Printing Oddball Stories

There's been a lot of whining on this blog in recent months about the work of printing Oddballs. Visitors - which HM's Webmaster reports now total in the several - have asked about the process of printing a sheet. So, in an effort to avoid the work we've been moaning about, we took some photos to illustrate the sequence of events. Each sheet is printed over a period of three days: on the afternoon of the first, we wet the paper. On the second day, we print the inner form, and on the third we back it up. 

We're using an abbreviated form of Gabriel Rummonds' recommended method for damping paper (which is to stack the sheets between dampened pressing boards). We need 37 good copies of the book (the edition is 30 plus six hors commerce and one binder's dummy), so we're printing 48 sheets. This takes between five and six hours, which is exactly how much time we have for work while HRH is at school.

We wet a sheet by running it through a vat of clean water, shaking off the excess and then laying it down on a dry sheet to start the stack. 

Then two dry sheets are smoothed across the wet sheet. The Guarro laid paper we're using doesn't cockle and react as violently to the water as many well-sized handmades would, so smoothing the dry sheets across the wet one is not difficult.

Once the stack is completed, it is put into a heavy garbage bag, put under light weight, and left for a few hours. Before going to bed, we restack the paper, simply starting at the top of the stack and moving each sheet over in turn to make a new stack. This reverses which sheet faces which, and helps disperse the surface water from the wet sheets. The stack is then wrapped again and pressed over night. 

Below is one of the four platen bearers on the bed of the press (this one manufactured & sold by Steve Heaver of the Hill Press). The bulk of Oddballs consists of the one-page biographies, which appear on versos. We're printing all of these first, so that the bearers could be adjusted to even the platen's fall on the one-sided form. This is done using Rummonds' "zero packing" system, adjusting pieces of the packing material between the back of the tympan and beneath the bearers. When it comes time to print the frontmatter (spreads), we'll return the bearers to a more level setting.  

In the morning of the second day we roll out the ink and leave it standing while getting the press ready. We use a piece of half-inch glass as an ink slab (on a non-slip mat) and a 60-dur roller from Takach Press

The text to be printed is set in place and a position proof is taken, plus a few impressions on tissue for makeready. The pages we're printing are pretty consistent in length and shape, the only difference being the number of lines, so makeready is straightforward. The hinged Mylar window that covers the makeready can be seen (with some text offsetting) on the left side. 

In addition to makeready, we make some adjustments to the roller bearers with tape, to ease the transition on to and off of the text block. (The bearers are locked up above and below the type, as the roller must pass perpendicular to the lines when inking.) As many as six pieces of tape may be required, arranged in a narrow band across the vertical area occupied by the first and last letters in the lines.

A few proofs are then pulled on newsprint to check impression and the roller's ink coverage. Then we tuck into the stack of dampened paper. After removing the stack from the plastic bag, it is covered in a thick layer of dampened cotton cloth. The stack is uncovered and a sheet removed only when the type has been inked and is ready for printing.

When properly dampened for printing, a sheet of paper should feel cool to the touch but not wet on its surface, and it should be completely relaxed (i.e. floppy).

Before being printed, the sheet must have holes pricked in exactly the correct position, to fit on the press' points.  We use a thick piece of foam core covered in plastic (so that it doesn't react to the papers' dampness) as a base. A piece of Mylar the same size as the printing sheet, with holes pierced in the proper spots, is then laid over the printing sheet, and a needle is used to make the holes. This all happens in less time than it takes to describe, so that the paper doesn't start drying out.

A mould-made sheet like the Guarro will expand almost entirely across the grain and very little (if at all) vertically, so it would theoretically be possible to prick the holes before damping the sheets, but we believe this creates too much potential for error. A handmade expands equally in all directions, between 2 and 4%. We once tried to gauge this expansion with test sheets, so that we could prick the holes before damping. But even the slightest error will ruin the whole point of printing on points, which is to achieve the most precise registration possible. So we make the holes in the dampened paper before printing the first form.

The sheet is then laid on the points. Between it and the Mylar window covering the makeready is a slip sheet, which is most important when backing up: if not used, the printed side will offset to the packing, and then transfer to subsequent sheets. But to ensure impression is consistent throughout, and to not "burnish" the verso against the Mylar when pulling an impression, the slipsheet must be used even for the inner form.

The frisket is lowered.....

the bed rolled in, an impression pulled, and voila....

The image above shows the impressions from the two roller bearers along the frisket (smeared here from various cleanings). Strips of tape are laid along the frisket in these areas, to prevent the ink from soaking through. Pieces of tape covering the area where the frisket contacts one of the platen bearers (top left) can also be seen; this tape is simply to help the paper withstand the repeated impressions (it will wear there first).

The slipsheet showing some cockling caused by the dampened printing sheet. It is replaced for each impression.

On Day One, the printed sheets are placed in a second stack, under a damp, heavy cotton cloth. If deemed prudent, each is lightly misted as it is laid on the stack, to maintain the ideal dampness.

On Day Two, after the last run (outer form), each printed sheet is interleaved with a pressing board, to wick out the moisture. When printing is completed, this stack is pressed tightly overnight. It is then restacked with fresh pressing boards the next day and pressed again, ultimately yielding dry, flat sheets. (When printing on handmade paper, we remove the sheets from the boards before they are completely dry, and press them very hard overnight, then restack them to complete drying. This pressing while still slightly damp gives the paper a wonderful crispness, but the process doesn't seem to yield the same results with mouldmades.) For Oddballs, the printed sheets are tucked away under the bench, the entire stack left under medium weights. The book will consist of 24 printed sheets; in the image below you can see we have completed 15 of the 24.  

When all the printing is completed, copies will be collated, and the engravings will be tipped to the rectos facing their biography. Here's Unn, awaiting her text...