Archive for the ‘Equipment’ category

The Third & Elm Press

November 4, 2012

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Business and good fortune had us visiting Newport, Rhode Island a couple of weeks prior to Hurricane Sandy. The weather was extraordinarily beautiful and temperate, literally a calm before a storm. When I travel with Holly, I try not to schedule too much press activity, which can easily usurp a timetable. But destiny took a hand. While visiting a photography gallery called Blink, we learned that the owner’s mother ran a letterpress in the heart of Newport. On our last day there, Holly and I made sure to visit The Third and Elm Press, named (as you probably surmised) for the corner on which Ilse Burchert Nesbitt’s shop is located.

The home of the Third and Elm Press, located at Third and Elm in Newport, Rhode Island.

Ilse came to America from Germany in 1960, and set up the press with her husband, a calligrapher and book designer, in 1965. There are details and sample of her work on her website at She is now 80 years old and not showing much sign of slowing down.

Isle has a very nicely organized studio. It is not large, but it holds an early 19th century “acorn” iron press, a good sized floor standing platin press, a cutter and several banks of type. While she has printed several books over the years, her primary focus these days is in making wood cut prints. In the long-established German tradition, she cuts her blocks using knives, as opposed to gouges and gravers.

A relief wood cut carved with knives on the plank.

The style of knives that Ilse uses for cutting her blocks.

Close-up of the plaque on the ‘acorn’ iron press.

A close-up of Ilse’s work-horse platin press, with a rainbow hue of inks on the underside of the inking disk.

I admired Ilse’s cutting desk, which folds down elegantly when not in use. Most print studios need space-saving solutions like this. (Mine certainly does!)

All the type drawers have beautiful calligraphy labels. Since I live with a calligrapher of some note, I have put Holly on notice that I would like this treatment for my type cabinets as well.

I make a habit of carrying samples of my books and prints with me where ever I go, so I was able to show them to Ilse and recieve a critique. She was refreshingly frank, or perhaps I should say refreshingly Teutonic. She thought my lines might “open up” and become more naturalistic if I abandoned gouges and gravers and adopted the knife as my principal tool, something I will certainly try when I turn my hand to cutting on the plank. She felt that my lines were too clean, that they followed each other too closely, that I needed to “loosen up.” All good advise, and in a sense, that’s the direction my linos had been going prior to my jump into wood engraving.

We spent a very enjoyable afternoon visiting with Ilse, hearing her thoughts on the ‘business’ and dropped some money in her gallery upstairs on a book and two prints. Most of all, it was simply inspiring to meet a fellow printer and print-maker who is steadily pursuing her passion and not letting anything, least of all aging, get in the way.

Printing on Old Iron at Massey College

August 8, 2012

Finally, I’m getting around to putting up the following photos, taken during a letterpress & typography symposium at the University of Toronto’s Massey College held this spring. This relatively young college possesses a fine, small library which comes complete with a veritable museum of a press room. I counted half a dozen iron presses, all seeming to be in working order. The print room was open and an Albion was set up for demonstrations. (Click on the pictures for a larger view).

Visitors to the symposium taking proofs off this fine old iron press (an Albion, I believe).


A Columbian iron press

An Imperial iron press, with another table-top iron press in the background.

A Washington iron press (apologies, a little fuzzy) of the size that would have done broadside sheets.

The Robertson Davies Library also had some fine examples of pages under glass from the days prior to the printing press, which were a treat to see.

And it was wonderful to see this elegant alphabet carved from stone, marble most likely… the letters are truly beautiful.


Stinky Reglets

August 3, 2012

The reglet case shoe-horned into the studio, looking like it always lived there. In front are my slug (leading) cutters, and to the right, part of the metal press furniture. I shot this standing right at the press drum, so all this equipment is handy to the press bed.

As mentioned in the previous post, this past weekend I acquired to cabinets of reglets, these being hundreds of pieces of thin pieces of wood in two thicknesses and approximately 40 different lengths. Think of them as shims that help hold the type and block securely  on the press. These little guys are actually hard to come by, and combining the two sets would make for one fairly complete, and the left-overs could be cut to make up a lot of the difference. They are easy to loose and also get mangled, so complete sets are hard to come by. Over the years, I’ve managed just fine without reglets, but if I had a dollar for ever time I wished I had them, I’d probably be good for a nice holiday. They are just handy to have about.

I also mentioned in the previous post that these ENTIRELY WOODEN press accoutrements had been stored in a dank basement. The cases are not very large, so they both fit in the MINI with ample room to spare. All was well, until the day warmed up and I closed the window and put on the A/C. That funky smell? Yup, stinky reglets.

I left the cases for two days in the blistering sunlight – UV light kills mold – while I thought about how to proceed. A good bath in anti-fungal detergent might do the trick, but wood swells and warps when wet, and the reglets are rather thin pieces of wood. Regardless, I dumped the contents of one case into a tub of warm water and detergent, which removed visible signs of mould and fungus blooms. The case was also thoroughly scrubbed and hosed down, then everything left in the sun and wind to dry out. Hedging, I dry wiped the reglets from the second case, but scrubbed down the cabinet in the same manner.

Excepting four or five pieces, none of the immersed reglets warped after everything was thoroughly dry. There may have been some slight swelling in some, but everything went back into the case as it came out. Even after all that, it still had a faint musty smell, but nowhere near what it was.

All the cabinets and reglets went into large, heavy duty plastic bags with charcoal, which seemed to help further. The second set of reglets are still enclosed with charcoal and as I bring them in to fill the studio case, I’ll have to wipe them with a spray of anti-fungal detergent.

Reglet cabinets bagged up with odor-eating charcoal.



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