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By exploring dynamic approaches to modularity, appropriation, deconstruction, non-linearity, and formal abstraction, the aim of this project is to develop an experimental typographic system for letterpress printing which is both visually and conceptually interesting. As such, it is to be decided whether or not the letters of the alphabet will enjoy the world outside of their Language Communication factory where they have been working diligently for so long now. My hope is that in this context people will be more apt to recognize the forms of letters so often trumped by their communicative functions.
This project began as a semester-long undertaking for an Advanced Letterpress class taught at the MassArt Press by the honorable Al Gowan during my final semester at MassArt (spring, 2006). I knew from prior experience with my senior degree project, that I very much enjoyed semester-long design projects which I was allowed to define for myself. Though I feel I have reached the end of one stage of this project, I have way too many ideas to consider it finished.
1As an interesting anecdote, I will mention that it took me several weeks to even find a copy of this book, never mind one which cost less than $150. To initiate the project, I researched a large amount on the design and manufacture of wood type, as well as its related (but now primarily non-existent) industry.
Several topics in the book are of particular interest to me, and strongly influenced the development of my own wood type project. More often than not, large display type is cut from cured and polished end-grain maple slabs. Pantograph routers mechanically translate a letter design from a large template to a smaller scale. Any fine details of the letter which can't be cut with a router (eg, the sharp corners inside the A, N, M, etc) are finished by hand before the block is ready for printing.
Traditionally, wood type blocks are finished by hand, carving out areas too tight for a pantograph router.
An alternate approach to wood type production which was gaining in popularity at the end of the 19th century is die-stamping.
The die-stamping method of wood type production works by compressing the non-printing areas of a wood block.
Despite the great relative speed at which this die-stamping could be done, the metal dies were expensive to produce, especially considering that separate sets of dies were required for each size of font produced. This die-stamping was interesting to me, however it was a very particular variation on the idea that truly affected my own project.
One design-related subject of note is the frequency at which wood type designers of the 1800s would sample or even blatantly copy another person's work. 5For those who may be interested, RIT's Cary Press publishes a small set of wood type notecards which feature specimens from this book. Taking all the ideas I had gathered in my research on Chromatic types, Reversed types, sectional die stamping, etc, I began thinking about my own project. This simple, historically representative Gothic was the typeface I used as a base for my own design experimentations. In Kelly's book I found a typeface which I chose to use as a base to start experimentation and design of my own alphabet. 7As a side note, it can be said that the practice of type design is necessarily based on influence from existing sources.
More interestingly, the idea of working off the back of someone else's design was an everyday occurrence in the traditional 19th-century industry of wood type (as is mentioned above). The underlying typeface I chose to begin experimentation with is a simple yet historically representative Gothic. A specimen of the original typeface was scanned and a useful subset of characters (namely A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, M, N, O, P, R, T, and U) were vectorized for further digital experimentation. At this stage, I began tweaking the original letterforms to correct what I interpreted as design flaws or inconsistencies. Certain recurring shapes were replicated precisely between different letters to better allow for modularization of the final blocks.
Next, I decided that as well as being able to print the letters of my alphabet, I also would like to enable the printing of each letter's reverse shapes. By only extracting the negative shapes from a rectangle defined by the exact width and height of each letter, many interestingly ambiguous shapes were created. To increase to flexibility of what could be done with this pairing of letter and counter forms, I broke the counters down further still. A wide range of typographically derived shapes allowed for a very flexible palette for digital sketching and experimentation. Note that the counter forms were broken down into subsections—many of which become completely abstract shapes when used on their own or in unusual contexts. Next I began to experiment with the effects which could be achieved by mixing and matching different pieces of different letter forms and counter forms, joining disparate pieces and removing others to push the limits of legibility and figure-ground ambiguity. In my initial digital sketches I started testing the palette in a linear textual setting—tweaking the figure-ground relationships by adding, removing, or combining various adjacent shapes.
It is important to note that at this point all sketching had still only been done digitally.
After designing a few digital test compositions, I was pleased with the wide range of possibilities of what could be done.
Slab serifs were added to the existing design to increase the level of complexity in each letter's forms and counter forms. With an updated set of slab serif characters, I paid a visit to Wentworth Institute of Technology (where I would be producing the blocks) for technical advisement. This created problems when it came to shaping any sharp corners in my letters, especially now that I had introduced many more right angles with the addition of the slab serifs. I could have kept the squarish designs and cut each corner by hand, but opted (in the interest of time and sanity) to simply soften up my design by rounding the angles. Comparing the original 1838 sans serif (shown in gray) to my own rounded slab serif interpretation (outlined in red) reassured me that my work, which started as someone else's, had now taken on a life of its own. By this time, I am happy to say, my letters had changed enough where the underlying structure of the original 1838 sans serif was still recognizable, but the face had taken on a character of its own as a rounded slab serif. Since my time and resources were limited, I decided to choose a small subset of my newly designed letters to produce as actual blocks.
All of the letters and their related counter shapes would eventually exist on their own separate blocks, but to reduce wasted materials (and time spent at the router) I arranged the total of 27 separate pieces on to twelve 4×5 inch blocks.

Arranging the total of 27 individual pieces on to 12 blocks saved both time and materials. With a newly altered design arranged precisely (and the end of my semester closing in quickly), I was ready to get the production of the physical type blocks underway.
The first step in being able to direct this amazing machine to cut my letters was to convert them from the 2-dimensional drawings I had created in FontLab and Illustrator to 3-dimensional digital files.
Translation from 2-D to 3-D digital files using the Cobalt application and the helpful hands of Josh Aigen. One might hope that if you have a digitally-driven router and a digital 3-D file, the only thing left to do would be to hit a print button. G-code, as created by the Unigraphix NX application, directs the CNC machine along a path, telling it where to drill. After many headaches and technology hurdles which I don't particularly wish to relive here, I was ready to make some blocks! 8If anyone reading this has any alternative suggestions for acquiring end-grain maple (especially in solid slabs), or money with which to get some, please enlighten me! Unfortunately, on my meager student budget, wood similar to that traditionally used for wood type can become quite expensive very quickly (as much as $19 per block, in the 4×5 inch size I needed).
To test the productions setup, a few test blocks were cut from cheap foam as well as composite wood fiber. Pink foam test blocks were used to set up the machine before cutting in to any of the final, more expensive materials. After the machine was all set up, it was time for the moment of truth: the drilling of my first printable wood type block. Soon after successfully producing one single block of type (a capital R), my semester ended, and thus my entire undergraduate career. Unfortunately, since the school had ended, my access to the CNC machine at Wentworth was far less than reliable (to be honest I was extremely lucky to get as much help as I did).
Luckily, I was put in touch with an independent fabrication and prototyping shop in Somerville, MA.
You can see quite easily the problems in using such a soft material as linoleum, because the finer parts of the counter blocks can break off quite easily. While do feel I have reached a sort of a milestone of accomplishment with this project, I still consider it a work in progress in some form or another. Before concluding my summary of the project thus far, I would like to thank the people who have supported me along the way; without their help and encouragement, none of this would have been possible. Apparently he had taken a nasty spill on his bike that night, but I am very glad to report that he turned out OK in the end. Certainly: Mr Rob Roy Kelly (rest in peace), for the continuing inspiration and priceless contributions to the field of graphic design.
Produce countless enduring, classic signs with our instantly recognizeable "State Park" Font Sign Making System.
Included Kerning Spacers eliminate awkward spacing to ensure a natural looking layout of your text. Repetitive flutes are a great way to add style to columns, molding or furniture parts, but machining them can be a true test of patience. Find hundreds of detailed woodworking plans for wood letter templates router to help with your furniture projects, and video instructions that walk you step-by-step through the woodworking process with detailed blueprints and plans. The Milescraft 1298 stencil tracing jig for your router allows you to carve any font or line drawing you can imagine and print onto standard paper.
Plunge Router Attachment - Converts your Dremel tool into a plunge router to rout circles, signs and inlay work, decorative edges and to rout parallel to an edge. In this system, the role of letters as visual representations of language becomes secondary to their power as expressive formal structures. Eventually, I decided roughly to develop a project exploring the production of wooden printing type. Since completing my project, I have sworn to myself to donate a copy of this book to MassArt as a small token of my appreciation for all the great letterpress experiences I have had there. Pantographs mechanically scale down the motions of a movable arm as its operator traces an oversized letter template. The general concept of die-stamped wood type is as follows: using great amounts of pressure, a blank wood block is stamped with a metal die.
In 1889, a man named George Setchell devised a modular variation on the method for the William H Page Wood Type Company. Indeed, it was commonplace during the years which wood type excelled for a popular design to be duplicated, stretched, ornamented, or generally reworked in some form or another by several people simultaneously.
Reverses, as might be guessed from the name, are made by simply reversing the letters out of a solid or decorated field. The progressively multi-faceted aspects of many of these approaches to type design (for their time) inspired my experimentation process, ultimately resulting in my contemporary interpretation of 19th-century wood type design concepts. Though much less blatancy as was used during the reign of wood type is required, more appropriation is required for successful type design than for other forms of art.
By choosing to start with a very simple design, I not only ensured that I would have more flexibility when it came to developing my own design, but also that the logistics of technical production could be kept as straight-forward as possible (at least to begin with). The concept of Reverse printing (as mentioned in my research above) is certainly nothing new.
This deconstruction created an even more abstract and varied range of unique shapes to serve as a palette from which I could compose in almost infinite ways. Indeed, even from the incomplete alphabet of shapes I had created, I opened many windows for the use of typographically derived forms as compositional elements. All of these experiments were simply to test the possibilities of what might be done with similar blocks in a real-life printing environment. I did feel, however, that I could afford to go a step further by increasing the complexity of the letterforms. Since my letters were to be cut using a circular drill bit, I would need to alter my design, which had many squared angles. For this, I chose letters which were useful for spelling a wide range of words as well as for examining how various different shapes might work as blocks (many of the most uniquely shaped letters are also the least common in use).
The particular machine lives in one of the shops at the Wentworth Institute of Technology (across the street from MassArt).

Linoleum is much, much softer than end-grain maple, and therefore is much less durable under printing. Though blocks made from these materials aren't any good for printing, they are helpful in setting up the router… as cheap as linoleum blocks are, pink foam is cheaper!
So when it came time to show what I had developed over the span of an entire semester, I only had one block and a few test prints to present as a physical manifestation of all my work.
There was no way that I would just let all that planning, design, and thought end at one block! Here I was able to continue my production (with the amazingly generous help of Brent Martin) and complete all 27 of the blocks by the middle of August, 2006. This way (if I had my type mounted on the correct material) I could freely push the blocks around and compose with out having to take the time to lock everything up, as is customary with letterpress printing.
While en route between the x-ray department and my little curtained operating room, who did I pass on their own stretcher, but Josh Aigen… with a bloody head! Our State Park letter templates feature, for the first time ever, adjustable kerning for the most natural-looking layout of your text.
Secure patterns to your work surface with masking tape, Self-Adhesive Discs, or double stick tape (sold separately). Fortunately, this innovative jig makes it fast and easy to rout perfect flutes with even spacing - every time. In this first part Dave shows you how to modify the layout to make our standard letters into western style letters. We have always been devoting to the research and manufacture of CNC router and laser machine. This video shows the assembly and use of the Pantograph with the included letter templates.Children's coloring books provide a great source of ideas and line drawings.
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Basically, I needed to come up with a letterpress-related project which I could develop over the course of one semester.
In reading about traditional wood type (and examining it in detail, first hand), I gained much more respect for the conventional production methodologies utilized in making it. The dies are constructed so that each letter's non-printing counter forms are raised, thus indenting the wood and leaving only the clean positive letterform remaining at the correct height for printing.
In this process, sectional dies were mixed and matched to create shapes that existed on more than one letter. In fact, it was not unheard of for a type designer to re-appropriate someone else's copy of one of their own designs.3 In this sense, it could be said that the design process of many wood types occurred as a full circle. In terms of practicality, avoiding development of a design from scratch helped save valuable time which I was sure to need further down the road for the physical production of my blocks (remember that I originally was aiming to complete this project in one semester).
To truly design an original alphabet, one would need to invent fundamentally new letters… at this point in the development of our written language, most type design could probably be described more accurately as type stylization. What is unique about my approach is that I eliminated any and all surrounding forms which would otherwise have given the reversed letter shapes a formal sense of context. These could function, depending on the technique of their application, more like brush strokes than like letters.
Most significantly: the fact that my letters were to be drilled out of solid blocks with a circular drill bit.
To make this sawing a bit easier, I included a minimum amount of extra space between each piece. Before the 3-D digital models could control the CNC router, they had to be converted to what is called G-code. However, its softness does reduce resistance to drilling, allowing for much faster production times (a valuable quality when working on a tight schedule).
Luckily, my instructor knew all the effort and time that had gone in to getting that one block, so there weren't any problems. Then printing could be much more fluid and easy to experiment with quickly: simply position your type by hand, flip a switch, and voilà!
Kits are available in two different heights and include 99 template pieces (letters, numbers, symbols, and kerning spacers).
Each Letters Kit includes a total of 40 letters with duplicates of common letters and three spacers. Two low-friction, underside rails straddle your workpiece, allowing the jig to slide smoothly along boards up to 8'' wide. A step-by-step guide to making custom wooden signsBetter Woodworking from WOOD magazine presents Sign Carving With Your Router:Sign-maker Jim Bartz provides all the advice you need to design and carve custom wooden signs using a versatile freehand method that requires no lettering templates or guides. You can save a lot of time and reduce the repetition of some steps and processes by creating templates you can use with a router.
For example, a die for the curved left half of the O could also be used to create the same shape of the C and G, etc.
In addition, starting with a decidedly 19th-century wood type style was a good way for me to pay my homage, visually, to the wood type designers of the past. The same way that you cant fit a square peg into a round hole, a round drill bit can not cut squared angles. G-code is essentially a string of instructions telling the CNC machine what to do, and in what order; it defines the path which the router drill must follow to create a 3-D object. Included brass guide bushing is a vast improvement over the plastic bushing that was included with previous Rockler Sign Making Templates. The router mounts to a pre-drilled acrylic centerpiece, which slides laterally to rout out flute after flute. For my project, the G-code was created by a program called Unigraphix NX (which has since, in successive versions, been renamed simply to NX). All Interlock Signmaker's Templates now include free plastic guide bushings that will fit most router bases.

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