Letterpress List No. 41: Blade Runner

When I say that there are days when Shop Boy wishes things were a bit more dull around the printshop, I do not mean the cutter blade.

Trust me on that one.

To me, the hydraulic paper cutter, a Chandler & Price with about a 30-inch bite, is kind of like the vicious dog that lives next door. Great to have around, so long as someone else takes main responsibility for it. So ornery and loud he scares bad guys away from your house, too. But then the neighbors go away for the weekend and ask you to go next door and, um, feed their beloved pet. Gulp.

True story: My friend Janet Simmons loves dogs. BIG dogs. Rottweilers, Dobermans and beasts like a notoriously antisocial chow (is there any other kind?) named Bear. It’s been a surprise to Shop Boy, who’d never seen Jan with a dog before he was met one day by her crew. Sheesh.

Now, Shop Boy is generally very good with dogs, if a bit lenient — let Mary tell you about the time I promised to “protect” her from a gargantuan Newfoundland at a dinner party. The pup, about horse high and the length of a football field, took one look at Shop Boy, heard me exclaim “Oh, what a beautiful dog!” and decided I was no challenge. (“Now the scared one over there. How can I make her love me? I know, I’ll smother her with affection.”) There was no stopping this guy. He just shook me off his back.

Or the time I baby-sat Buddy, the big, funky-looking canine next door in Denver. During one famous walk to the park, Shop Boy pleaded helplessly with Buddy not to:

A. Poop on the neighbor’s freshly pruned hedge — right on top! Never seen a physical accomplishment quite like it. Not sure what that neighbor had done to make Buddy mad, but yikes.

B. Drag Shop Boy into oncoming traffic.

C. Take a flying leap into the creek, getting both of us soaked in the process.

“What happened to you two?” Mary asked as we arrived on the front porch.

I pointed at Buddy. Mary shook her head. Buddy just wagged his long, ugly tail.

He was a funny dog. That night, Mary and Shop Boy watched a movie, and Buddy curled up at Shop Boy’s feet as I reached down and petted him. At one point, the film got intense and I straightened up in my chair, my hand leaving Buddy’s head for a moment.

Buddy gently closed his teeth around my hand and pulled it back down.

See, though we don’t have any pets at the moment, I love dogs. But walking up to Jan’s front door in the Boston ‘burbs a few years back and seeing the overstimulated, toothy pack on the other side of the screen …

“Just don’t be afraid,” Jan said. Then she laughed as they raced toward me.

All except Bear. He was roaring and tearing at the other side of the locked door to the basement. “He’ll eat you,” Jan explained helpfully, handing me some dog treats so I could earn the others’ trust — by letting them take the biscuits from my hand!

Well, in an hour or two, we were all pals. Shop Boy called Mary to let her know I’d gotten there safely, informing her that I was speaking from between the jaws of Hershey the Rottweiler, who’d found my chin irresistibly lickable. Then there was Bear, eventually released from the basement and now curled at my feet, Shop Boy’s hand gently petting the chow’s head. (FYI: Until the end of the visit, the hand never broke contact with the dog’s fur. Not sure Bear would have been as subtle as Buddy was.)

Yeah, dogs tend to love me back. The guillotine paper cutter? Let’s not push it.

The cutter does a super job. Loud as heck. Nobody bothers us at the Typecast Press studio while this thing’s running. Sounds like a torture chamber in there, minus the screams …

Until Shop Boy’s got to change the blade, that is.

There we were, Mary convinced that the 34-inch steel blade (it hangs over a bit on each end) needed sharpening and Shop Boy in a flop sweat and full denial mode. “It can’t be dull. We just got the thing and the guy said he sharpened it.”

Typecast Press uses a loft of thick, soft paper, as well as chipboard atop and below the pile to prevent the cutter’s clamp from leaving indentations in that paper. The combination tends to dull a blade more quickly. No use fighting it.

“C’mon, Shop Boy. Don’t be afraid. We can do this,” Mary demanded.

For those unfamiliar, doing this, or changing a guillotine cutter’s blade, involves fully lowering the blade mechanism, loosening and removing the bolts that hold the blade in place, then lifting the carriage away. Finishing the blade removal requires a method Shop Boy prefers to call “grab and pray,” though “pray and grab” seems equally effective — so far — in Shop Boy’s experience. Let me be clear: “Dull,” in the sense of a guillotine cutter, simply means “less razor sharp.” Drop the blade and a piece of you will go away.


The cutter could smell my fear: Just to show which of us was the alpha male, it released a slick of motor oil onto the part of the blade I’d have to lift by. Nice.

But the blade was much lighter than I’d expected, and after a seriously uncomfortable moment or two it was sitting harmlessly in its case, ready for the trip to the sharpener. The guy who’d sold us the cutter had been kind enough to leave behind two extra blades, one sharp and one dull. In the sharp one went, Shop Boy nervously coaxing the blade back and forth and Mary lowering and raising the carriage until the holes for the bolts at last lined up. Funny — there were seven bolt holes on the machine and only six on the blade. Not so funny — the bolts didn’t fit. The seller had accidentally dropped off a blade for a different machine, a Challenge cutter. Ugh.

Anyway, you often realize the best way to do something after you’ve already done it the hard way. For example, if we’d simply used a china marker to map out where the dull blade had fit, swapping in the next blade would have been much easier. (We would have almost certainly noticed right away that we had the wrong blade.) And it wouldn’t have been so tough to put the original blade back in.

Now we faced a tricky cut with an imperfect blade on three sets of business cards that were due.

Oh, well. We’d just have to fudge it and hope for the best. Hey, we’re printers, right? That’s what we do. Besides, Mary’s got a gift for gaming the system.

Meanwhile, the correct backup blade went off to the sharpener.

After a ridiculously brief turnaround — maybe too quick — the sharpened blade was back. Shop Boy summoned his courage once more, then dutifully marked the outline of the exiting blade. We lowered the carriage, removed the bolts, raised the carriage, slid the dull blade out, slid the fresh blade into position, lowered the carriage, tightened the blots and … bang.

“OK, Shop Boy,” Mary said. “Fetch the paper.”

Good boy.

Letterpress List No. 41

How about an hour’s worth of music to soothe the savage beast by. Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy and great video links are to YouTube.

Silent All These YearsTori Amos (Her dog won’t bite if you sit real still.)
I Want CandyBow Wow Wow (Doggie treat, anyone?)
Drop It Like It’s HotSnoop Dogg (For Mary.)
Snoopy Vs. the Red Baronthe Royal Guardsmen (Oh, my.)
West End GirlsPet Shop Boys (Built to last.)
Who Let the Dogs Out?Baha Men (Football games would never be the same again.)
Don’t Get Mad, Get Even — Aerosmith (Waking up with fleas.)
UnderdogLisa Loeb (Puppy love.)
The Last of MeBree Sharp (Might not wake up at all, if Ms. Sharp has anything to say about it.)
Gonna Buy Me a Dogthe Monkees (Old dog, new tricks.)
The First Cut Is the Deepest Sheryl Crow (Had no idea this was a Cat Stevens song. Thought Rod Stewart owned it.)
I Wanna Be Your Dog
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (Down, boy.)
The Day I Tried to Live
Soundgarden (Drop the blade and watch the rolling, um, heads. Hey, is that oil on there?)
What a Good Boy Barenaked Ladies (Newfoundland at 10 o’clock.)
Freak on a Leash Korn (“No, Buddy. C’mon man, don’t poop there!“)
Bite MeElectric Six (Speaking of freaks …)
Bark at the Moon Ozzy Osbourne (He’ll eat you.)
Move It on OverGeorge Thorogood (A crowded doghouse.)
Paper Cut Linkin Park (Ouch.)
Razor Foo Fighters (Day after day, cutting away.)
Cut to the ChaseRush (Back to work!)

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One Response to “Letterpress List No. 41: Blade Runner”

  1. Electric Paper Cutter Says:

    Fascinating stories from the print shop! Thanks for the blade replacement advice! :)

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