Letterpress List No. 28: Hands Down

Cutting paper with a guillotine is a one-person job, sayeth the wise old (eight-fingered) printer.

All the modern safety features in the world can’t save you, for instance, if you decide at the last second that the paper’s crooked and your partner picks the same moment to drop the blade. The only hands moving around that razor-sharp guillotine should be the ones attached to the brain operating the machine.

Is Shop Boy being clear here?


OK, I’m still a little uneasy around the 1950s-vintage Chandler & Price Craftsman hydraulic cutter that Mary recently added to our stable of guillotines. (I’m telling you, if the French Revolution suddenly breaks out, Typecast Press is ready to, um, help remove the heads of state.) We already had two manual guillotines, one that my brother-in-law Dan Laorenza — a printing guy by trade — sold me to get us started and another, older, larger job that Mary deemed too beautiful to pass up. (Sigh.)

The manuals take some muscle, which usually means Shop Boy has to stand around while Mary frets and tweaks the stacks of paper. Then I step in, screw down the paper clamper, throw off the safety latch — it prevents the arm and blade from descending when you don’t want them to — and whump! Then I stand around some more. Wait a minute … didn’t I just say that this is a one-person job?!?!

It’s truly better to be lucky than smart, sayeth the 10-fingered numbskull.

For one difficult cutting assignment — as I’ve said before, it’s high math sometimes — Mary and Shop Boy did this little dance for six hours. All to create 150 save-the-date cards. We were pretty edgy by the end.

And the mouths of the two manual cutters are relatively narrow — 21 inches on one and about 25 inches on the other — severely limiting the size of the paper sheet that can be cut. This is a big issue, as it’s often much, much cheaper to buy paper in large sheets, then cut them down. Mary once found a sale on really nice, thick paper that came in a roll that was 44 inches by 10 meters. It came all tightly rolled and fought like the heavyweight it was, threatening at any moment to entomb Shop Boy as he used an X-acto knife to slice it into manageable pieces.

So, yeah, Mary is right. We needed the Craftsman and its much wider jaws. But could she have found a cleaner machine? Sheesh.

Actually, we should give a Shop Boy Shout-out here to Tim Benas, the cutter’s previous owner. Not only did he show up to offer Mary a lesson in how to operate the Craftsman but he also brought two extra blades — and installed a freshly sharpened one! After that act of kindess, how can Shop Boy complain about having to clean off the normal grunge associated with printing machinery?

(Because that’s what I do.)

Mary was going to have Katrina, an intern from Villa Julie College who’s been working with her one day a week, clean the bugger. Katrina is clearly a lot smarter than Shop Boy, but will pay dearly at some point for her cleverness in ducking the assignment. I’ve got nearly 200 rusty, dusty job trays … oh, heck, you know Shop Boy’ll end up doing those, too. (Sigh squared.)

So over the weekend, Shop Boy grabbed the non-detergent motor oil, some fine-grade steel wool, a grease cutter, a razor blade and some rags and got to work. The cutter had been moved on a rainy day, leading to rust on the bed, the perfectly smooth steel surface that holds the paper. Oil and elbow grease made pretty quick work of that.

Next were the stickers all over the front of the machine, ads for this and that service preferred by the previous printshops. Mary had fallen in love with the logo — “The Chandler & Price Co.” with lightning bolts on either side, very cool — so Shop Boy decided to surprise her by getting all the stickers off. No surprise: This would be harder than you could imagine.

Then there’s the fear factor. Shop Boy would rather eat worms or swim with sharks than tangle with the business end of this thing. But greasy gunk on the machine means greasy gunk on the paper. No getting around it.

The blade looks scarier than anything, but it’s probably not what’s going to get you, though I lost a few layers of skin wiping some dirt off a smaller blade with a paper towel. Look, Shop Boy can learn from his mistakes, but he’s got to make them first, right?

Now the clamp bar … that’s the mangler. It drops first, locking the stack of paper in place. This is what will crush your fingers. Then comes the blade. (At this point, of course, you might as well just leave your mashed digits where they are and let the blade finish the job. Save the doctor a few minutes.) Anyway, the cutter was in a giving — not a taking — mood. So Shop Boy came through fine and it was gleaming. OK, as gleaming as a 50-year-old workhorse can be. And the smile on Mary’s face when she saw it …

Shop Boy’d give a finger or two for that.


Letterpress List No. 28

How about an hour’s worth of music to degrease — or cut paper — by. Of course, if you’re using an old manual cutter, you’re going to need a longer list. Sorry. Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy or great videos are from YouTube.

Real Live Bleeding FingersLucinda Williams (Not today …)
Chop Suey! System of a Down (Band’s music cuts through grime … and bone. Even in Legovision.)
Still Not a PlayerBig Punisher (Just, um, “crushes” a lot.)
Once Bitten Twice ShyGreat White (My, my, my. These guys know a little about tragic mistakes.)
Killer QueenQueen (Let them eat cake, she said — just like Marie Antoinette.)
Some Heads Are Gonna Roll Judas Priest (Three guillotines … no waiting!)
Uncle Albert/Admiral HalseyPaul McCartney (Hands across the water, not across the cutting zone. Safety first.)
Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could SeeBusta Rhymes (Okey-dokey.)
Le DangerFrancoise Hardy (French chanteuse. Sexy song in any language.)
The Fight SongMarilyn Manson (Temper, temper …)
What’s the Matter ManRollins Band (Are you wrapped too tight?)
Demon CleanerKyuss ( ;-) )
Bad Habitthe Dresden Dolls (Cutter’s anthem.)
Cutthe Cure (Obviously not about hair management.)
Rip It Out Ace Frehley (When Shop Boy was a teen, he owned the air-drum solo to this.)
MachineheadBush (Don’t hate him because he took Gwen Stefani from us.)
One U2 (OK, Shop Boy, we get it.)


Oh, and while I’ve got you here, this is your chance to be the first on your subway car to check out my other blog, Unattended Items. It’s about commuting, natch.

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