Hot metal lesson at The Elrod Press

20130331-131812.jpg

When I realised that I was getting myself into type casting, with the acquisition of my Ludlow Typograph, I went on the hunt for information about the machine and process. I didn’t have to look far – Andy Taylor is one of the more vocal people who I’m linked to on twitter. He’s always offering advice and input on all things printing to me and many others cutting our teeth in this letterpress malarkey. He even helps/calls out the seasoned pros. Andy has probably forgotten ten times more than I know about the industry, so it’s always great to hear what he has to say. The Elrod Press is full of all things hot metal; an Intertype, Elrod strip casters and, of course, a Ludlow (amongst a pile of presses, banks of cabinets of matrices, smelters and all sorts of fascinating stuff)…

As it turned out, a few weeks after getting my Ludlow I was due to be in Brighton on a ‘wedding pre-celebration’ (read: stag-do), so I arranged to go visit The Elrod press after the ‘celebrations’ had died down on the Sunday. This all seemed a great idea until early Sunday morning. However, a bacon sandwich and a walk on the snowy beach freshened me up and I headed to Andy’s vowing to never drink again.

When I got there I was shown down the bottom of the garden to the shop. It looked at first like a small row of wooden cabins, but it was like a Tardis in there. I poked my head round the door and saw a well-organised Aladdins Cave of what can be only be described as all sorts of printing stuff. My hangover instantly became a distant memory. I had finally put a face to the twitter avatar, he looked nothing like Talbert Lanston…

What followed was a baffling explanation of the Intertype, which was absolutely hypnotic – Andy was casting something for the BPS convention and then let me have a go.

20130331-130549.jpg

20130331-130617.jpg

These things are brilliant. If you’ve seen Linotype the movie, then you’ll understand how complexed these machines are and one thing I was wondering was how it perfectly justified every line. The space bands are tapered and are pushed down incrementally in a seesaw motion just before the mats hit the mouthpiece No clue how to explain, but it’s bloody clever and the guy that invented them made more money than Linotype did. Then I got to have a look at the dissing of the mats, which was mesmerising:

Inbetween random stories and a showcase of the presses, we got onto the little fella – the Ludlow. Compared to the Intertype it seemed really basic! Put the mats in the stick (right reading), put the stick in the machine, lock it in, press the lever, done. No fancy justification or clever, super-sensitive keyboard (“don’t thwack the Intertype keyboard or you’ll end up with 5 of the same character). Just set it and cast it. That’s about my level. After the intro, Andy had me set the world’s longest line for the BPS and showed me how to split lines up in the casting.

20130331-130644.jpg

Then I had play with some lovely Karnak, a nice black Egyptian face unique to Ludlow and made a slug for our wedding invites. I also learnt some safety and operating information for when I got my caster running. The general theme was ‘watch out for the hot stuff and stand to the side of the squirt zones’ and if I did everything properly all would be fine. Famous last words.

20130331-131623.jpg

Following the crash course in casting on a Ludlow and some helpful info on my Farley feed board, I broke a promise to myself that I’d set only a few hours before – I went to the pub for a pint or three with my mentor. All in all, a great day and some amazing knowledge gained. I slept all the way home on the train, missed my stop and the following day had the delayed headache from the weekend away, but it was massively worth it. Thanks Andy!

The next step: get my Ludlow operating!

Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Andy says:

    It was a pleasure Rich, one of my pet hates is people who pick and choose like printing and not washing presses up, using the Intertype and not cleaning space-bands and casting on the Ludlow and not cleaning the plunger, you on the other hand are different you want to learn and there is only one way and thats start from the bottom, and not questioning what I say, I started at the lowest end of the pay scale and worked my way to the top of my game through experience and not questioning my betters.
    You have the enthusiasm and drive and you’ll do ok in this game I know you will, and you know if you need any help just ask.

    Andy.

  • Don’t you worry! There will be many questions! I love the process almost as much as the actual finished print so I’d much rather do it properly and make sure the machines last another 50/100 years… Plus, cleaning the plunger is the scariest/most fun thing I’ve done in a while. It’s like extreme danger toilet cleaning…

    Thanks again!!!

    R

  • Gary Robinett says:

    Go for it. Do everything by the book and no troubles should be encounted. 1964 was my first year of a 5-year apprenticeship as a Hand and Machine Compositor. Currently doing volunteer work at the Melbourne mmop.com.au., Melbourne Australia.

  • Hey Gary, thanks for your comment… How did you come across my site all the way from Melbourne?! I would love to be able to do a proper apprenticeship, but they just don’t exist here anymore. To counter this I try and ask as many questions as possible – Andy is such a massive help for me, and he says the same – do it by the book and all will be fine. I spend more time cleaning the machine than I do using it, but at least I am learning the mechanics properly and know that I am doing it right!

    The MMoP looks great, if ever I make it down under it’s on my list of places to visit. It looks like you have a vast range of hotmetal there – heaven!

    All the best,
    Richard

  • Enrique Baccaro says:

    Just discovering that you people and your wonderful machines still exist gave me a great joy. I live in Paysandu, Uruguay, where my grandfather started a commercial printing firm in 1906 and a newspaper in 1910. The first went under sometime during the 1990’s but the newspaper (a small regional daily) is still going strong.
    My first playground was a printing shop. Before we switched to offset and “cold type” in 1978, we had a quite impressive array of machines: six Linotypes (a very old model 5; two 8’s, and three 31’s); two Ludlows for headlines casting; an Elrod model F, and a quite uncommon Duplex web-fed, flat-bed press able to deliver 3,600 copies per hour of a 12-page broadsheet paper.
    I surely miss the soul of those old pieces of iron. Thanks for keeping their memory alive.

    • Hi Enrique, sorry for my very slow reply – I have neglected the website quite a bit this year! How lovely to hear from you, all the way from South America. Your first playground sounds incredible, I can’t even imaging the noise. They definitely have a soul, these machines… I’d love to know the name of the newspaper so that I could look it up, knowing its heritage.
      Thanks for your very touching message – it makes me feel less crazy about melting metal!
      All the best from the UK,
      Richard

Leave a Reply