composing my first line

Hi there,

I am trying to compose my first line of type— ever. Yes, I am green!

I have set my composing stick to 30 picas- because that’s the size of the longest line in the paragraph I want to compose. I am now trying to insert a slug at the head of the stick. It’s my understanding that the slug should fit freely and have some wiggle room, so it’s easy to dump the lines later— is that correct?

For some reason, although I am using a 30-pica slug, there is NO wiggle room, and in fact it just barely fits in the stick. I don’t want to jam it in there.

Can anyone out there explain what I’m doing wrong?
My slugs are sticky because someone left them bound up in packing tape for years— so that could be part of the problem. But I don’t think that explains the tight fit.

(As a side note, does anyone have recommendations for the best way to clean my leads and slugs?)

I appreciate your help so much!


Log in to reply   5 replies so far

there should not be wiggle room in your slugs, they should fit snug. you should not have to jam it in, some one could have cut them too long, check to see it all your 30 picas are the same size. i clean my slugs with press wash. good luck dick g.

Hi Lesley—

It’s easy for there to be slight variations in sticks and the lengths to which slugs are cut. For instance, a compositor may have cut a 30-pica piece of six-point material on a saw that was not quite accurate, or with other material not quite aligned, or by hand a little bit short to be certain not to bind with other 30-pica material.

I think the old rule stamped on the stick is to apply a little outward pressure to the knee (is that what it’s called?—I’m a pressman) when you lock the measure in the stick. The type should be justified in the stick neither too loose nor too tight, so that you can tilt the line off its base a little without it falling over.

To clean the residue of tape off type or strip material, I do as dickg recommends—wipe it off with solvent— “thinner”, press wash, white gas, type cleaner, or laquer thinner. Kerosene is probably not strong enough. You can try other solvents you may have around the shop such as alcohol or lighter fluid—different adhesives respond to different solvents.

I applaud your intention to work with hand-set type. Good luck! Brian

It is not always the slugs, though they are the first suspect and should be measured. Some Rouse sticks have an adjustment lever for a half-pica setting, and others have alternate holes for odd measures. I’d take a piece of iron furniture, which should be accurate, see if the knee fits to it (rather than seeing if it fits the knee). It is common also to find sticks with knees taken from other sticks. If the serial numbers don’t match, the measures may just be off.
I’d say the type should be firm in the stick and not move even a little when tilted (though the slug should move). If type and leading are exactly the same length, the type will not get enough pressure from the quoins for a good lockup. Some shops will cut leading slightly short, especially when working with Monotype composition, to get adequate squeeze.

I am assuming that you are using a Rouse composing stick. They are notorious for not locking up at the right measure; rarely will you find one with the same knee as stick, because they would have to be exchanged around the shop to fit best in whatever corresponding stick that would work. You want to have a little play with the lead in the stick, otherwise you will have no compression of the type when it comes time to lock-up. Foundry type and spaces compress less than Monotype and spaces. I have a tendency to shorten my leads by one point from 15 to 25 pica measure and two points 30 picas and over in order to insure proper lock-up. Sometimes brand new type will be covered in mould oil and that can exacerbate work-ups, but leading that is too long will make it almost impossible to get a consistant lock-up. Your choice seems to be either shorten your leads or find a better stick.


thank you all so much. i’ll let you know what happens!