The Joy of

Handsetting Type

By Fred Williams, Publisher of Type & Press

Chapter two: Tools of the Craft

The tool for hand-setting type, is, of course, the composing stick. It is so called because early varieties were made from wood.

The practice of setting type directly into the chase without using a stick is frowned on by typographers. While large type can be set thusly, it will not be possible to achieve accurate justification of faces in text sizes. A good accurate composing stick is essential for the precise assembling of type in small sizes.

Over the years many makes and different designs of composing sticks have been manufactured. The Buckeye, Eagle, Star, Yankee, Grover, and Rouse are a few of the popular models that have been used. They are similar, with slight variations in the clamp. Any accurate stick, long enough to accommodate the maximum measure required, will be satisfactory.

Composing sticks can be set to a maximum of about 10 picas less than their overall length. They have been made from iron, steel, brass and wood. Modern sticks are chrome or cadmium plated to prevent rusting. Older models sometimes contain no gauge.

Do not attempt to set type in a worn out or sprung stick. Never abuse a stick. Be careful not to drop it. To test one for accuracy, slide the knee up against the right end. If both surfaces are parallel, it is probably acceptable.
Modern sticks usually consist of two or three parts–the larger part (bottom), has sides along the right end and the head (containing notches) and the adjustable knee on the left with the clamp. The open side of the bottom (the foot), is graduated in picas and nonpareils (6 points). Some models consist of a one-piece knee and clamp.

A case of text type and a composing stick are all that’s needed for the composition of type but the following accessories will be helpful:

LINE GAUGE–(Also called line measure, pica pole, pica stick). Made of wood, plastic or metal and usually graduated in picas, nonpareils and often in agate, eight and 10 point and inches. Usually 12 inches long, they are the printer’s standard measuring tool.

COMPOSING RULES–(Setting rules). Not to be confused with the hump-backed make-up rule. It is difficult to justify one line on top of another in the stick without an intervening strip of metal. Although a lead can be used, these composing rules with ‘ears’ on the top, are superior. They were made in all lengths and prior to setting, one is placed against the head of the stick and the type is placed directly against it. With a highly polished surface, they permit type to slide easily, speeding up justification of lines. They are also helpful in removing lines from the stick as well as for making corrections. They can be made from brass rule or the required length by cutting an ‘ear’ projecting out on each end.

TWEEZERS–Handy to remove wrong or broken letters from the form or to reach into areas where fingers can’t. The large, surgical varieties are to be recommended over the dime store types which bend easily. Care must be exercised when using to prevent slippage which will surely scratch or damage the face of the type.

BODKIN–A sharp pointed tool that is handy to push down leads and spaces as well as to remove type from the form by inserting the point directly into non-printing areas of he type. One can be improvised from an awl, ice pick, a sharp scriber or any small pointed object.

MAKE-UP RULE–One of the printer’s handiest tools. Basically a piece of flat steel, with a humped top, usually 12 picas or so wide, (also available in other widths) with a knife-like bottom edge. They are approximately two point thick. An all purpose tool, they are used to make corrections, pushing down spaces as well as work-ups, picking out letters, handling run-overs, leading out, tying up type forms, prying lids off ink cans, demounting cuts or as a makeshift screwdriver.

GALLEY–The composing stick will only hold a limited number of lines and type should be transferred from it to a galley, preferably, one made of brass.

With practice in front of the case the handman [typesetter] will soon know the lay of the case backward and forward as did the old printers of the last century.

Some ‘swifts’ [a 19th century term for a hand compositer] employed in various newspaper composing rooms often demonstrated their amazing knowledge of the case by setting ‘clean’ (no errors) type while blindfolded–with the case reversed!

These fast printers could set a string of better than 1,800 ems per hour. But the beginner should concentrate on accuracy. Speed will come later.

Once the hand-typesetter has learned the lay of the News cases, it will be easy to set from other varieties. The general scheme for the positions of the various letters is followed in all standard cases.

What you don’t actually ‘see’ in printed type composition (the spaces) are just as important as the visible type to the overall good looks of the job.

Spaces and quads are type bodies used for the purpose of separating words, blocking out lines and for making indentions. Of the same size body as the type, but less than high, they are cast in a number of widths. Here are the various sizes:

TWO & THREE EM QUADS–Used for filling out space remaining in heads and blanking out lines at ends of paragraphs.

EM QUAD–(Also called ‘mollie, mutton or mut’ to avoid confusion between the terms ‘em’ and ‘en’) is the unit of spacing material, and is always a square of the size of type to which it belongs. An em quad of 12 pt. type is 12x12 pts., an em of 10 pt. is 10x10 pts., etc. An em quad is usually used for paragraph indentions of type matter set to a measure of 18 picas or less. For longer length lines, an indention of 1.5 ems is favored.

The em quad is so called because in many early type designs the set-width of the cap M was more or less a square.

EN QUAD–(Also called ‘nellie or nut’) is always one-half the width of the em quad. Thus, a 12 pt. en quad is 6x12 points; a 10 pt. en quad is 5x10 points, etc. The en is about the correct thickness for word spacing of all cap lines.

THREE-TO-EM SPACES are one-third the width of the square em quad. They are the standard word spaces used in regular text composition.

FOUR-TO-EM SPACES (four of them equal one em) can be used where less word spacing is needed or for more accurate spacing between elements in the line.

FIVE-TO-EM SPACES are utilized for extremely tight spacing between certain elements including punctuation marks.

SIX-TO-EM SPACES (1/6 the width of an em quad) are sometimes available for very close spacing. Made of regular type metal, they are referred to as less than five-to-em spaces.

HAIR SPACES are made in 1/2-point thicknesses (coppers) and one-point thick (brass) for very slight spacing and letterspacing.

To better understand the various spaces and quads and to be able to quickly estimate spacing necessary to justify lines, the following unit value table for spaces may prove helpful to the novice.

6-to-em space………..10 units
5-to-em space…………12 units
4-to-em space…………15 units
3-to-em space…………20 units
En quad……………….30 units
Em quad…………....…60 units
2 em quad……………120 units
3 em quad……………180 units

To make the oft-used 4- and 5-to-em spaces more accessible, some typographers change the location of them to the semi and colon boxes. This transfer will put all spaces and quads to the front of the case and be more accessible to the right hand.

Three-to-em spaces are appropriate for word spacing if the type design is a wide one. Types in this category include: Scotch Roman, Century Expanded, New Caslon, Bookman, National Old Style, Forum, Stymie, Antique No. 1, Craw Clarendon, etc.

Narrow faces such as: Baskerville, Cheltenham Old Style, Bodoni Book, Nicolas Cochin, Kennerley, Cloister Old Style, Goudy Modern, Garamond, Bembo, Garamont, Fournier, Ehrhardt and Caslon 471 & 337 are compatible with 4-to-em word spaces.

Good spacing is to words as mortar is to bricks. Not only does it hold words apart; it also serves to hold them together for easily readable sentences and thoughts. Extremely thin spaces, which let the words all run together, are as bad as having too much space between words which separates them into disjointed units causing the reader’s eye to stumble and lose the flow of the author’s thought.

Spacing and justification are the two closely linked operations that are necessary for the setting of every line. These terms are often used interchangeably.

SPACING is the placing of white space between words, characters, lines and at the beginning and ends of paragraphs. It is accomplished by placing white space in, at the ends of and between lines. In other words, it is the varying of the space throughout the line to attain legibility as well as a pleasing appearance.

JUSTIFYING–Is the tightening up of the lines in the composing stick so they will be snug enough to support themselves when they are transferred to a galley. Spacing at the ends or within the line is increased or reduced to accomplish this.

Several styles of setting type are open to the hand compositor, including: centered, flush right, flush left and justified.

Regardless of the style of setting–rag right or left, centered or justified each line must be justified–in other words, the line tightened until it is firm in the stick. This is accomplished by increasing or decreasing the spaces in the line. This double use of the term ‘justifying’ may at first confuse the novice typesticker.
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