NOER: creating new wood type

A few notes on NOER, a wood type designed by Richard Keleman and cut by pantograph in to hard Maple. Richard is a Hungarian designer who spent some time with us during summer ’14.

I’ve had a big blue box sitting in the corner of the press for the best part of 6 months. The laser cutter came from China and engraves/cuts in to wood very precisely whilst I stand nearby, eyes streaming. It has been handy for a few projects but somehow it feels like cheating. So I had been looking for a way in which to combine it with a more analogue process, with something for which I would need to use my hands & brainpower.

I purchased this model of pantograph, a David Dowling, from a jeweller who used it for incising wrist watches and pendants and at a guess it dates from the ’60’s. He told me the key to cutting fast and accurately is to make sure you are looking at the cutting blade, not the stylus, whilst you work which is not easy.

The pantograph has a spinning blade which takes direction from a stylus. As your hand guides the stylus around a pattern, the cutter follows in the same direction, cutting in to wood as it goes.

Before beginning to cut with the pantograph the patterns and the ‘blank’ wood need to be prepared. We found the preparation of wood to be the most time consuming part of the process, especially in plaining it down to exactly type height (0.918″). Layers of shellac and pumice are then worked in to the surface and repeatedly sanded down, leaving a smooth, hard finish. The patterns are easier, cut in 3mm ply using the laser cutter and mounted on to more 3mm ply.

The pattern and the ‘blank’ wood type are both secured to the bed of the pantograph where printing furniture and quoins come in handy. We found we were more consistent when making two cuts. The first cut is a rough cut which relatively quickly removes most of the inside of the letter with a wide ended blade. Then a smaller, angled blade moves anti-clockwise around the letter leaving a crisp edge. The type is then trimmed by saw before the inside angles of the type, impossible to make with a spinning rotary blade, are finished by hand.

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