Archive for September, 2008

Letterpress List No. 54: Taking Turns

September 29, 2008

The problem with stopgap fixes is that they’re so … temporary, you know?

Sure, Shop Boy knew that the plastic roller trucks were only keeping their spots warm on the big C&P while we waited for brand-new Morgan Expansion Roller Trucks — or MERTs — to arrive. But they worked. I mean, once the Delrin trucks (named for the hard plastic they’re made with) were expanded by wrapping them with two layers of thick tape and putting a couple of lines of tape on the rails.

This, of course, is all to prevent the rollers from overinking the plate. You want the rollers to “kiss” your plate, not slobber ink all over it. (Same way with dating women, fellas. Shop Boy learned this late.) Naturally occurring wear on your rails means more slobber, less subtlety. That’s why MERTs are so cool. These roller trucks can be cranked one way or another to “inflate” or “deflate” them a hair. Almost like a bicycle tire. No tape.

Now, most of us tape the rails of these old machines. That’s no sweat. But getting tape around a Delrin truck — when any discernible seam means the truck bounces rather than glides along — is a real pain. In fact, Shop Boy lets Mary do it. What else does she have to worry about, right?


So, after we’d worked successfully with the Delrins for a period, the new MERTs arrived and it was time to make the swap. The Delrins were getting gunky from solvents and inks seeping beneath the tape. And they’d gotten the rail tape gunky, too, meaning the press ran with a sort of squish-squish, squish-squish sound. Didn’t bother Shop Boy much but drove Mary crazy. So we took a vote.

Final tally: 1 to “you don’t get a vote, Shop Boy.”

The voter had spoken. Shop Boy set about removing the big C&P’s rollers, then popped the Delrins off the ends for cleaning later. Mary pulled the MERTs from a box that rather appropriately looked to be 75 years old. But the trucks were new, and perfectly “flat.”

At the bottom of the box lay a wrench specially designed to fit the nut at one end of the MERT and to also provide absolutely no leverage to the inflater. Oh, the first few turns are a snap. But we needed these things just about full out, and soon there was just no turning the mechanism.

Shop Boy grabbed a rubber glove for extra grip and tried that. Good for a turn or two, but nowhere near filling the jaws of the micrometer, set by Mary using the gunky Delrins. I set one MERT on the end of a spare set of rollers so it was held in place, grabbed the roller, turned the wrench and … tore the roller to shreads. “That’s close,” Mary said. “A couple more turns.”

Shop Boy was flat gassed at this point. On roller truck No. 1 of six.

Mary: “What I’ve found is if you do a couple of the trucks at a time — you know, until your arms are exhausted — then wait a couple of hours, your strength comes back.”

Shop Boy: “(Inaudible.)”

The rat. Some time before, Shop Boy had cranked the MERTs for the little C&P to within one micro-Mashburn (a unit of length visible only to Mary) of the necessary size, she ran them over the press a while, they loosened up and she managed to goose one more turn out of them. Ooh.

Anyway, Shop Boy’s still waiting for his arm strength to return.

But Typecast Press could not wait any longer to put the big C&P back to work. So, I cleaned the Delrins, Mary retaped them and back on they went.

The great thing about stopgap fixes? You can make them again and again and again.


Letterpress List No. 54

How about an hour’s worth of music to, oh, I don’t know, wait for the feeling to return to your arms — or tape a Delrin truck — by. (Oh, Shop Boy should mention that Mary’s looking into purchasing some sort of tool specially designed to inflate MERTs without wrenching your wrists or ego. Hey, I’m not proud. As far as Shop Boy’s concerned, the family crest can be a white square on a white flag. Just kind of wondering why she didn’t mention this tool before …) Most of these tunes should be available at the usual places. Goofy and great videos are from YouTube.

Tape YouN.E.R.D. (Naughty, naughty.)
Turn, Turn, TurnThe Byrds (Then turn some more.)
Monkey WrenchFoo Fighters (It ain’t the tools. It’s the hand that guides them.)
Round and RoundRatt (Give it time.)
StrongmanLuscious Jackson (Hmmm.)
SchismTool (A bit overinflated, but interesting.)
Every Which Way But LooseEddie Rabbitt (What’s he doing inside Shop Boy’s brain? It was from a pretty cool movie, I guess.)
I TryMacy Gray (It’s no use.)
White FlagDido (Run it up the flag pole and see me salute.)
SurrenderCheap Trick (And blame the manufacturer.)
I’m So TiredLil Wayne (Blowing up huge … somehow.)
Hold On I’m ComingB.B. King and Eric Clapton (Mary says Clapton is unworthy to share the stage with The Man.)
Don’t Turn AroundAce of Bass (We turned around, and Ace of Bass was gone. Poof. A couple of guilty pleasure songs are all that were left behind.)
Tumbling DiceRolling Stones (Got to roll me.)
I Don’t Mind the PainGlenn Danzig (Great, because Shop Boy could use a little help here, big fella.)
Battle Is Over But the War Goes On Levon Helm (The MERTs aren’t going anywhere, and neither is Shop Boy. We shall meet again.)
TemporaryParamore (But it’s working fine so far.)
WonderwallOasis (You know how, with some groups, you hate every single song but one? This band’s different. The next Beatles? Ho-ho, ha-ha. But the song title fit.)

Better Make That to Go

September 25, 2008

Pizza boxes were piled everywhere, with meat and veggie pieces spread across the feeder tray of the big C&P. It was after 1 a.m., and things were looking a bit grim as Mary and Shop Boy crammed for another big test. How in the world would we pull this one off?

See, it’s already been a busy semester at Typecast Press, what with learning the ins and outs, pushes and pulls, vital signs and settings of the Heidelberg windmill. (It’s probably best simply to label that one Continuing Ed.) Then there’s the normal, heavy letterpress courseload. And the required reading and course materials. Cha-ching! Ouch. As a student of letterpress, you expect some of that.

But this one was not on the syllabus: Baltimore magazine was offering a repeat appearance in this season’s holiday dining edition. Yes!

We’d donate party favors, menus, napkins, coasters and other fun printed items to decorate an upscale pizza party. Cool!

Typecast Press: “Count us in. When do you need the materials?”

Baltimore magazine: “How’s now sound?”

Or words to that effect.

Shop Boy muffled a scream.

Faced with such a daunting test, we did what any college student would do: binge drinking.

Sort of, anyways.

True story: As mentioned before in this space, Shop Boy’s alter ego was a science major for two years at the University of Rhode Island with a minor emphasis on history and Spanish. (Mary would tell you that Shop Boy’s only playing dumb. But we know better, don’t we?) One night before my final Spanish exam — Professor Navazquez spoke no English in class — Science Boy became bored with studying and instead decided to try grain alcohol for the first time.


The lecture hall was a 15-minute walk from the dorm. I awoke 10 minutes before the exam would start and staggered across the campus, grabbed my copy of the test and took the seat closest to the window, huffing and puffing the late-autumn air to keep from … you get the picture. Fifteen minutes later, I handed in my test and ran to the restroom.

I had barely sobered up by the next day — when my perfect exam score was posted. You should have seen Professor Navazquez’s face. I thought he was actually gonna speak English or something for a minute there, like “How in the world …?”

Hey, I’m not necessarily proud of this … just telling a story, you know?

Which is what Shop Boy does. A business teacher in high school once pulled me aside after an essay exam and told me I should be a writer — I’d gotten the whole concept wrong … but he said it was such entertaining fiction that he’d given me a C. Well, you can blame him for this mess of a blog because, after four rather dull semesters of chemistry, botany, zoology (I did love that), physics and math, I was looking for something writer-ish that was more fun and potentially lucrative than becoming a science lab tech. So I picked journalism?!?!

Maybe that perfect score was a fluke after all.

I certainly did have all of the toughest course requirements out of the way. For my final two years, it was nothing but a couple of journalism courses a semester mixed with Spanish and, um, electives like coaching basketball, coaching baseball, officiating football … brutal.


Anyway, Mary and Shop Boy needed to come up with a clever concept for the Baltimore mag pizza party photo shoot, stat, so we could get the designs done, order the paper and get polymer plates made. Only thing to do was head for a brainstorming session at the closest bar, in this case Rocket to Venus. The place is named after a goofball project by three local dudes who were convinced their calling was to put the first man on that planet. Guess they’d heard that women are from there or something.

All except Mary, who apparently hails from the planet Genius.


Shop Boy’s head was spinning before the first sip of a martini, because Mary was on fire. She came up with ideas for coasters, menus, napkins, a placemat, a pizza puzzle and on and on. Shop Boy smartly just kept nodding in approval as she went.

Then we had a second cocktail to celebrate Mary’s brilliance — and the fact that 1 percent of the assignment was complete.

Now all we had to do was produce all these great pieces. Like, manana.

Or as Professor Navazquez might have said: “Nooooo!”

(That’s Spanish for “Noooo!”)

Letterpress List No. 53: Heat Index

September 23, 2008

We were being boarded by a buccaneer:

Mick T. Pirate was rapping at the door.

And I mean rapping. Mick arrived in a burst of words, bandanna flying as he brushed past Shop Boy for an impromptu meeting with Mary. Jolly Roger indeed.

Now, Shop Boy had heard of this dude and his Whiskey Island Pirate Shop a knot or so southeast of Typecast Press in Baltimore. (You can spy it from the crow’s nest.) But wow. There’s a character. Former Hollywood stunt man turned spice king.

Anyway, Mick’s the driving force — good word there — behind the hot sauces about to be launched at Woodberry Kitchen. We’re printing letterpress labels. All local ingredients, which is Woodberry owner/chef Spike Gjerde’s “thing.” We tried the red sauce last night. Whew! Good stuff, matey.

True story: We were entertaining out-of-town guests from Boise, Amy Stahl and her then boyfriend and now husband Kevin Learned. They said they were up for something ethnic, so we hauled them over to Thai Landing on Charles Street, one of our favorites. Unassuming place, most nights presided over by “Charlie” — certainly not his real name, much as “Pirate” is not Mick’s surname. Charlie’s a kidder. So as he quizzed our guests about the preferred, ahem, temperature of their Thai food choices, he turned to Shop Boy and said, “Now, I know you … you like hot-hot. Maybe I bring your friends ‘Idaho hot.’ ”

We giggled. (It should be noted here that Mary likes it even spicier than Shop Boy does.)

But you know how macho guys can be, right? Well, Mr. Idaho Hot wanted the dish however it was customarily served. “OK,” Charlie said, winking.

Shop Boy has this new favorite quote. Not to talk baseball or anything, but it feels right:

“There are two kinds of players in this game — those that are humbled, and those that are about to be.” Clint Hurdle, manager, Colorado Rockies

Well, um, “Man overboard!” The stuff that Charlie brought had our motley crew diving into the water.

All except Mary, of course. She and Charlie had a good laugh. And Kevin was a very good sport, picking up the tab if I remember correctly.

Anyway, Spike’s not sure when the Woodberry sauce might be available on his tables or for sale, but it won’t be long. Meanwhile, the ingredients in the jars will keep commingling and getting hotter. Maybe not Thai Landing hot, but maybe we should add a skull and crossbones to the label to warn any swashbuckling diners out there not to bite off more than they can chew.

Letterpress List No. 53

Is your tongue singing from sampling the local cuisine? How about an hour’s worth of music to suck ice cubes by? (Man, that stings.) Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Hot and spicy video links are to YouTube.

Feeling Yourself DisintegrateThe Flaming Lips (Making faces and reaching for coolant.)
La TorturaShakira (Colombia hot.)
My Own Private Idahothe B-52s (Never been there, but Boise seems cool enough.)
Stomach vs. HeartBarenaked Ladies (From the album Born on a Pirate Ship, natch.)
Come Sail AwayStyx (The pirate way.)
Rocky Mountain WayJoe Walsh (Good Mexican food there.)
Rapper’s Delightthe Sugar Hill Gang (This is not a test.)
I Don’t Need No DoctorHumble Pie (Wait an hour or two.)
Live WireMotley Crue (Forget putting the sauce on food. They’d put it in a syringe.)
Message in a Bottlethe Police (Warning!)
Red RainPeter Gabriel (A couple of drops is all it takes.)
Fire Down BelowBob Seger (And it’s spreading.)
Locomotive BreathJethro Tull (Stand back.)
No Diggity Blackstreet (No doubt it’s hot. Tell ’em, Dre.)
The Heat Is OnGlenn Frey (Sizzle fo shizzle. OK, stop it, Shop Boy.)
Peace Sells (But Who’s Buying?)Megadeth (Whaddaya mean it’s too hot to eat? I eat it all the time.)
Fire Woman the Cult (Twitchin’ like a cat on a hot tin shack. Lord have mercy.)
Skull and CrossbonesStormwitch (Poor man’s Iron Maiden, or tries to be.)
Rattlin’ BonesKasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson (Too mellow for Kasey, in Shop Boy’s humble opinion, but it’s good to hear her any old time.)

The Breaking Point

September 18, 2008

For all its heft, cast iron is pretty fragile stuff.

We found this out when we bought a tiny old “Baltimore” press (had to have it — we’re in Baltimore!) and had the seller ship it … after offering very specific tips for how to do so.

See, we’d already lost one press this way, a little 5×8 that arrived with a broken arm — the cast iron snapped just at the spot that needs to be the strongest. So Mary explained to the Baltimore press’ owner that the rollers should be removed and secured in the box. The ink wheel, ditto, so it didn’t get loose and smash something. The arms and other extremities should be safely immobilized and padded. And then the whole thing should be locked down and packed firmly in nuts or other packing material.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” the guy assured Mary. “I’ve packed stuff like this before.”

“No, really,” Mary said, “please pack it well. I’ll pay for the shipping.”

Well, its trip home was a rough one, and the Baltimore press — pretty paint job and all — arrived, yup, busted. It’s now a paperweight. (A stuffed toy rat — very Baltimore — lounges across its ink plate.)

Next, we ordered a spare chase — used — for the big C&P. Bang. Broken at the corner during shipping. Now we’ve got to get it welded and hope for the best.

Aside: What is up with shipping? When was the last time you received a box that didn’t have a gash of some sort on at least one side? When was the last time you didn’t need to cut around a corner of your paper order because the box got rammed with a forklift or something? Geez.

Anyway, imagine our joy/trepidation when artist and teacher Shell Acker, a friend of Mary’s parents, Wayne and Mary Mashburn of Colorado Springs, Colo., let us know that she had an old press, a Challenge Craftsmen Superior, that needed a good home. Not even Shop Boy could say no to this. We’d been dying for one just like it. The Craftsmen is a perfect press for what we’ve been discussing: giving classes in letterpress and taking the show out to small street festivals and the like. The Craftsmen is, by my guess, about 150 pounds, light enough for a couple of determined printers to lug there and back.

This one was, however, most of the way across the country.

In our favor was Wayne Mashburn, who’ll be darned if anything he’s in charge of getting shipped is going to arrive broken. He’s amazing. Shop Boy’s just guessing here, but I’ll bet Wayne had some, um, suggestions for the shipper.

Because, man, this thing was packed. I mean … palletized, all its movable pieces perfectly restrained and padded. Nuts from here to next week. Metal straps holding the whole shebang together. It took me two hours to free the press.

I’m pretty sure Mary held her breath that whole time, because the exhale when we saw everything was solid and righteous was long and emphatic.

“It made it!” she cried.

It needs a little TLC — don’t they all? (Yes, they do.) And it could use some new rollers. But we can already tell that the Craftsmen is going to be a favorite press.

Now … where to put it?

Letterpress List No. 52: Idol Hands

September 17, 2008

Some day when you’re just hanging around a local letterpress shop, watch a top-drawer printer’s hands work: the way they feed a press, lock up a chase, brayer ink onto a form, pull a proof, tie lines of lead type together with baker’s string to form a stanza …

Yeah, it is kind of like poetry, isn’t it?

I mean, what other reason would Shop Boy’s paws be there, under the hot lights, doing these things and other printshop tasks as, ahem, stars of an upcoming film on the life and work of a Wisconsin poet, Lorine Niedecker? The film’s a labor of love being put together by Cathy Cook, a Wisconsin native herself and an award-winning filmmaker and teacher at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

New Goose, Niedecker’s first book of poems (in 1946 — she died in 1970), was a letterpress job. So, Cathy scouts all around Baltimore for a spot to re-create that part of the story and decides that the best place is Typecast Press and that the best hands for playing the part of a brilliant, seasoned craftsman belong to — ta-da! — Shop Boy. (Cue the applause.)

OK, she lives around the corner from our shop. But it would be kind of rude of you to point that out, don’t you think?

And you could also chime in that it was Mary who made the whole thing seem like just one more amazing day at our funky little printshop.

It was she, after all, who scoured the East Coast collecting the key objects that would make our shop look “of the period.” She found guys to set linotype in typefaces as close as possible to the title page of New Goose to make sure it looked legit as we reprinted it. She spent hours trying to find a reasonable facsimile of the main title’s typeface, finally finding a place that would “rent” those eight letters of lead type to her. Mary set up the filming appointment to suit Shop Boy’s schedule, not hers. Because Mary sweated every detail, the actual shoot was sure to be a breeze. Nice.

All Shop Boy had to do was not drop anything.

Like these lines of poetry, in linotype:

For sun and moon and radio
farmers pay dearly ;
their natural resource: turn
the world off early

Now wait, you might ask, if Mary did all the prep work, why won’t her hands be in the movie?

Turns out New Goose‘s printer, James A. Decker of the James A. Decker Press, was obsessed with getting poetry books into circulation, never a very profitable venture, and one that doomed his involvement in the printing business. Mr. Decker’s hands looked nothing like Mary’s, something Shop Boy is thankful for.

Besides — and nothing against Mr. Decker — in those days, Mary’s hands would not necessarily have been all that welcome in a printshop. You know, unless they were gripping a firearm in a photo on the girlie calendar or something. So my unmanicured, unwaxed and, um, pale male hands got the part.

There’s a cartoon by Matt Groening on our fridge that pokes fun at, oh … conservative thinking. The kicker? “Don’t white males deserve a fair shake for once?” Kills me every time.

The funny thing is that Decker’s sister stayed with the business after he up and left Prairie City, Ill. Seems she was madly in love not with poetry but with the fellow who bought the press from her brother. He had no love for her, alas, and so she grabbed a gun and ended things right there for both of them.

But we digress.

The shoot went great, and now the results sit safely inside Cathy Cook’s beautiful hand-cranked camera (oh, boy, another fan of “old stuff”). She’s planning to premiere the film in Wisconsin — Shop Boy’s hands’ll be huge there — before showing it in other venues closer to Baltimore.

Mary? Look for her … oh, I don’t know … somewhere in the credits or something.


Anyway, if this movie is successful enough, Shop Boy can just see it:

These famous hands in wet cement outside a theater. I’m sure Mary will let me know when it’s time to pull them out.

Mary? … Mary?

Must be inside watching the film.

Hope it’s, um, over soon.


Letterpress List No. 52

How about an hour … or maybe just a movie soundtrack’s worth … of music to reproduce old poetry by? Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy and great video links are to YouTube.

Willie and the Hand JiveJohnny Otis (Oh, man.)
It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s WorldJames Brown (Ditto.)
Poor Misguided FoolStarsailor (Ahem.)
She Blinded Me With ScienceThomas Dolby (Poetry in motion.)
Story of My LifeSocial Distortion (Like the day Shop Boy met Mary, a hip-hop nut. My brain’s never been the same.)
Hollywood Swingin’ Kool & the Gang (And she likes anything with a horn section.)
Hey Little GirlProfessor Longhair (From the Dead Poets Society soundtrack. ;-) )
Express Yourself N.W.A. (“Don’t be another sequel.”)
Rhymin & StealinBeastie Boys (What rhymes with “most ill”?)
SupaStarFloetry (Couldn’t resist.)
The Real ThingINXS (Down to the letter.)
Tough LoveHamell on Trial (Trigger pulled, issue solved.)
Every Day I Write the BookElvis Costello (A Shop Boy favorite.)
Celebrity SkinHole (Courtney Love, hands gripping a guitar, posing for the calendar.)
Clap HandsTom Waits (You’re too kind.)

Letterpress List No. 51: With a Bullet

September 8, 2008

I pushed when I should have pulled, and now Shop Boy wanted to put a bag over his head.

See, we were printing another set of Tokyo totes for Form, a very chic local fashion shop. Form’s got a flowery, pinkish-red logo by its owner, Aimee Bracken, Mary’s old design buddy. Real cool.

The bags have rigid paper straps that, before we had the big C&P, had to be individually taped down to avoid getting ink on them as we ran the totes through the smaller press. Holding the straps in place are little metal rivets. The totes were made in China so, as you might imagine, there are some make-ready issues for dealing with, um, quality control. And every once in a while, a bag will have a loose rivet hidden somewhere in a seam that could smash your plate and dent your base. So Shop Boy shakes each bag vigorously while preparing a stack for printing.

But doesn’t it always seem that the ones that get you are the ones right in front of your eyes? You ignore them, just as Shop Boy did a little prepress advice from Mary. Something about not worrying about throwing off the impression if I misfeed a bag. Just pull the bag out of the press’ jaws.

Shop Boy: “What? Oh, don’t worry. I’m running them real slow. I won’t misfeed.” (Besides, pulling the bag out would mean inking the tympan, then having to clean it and wait until it dried before continuing the run. What a pain, especially when a hand-fed run of 300 bags takes hours already.)

Mary: “No, really. Just do it.”

Well, she must have distracted me or something, because just when Shop Boy was hitting his groove, a bag jumped the guides. Once. Twice. Then a third time. (They really are oddly shaped suckers.) Reacting quickly, I threw the machine off impression.

Mary: “No!”

Shop Boy: “It’s OK, I threw it off impression.”

Mary: “No! Pull the bag out! I told you! You probably just destroyed the plate!”

Yes, as the bag fell into the press, the handles went in too, bringing the rivets into the impression zone. Even with the press on “trip,” there was no room for them in there. My chest felt cold. You know that feeling? The bags were due the next day. Shop Boy figured he’d really done it this time.

I could barely look into the press bed as I slowly rolled the wheel to crank it open.

Boxcar base bullet wound: check (but not in a key spot).

Polymer plate bullet wound: negative.

Shop Boy: “Whew! That was close. I’m so relieved.”

Mary: “About what? Look at this base. You’re lucky it hit where it did. Do you know how much one of these things costs?”

Maybe she can take it out of Shop Boy’s allowance.

Oh, wait …


Letterpress List No. 51

How about an hour’s worth of music to celebrate Shop Boy’s 100th post by. (Mary thinks I’m maybe a little too proud of that, um, milestone. Bah! I waited a whole week to crow. Besides, nobody’s going to gaze into my navel for me, right? Missed one or two posts? No problem. Just keep reading … and reading … and reading … Shop Boy does go on a bit.) Most of these songs should be available in the usual places. Goofy and great video links are to YouTube.

Hockey SkatesKathleen Edwards (“Do you wish that your nose was longer so you’d have an excuse not to see past it?” Oh, Mary, give me my moment of vanity!)
Stop, Look & ListenRollins Band (Got the first two right.)
StupefyDisturbed (Don’t I feel dumb.)
Tokyo DriftTeriyaki Boyz (Twisted metal … er, techno.)
Fire in the HoleVan Halen (Neither Dave nor Sammy — ugh.)
Come Together the Beatles (The press opens and closes. Doesn’t care what’s between it.)
Stuck in the Middle With YouStealer’s Wheel (Did I mention that polymer plates can be pretty pricey, too?)
Bullet With Butterfly Wings
Smashing Pumpkins (Tokyo totes, aka pretty press wreckers.)
Pull Me Out Alive Kaki King (But ink the tympan? Forget it.)
Missed Me Dresden Dolls (By thiiiiiiiiiiis much.)
Damaged GoodsSouthern Culture on the Skids (Got lucky.)
Roll With It Stevie Winwood (Hey, no blood, no foul.)
Papa’s Got a Brand New BagJames Brown (Form’s got one, too.)
Slammin’ Buckcherry (Forehead tattoo; “Crash Test Dummy.”)
96 TearsQuestion Mark & the Mysterians (Thank goodness it didn’t come to that.)
The FragileNine Inch Nails (OK, maybe he’s a little more down than Shop Boy was.)
Quality of Mercy — Michelle Shocked (Uh, sorry?)
Crawling From the Wreckage Dave Edmunds (Shop Boy works cheap, so he tends to survive such, OK, fireable offenses.)

All’s Well That Ends Well

September 4, 2008

There was a loose nut behind the Heidelberg, but was it Mary or Shop Boy?

We were prepping to run our first job on the windmill press. Yep, the machine was just too big and heavy to let it sit there unused any longer. Vince Pullara III, the third-generation Baltimore printer who sold us the Heidelberg, had stopped by a few days before to give us the basics on running it.

(He also allowed as how it could use a good cleaning … Dude!)

We felt about ready to solo. Mary had even downloaded and printed out an old manual from a letterpress website.


See, this is why men don’t bother much with manuals. Turns out there’s a part called a shear collar in the butt end of the windmill that, according to the manual, can wear out over time and fracture. Once this happens, the press can be damaged if you max out the packing, max out the impression, max out the power, max out the speed, print seven sheets at once and use a battering ram to open and close the platen.

Or something like that.

Great. Give Mary even a remote possibility to worry about and she won’t stop worrying until that possibility has been eliminated. Sheesh.

Anyway, one of the signs of this shearing phenomenon is “end play.” (The manual provides no definition.)

Mary: “I felt a little play in one of the nuts on that little shield thing back there. I think it’s end play.”

Shop Boy: “We don’t even know what ‘end play’ is! The machine’s running great!”

Mary: “It says the machine could be damaged if …”

Shop Boy: “It’s a loose bolt, Mary.”

Mary: “Don’t be such a wuss. You’re always like this. Go get a wrench. The manual says it will take less than five minutes to check.”

Shop Boy (snorting): “Yeah, right.”

Mary: “You know you have to humor me on this.”

She was right. You don’t dare question Mary’s little obsessions. First, she won’t allow it. Second, she has a habit of making you look like a fool if you do. She has some sort sixth sense or something about crazy stuff. Like if she sends you on a wild goose chase and you come back empty-handed, she’ll go and produce whatever you were looking for in a matter of seconds. Or if she detects an odd smell, just go along with it … the foundation’s probably disintegrating or a rabid wildebeest is loose in the kitchen or something.

Shop Boy could just see it: Taking the windmill offline before we even got it online. We couldn’t leave well enough alone for once? I pouted for a moment (maybe two, sue me — it had been a long, sweaty weekend), then grabbed a wrench.

The shear collar is protected by a cast-iron shield held in place by a set of bolts, five shorter bolts around one long bugger. The center one was a little loose. The others? Not in the least bit. Now, you know how in modern cars the manufacturer always seem to put the oil filter in an uncomfortable spot, one that’s sure to produce injury when the filter finally gives way and you slice your hand on the chassis while trying to change your own oil? (A clever incentive to pay the dealer good money to do it for you.) Well, when you back a Heidelberg into a corner and try to mess with its rear end … similar deal.

OK, maybe Shop Boy was out of line. Perhaps it was wrong to call our efforts “stupid,” even if I meant it in the most agreeable way. It could have been cowardly to suggest that maybe we should wait for Vince to come back and take a look at it.

But gosh. It was getting late. Shop Boy was on his knees, soaked in perspiration, frustrated at having produced nothing to show for our extended workday and, frankly, in no stinking mood to wrestle with Godzilla-tightened bolts just to check on some part that might or might not have a “fracture” when the machine was humming like a Ferrari.

Hey, I did apologize less than five minutes later, after we’d unscrewed the bolts, removed the shield, tested the collar, found it in good shape and put the whole thing back together.

So that’s something, right?

Letterpress List No. 50: Hard Labor

September 2, 2008

At Typecast Press, we tend to take the Labor Day holiday a bit too literally, meaning we forget about the holiday part.

When most folks are chilling poolside or on a beach somewhere, firing up the grill, soaking in the last bit of summer, you can find us working away at the printshop. Oh, we’ll perhaps poke our heads out the door or stand on the loading dock for a quick breather or to recognize it as the nicest single weather day of the year. (Never fails!)

But mostly, we’re laboring through some job or another.

Sigh. This year was no different. Shop Boy was cleaning the underside of a press.

Now, in the old days, some presses featured gas jets — little burners whose role was to clear static electricity, which messed with the paper flow. We’ve heard tales of lunchtime weenie roasts (as the flames truly didn’t do much for the printshop other than to add a bit of excitement as the occasional sheet of paper caught fire).

Well, Shop Boy was daydreaming about a cookout of his own — hot dog steaming off the grill, in a toasted bun, mustard and ketchup and maybe a little …


A big, black gob of, oh, lord knows what, dislodged by the rag, dropped onto Shop Boy’s ungloved hand as he reached beneath the Heidelberg — beautiful press, but with some nasty hide-y holes.

And just like that, thoughts turned from tequila shots to tetanus shots.

Maybe next year.


Letterpress List No. 50

How about an hour’s worth of music to remember why we celebrate Labor Day in America anyway — working people, including a lot of the caring, sharing printers (OK, the cranky ones, too) who’ve helped teach us the love of this crazy craft we call letterpress? Most of the tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy or great video links are to YouTube.

Do You Love Me (Now That I Can Dance) the Contours (Work, work.)
I Fought the Law the Clash (“Breaking rocks in the hot sun” — but at least outdoors for the holiday.)
Work ItMissy Elliott (Getting busy.)
Monday MorningEl Pus (Time to get moving.)
Weekend WarriorsTed Nugent (That’s us.)
GreaseFrankie Valli (Nasty stuff.)
Rag DollAerosmith (Wear your worst clothes.)
Working for the WeekendLoverboy (And working through it.)
Slave 4 YouBritney Spears (Sorry.)
No ScrubsTLC (No “glove” for the haters.)
SkinCollective Soul (“Where are your gloves, Shop Boy?” Um … oh.)
NemesisCradle of Filth (Man and machine have reached an uneasy detente. Oh, and wrap your ears in latex before listening to this stuff.)
High Speed Dirt — Megadeth (Head first.)
Guard Your GrillNaughty by Nature (No holiday from hunger.)
Walk of LifeDire Straits (Without the working class, we’re not America, right?)
Wake Me Up When September Ends — Green Day (Gonna be a full month.)