlow

How the Lud­low works, and how it’s oper­ated: in outline


In com­par­is­on with oth­er typecast­ing meth­ods, the Lud­low is very simple.  The Lino­type and Inter­type need around 6 feet square in which to oper­ate and demand matrices and a mech­an­ic­ally com­plex machine; the Mono­type needs a sep­ar­ate key­board and caster.  Both need to stop the machine and make mech­an­ic­al changes to change the type face and the length of the line; and both are expec­ted to be super­vised by a spe­cial­ist.  By con­trast the Lud­low was designed to be oper­ated by any of the com­pos­ing staff.

There are two main activ­it­ies: assem­bling matrices and cast­ing.  Matrices (or ‘mats’) are stored in spe­cial slop­ing cab­in­ets, and are col­lec­ted by hand.  Exper­i­enced users can gath­er more than one mat at a time and because each mat is a uni­form size and easy to handle, this pro­cess is quick­er than com­pos­ing type from a case.  The mats are assembled in a ‘stick’: a met­al frame with a mov­ing end.  Dif­fer­ent sticks are avail­able for dif­fer­ent pur­poses: ordin­ary sticks, jus­ti­fy­ing sticks, ital­ic sticks, long sticks and self-cen­ter­ing sticks.  The mov­ing end is brought tightly against the end of the matrices and this forms a single, sol­id line of moulds to receive hot metal.

The next step is to insert this in to the machine.  The Lud­low machine resembles a large table around 4 feet high with a pot of mol­ten met­al at the back.  The table lid opens up to reveal the work­ings of the machine, based around a main shaft driv­en by a small motor.  The cams on the shaft invoke a num­ber of oper­a­tions: includ­ing mov­ing the pot, for­cing hot met­al in to the matrices through a mould, remov­ing the pot, trim­ming the edges of the slug and eject­ing it at the front of the machine.  At the same time, elec­tric ele­ments keep the pot of met­al hot, and also cir­cu­late cool water to key parts of the machine.  The oper­at­or slides the stick in to the machine top and oper­ates a catch to secure the stick but also to release the safety mech­an­ism.  On press­ing a lever under the machine lid, the cycle begins and a new slug of cast type is ejec­ted at the front of the machine.  The stick is released and the oper­at­or can dis­trib­ute the mats back in to the cab­in­et.  A set­ting on the machine front allows for repeat cast­ings to be made: espe­cially use­ful if print­ing two-up or oth­er mul­tiples on a single sheet in a single impression.

Because the most com­plex oper­a­tion — the assem­bling of mats — is del­eg­ated to a human, it’s pos­sible to achieve a much great­er flex­ib­il­ity than oth­er sys­tems: mul­tiple sizes and styles of type can be cast in one oper­a­tion without a need to change the mech­an­ism of the machine.

In terms of out­put, the machine pro­duces everything on a single slug size, typ­ic­ally 21 or 22½ ems long by 12 points wide.  Oth­er moulds are avail­able, but this approach helps in hand­ling the slugs dur­ing impos­i­tion and lockup; and avoids the need to change the machine while cast­ing.  Types lar­ger than 12pt will over­hang in a ‘T’ shape: up to 144 pt will sit with just a 12pt sup­port.  To help dur­ing print­ing, ‘blank’ slugs can be cast to go under the over­hang and sup­port the face.  The face is 0.153″ deep, and so much thick­er than the equi­val­ent from Lino­type or Intertype.

For longer lines of text, spe­cial long sticks are avail­able along with spe­cial stops.  Text is set with stops roughly where the slug would end.  The first slug is cast, the stick advanced to the next stop and the second slug cast and so on.  This pro­duces slugs that might have the face of the text over­hanging at the left or right, but a cor­res­pond­ing gap on the next slug.  When assembled, the gaps between slugs become invisible.

Operation of the Ludlow

When deal­ing with hot met­al and powered machinery, I’d always prefer to call on the experts to demon­strate before I start work.  That said, there are some excel­lent guides to using the Lud­low, some online, some off-line.

Dr. Dav­id Mac­Mil­lan has scanned and uploaded some excel­lent Lud­low mater­i­al to the Inter­net Archive, they include:

Also avail­able is the Lud­low Troubleshoot­ing Guide from Dave Seat.

Repairs and Servicing

The Lud­low was designed to be easy to use and robust.  It’s cru­cial that the machine is kept clean and well lub­ric­ated to con­tin­ue to per­form.  In the US, Dave Seat is the pre-emin­ent Lud­low mech­an­ic, and in the UK it is Keith Harding.

Video Guides from Don Black