The Joy of

Handsetting Type

By Fred Williams, Publisher of Type & Press

Chapter four: Let's Set Type

Before beginning to set any type, the stick must be set to the proper measure. For sticks graduated along the foot, the knee is merely slid to the required measure and the clamp secured. Ungraduated sticks can be set by placing the same number of 12 pt. em quads in the stick as the measure calls for. In other words, to set stick to 18 picas, place 18 12-point em quads in the stick slide knee snugly up against the quads and close the clamp.

Or a slug 18 picas long (if accurately cut) can be used as a guide to set the stick.

Some type slingers prefer to set their stick two picas wider than the actual printing measure and then drop an em quad at each end of the line. This will prevent thin letters from slipping down at the ends of the lines if leads have been cut too short.

Copy may include hand written manuscripts, reprint clippings, typewritten sheets and/or other printed matter. Hand written and typed sheets are called manuscript copy. If it has been printed and more copies are desired it is known as reprint copy.

Placing the copy conveniently in view on the top of the type cabinet, the typesetter should always stand erect, with both feet firmly on the floor with the fore arms level over the center of the lower case.

The hand compositor should not stand too stiffly but let his body sway from side to side slightly. The foot should not be rested on a frame crossbar or a partially pulled out case. If the printer is short he should stand on a box. His position should be about two inches from the stand with the right hand in the vicinity of the a, o and i boxes. The arms should not rest on the case. The stick is held in the left hand and it should follow the other hand as it moves about the case picking up the type but it should not go above the center of the ‘h’ compartment.

Hold the stick comfortably in the palm of the left hand with the foot (open side) up. The fingers should be wrapped around the head (notched side) to support the stick lightly while the thumb extends over the foot to support the letters as they are placed with the right hand on the left side against the knee and head. The stick should be tilted slightly up and backwards, as if it were going to hold water. The letters are placed with the nicks up—toward the open side of stick. This will position the type with the face up but upside down to enable it to be read from left to right.

For regular text composition the first piece of type to be set in the stick will be a quad for the paragraph indention or an initial letter. The regular indention for a paragraph is one em if the measure of the line is 18 picas or less and 1 1/2-2 ems if setting wider measures. The capital letter of the first word should follow, with the remaining letters of the word in lower case type.

The first word or two following an initial letter should be in caps or small caps to lead the eye into the paragraph.

After a quick glance at the copy, the hand compositor should reach with the right hand for the first needed character. Try for a type in the box that has the face toward the left with the nick up. Pick up the letter with the thumb and fore-finger and place it in the left hand corner of the stick on top of the composing rule (or a slug). The thumb should hold it in place. Now go for the next letter required.

The eye should be as far in advance of the hand as possible. When the eye has located a type and the finger-thumb are reaching for it, forget about that letter and look for the next one. Place the second type next to the first one while supporting it with the thumb.

Make a habit of getting every character you go for and not leaving that box until you have it. In time, the comp, while reaching for one letter will have his mind on the next one needed. In this way, surprising speed can be built up.

If a nick-up, left facing letter can't be located, pick up any one and roll it between the forefinger and thumb until you feel the nick up and the face left before placing it in the line. In time this action will become so automatic, the eyes will not need to be withdrawn from their search for the next letter.

In time, the comp will learn to distinguish the various letters by feeling their thicknesses and will not set an i in the stick for an s, or a or some other thicker character

Hand setters can simplify and speed up the operation of transferring individual types from case to stick by ‘cord wooding’ the type in the boxes with all the faces and the nicks facing in the same directions, such as all faces to the left and all nicks turned up.

Because type must be read in reverse, the beginner may experience difficulty in distinguishing between letters such as d and b, p and q and some others. It will be a help to remember that the nick is always at the bottom of the letter and that a stroke running toward the nick is a down stroke The stroke on the d projects back over the letter while on the b and p it projects away from the character. This accounts for the origination of the old saying: ‘Mind your p's and q's.’
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