Sorting spacers etc


So far while awaiting rollers from ramco, which by the way will be in this week. I have been sorting spacers, as i bought several pounds on ebay.

Is there any easy way to keep them sorted. I know keeping type sorted is easy, i got trays for that.

I was thinking of constructing a wood tray for 6, 8, 10, point spacers. I have also seen them plastic fishing tackle box thingys, but the weight on those is not going to go well.

Even the longer lead slugs i think i might make a small tray. I only have a kelsey 5x8 so i would not have to make a tray for spacers thats very long.

I was also wondering does anyone have pics of their little work shops. Im interested to see what the rest of us beginners have for a work area.

Right now i have a small spare room, an old desk that i know is going to break due to press weight. Im making a table for my press this week.

Anyway tips and ideas for sorting and organizing spacers is appreciated..


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you can look on facebook for pictures of different shops, if you look under my name Richard Goodwin, I have pictures of my shop, you can buy racks to hold leads and slugs, most times spacing is kept in the case with your type, Letterpress Things in Chicopee, MA is a great place to find treasures, he even has things on line, you should check him out.

As Dick says, you can keep spaces in the case with your type. Letterpress spacing is made to a very precise system. The system is based on a piece called an em quad, which is always a square piece the same size as the type size. For instance, a 12 pt em quad is 12 pt X 12 pt, an 18 pt em quad is 18 X 18, etc. The next smaller piece is an en quad, which is half as big as an em quad. For example a 12 pt en quad is 6 X 12, and if you put two en quads together you get the same amount of space as an em quad. Next is a 3 to em space, which is 4 X 12, and 3 of them make an em quad. There are also 4 to em and 5 to em spaces. If that isn’t enough, there are also quads larger than an em quad. There are 2 em and 3 em quads. In 12 pt, for instance, a 2 em quad would be the size of two em quads, or 12 X 24. A 3 em quad would be 12 X 36. All of these quads and spaces can be kept in the typecase, and if you look at a typecase layout (you can Google it if you don’t have a layout), you can see where they go.

A big advantage of this system is that many quads and spaces are interchangeable among the different type sizes. For instance, a 12 pt 2 em quad, at 12 X 24, is the same size as a 24 pt en quad. A 24 pt 3 to em quad, at 8 X 24, is the same size as an 8 pt 3 em quad. And on and on. So, if you don’t have enough quads and spaces in any one type size, you can often use quads and spaces from a different type size (because they are actually the same size).

There are also thin spaces, and most of the time these are brass thin spaces which are 1 pt thick, and copper thin spaces which are 1/2 pt thick. These usually are kept in a separate tray dedicated to them.

Thank you very much for the info, soon as im finished sorting the mess, i guess i will put the spacers in with the type. Only problem is right now im working with thompson cabinet type cases that are half size as those wide ones.

As for letterpress things, i am planning to drive down there but 4hrs to get there and a wife and ten month old makes for even longer drive. But if the wife dont come, im going soon lol

I think my problem now is i realized is my type cases are small. I just want something thats organized and well old looking, used and cool is also good lol.

My last real job was setting hand type, there is a system that helps a lot, especially for justifying type. Best part is it works for all type sizes, you give the em quad a value of 60, the en is 30 the 3-em is 20, the 4 em is 15, 5 em is 12. I still have this hanging up near my stone.

For storing spacers, I went to the craft department at Walmart and bought plastic boxes with dividers. Each compartment is about 1” square. These boxes cost about $1 a piece. You can find similar boxes at Hobby Lobby, but cost $2 or so. You can stack the boxes to be efficient with shop space.

Looked at tackle boxes in sporting goods dept for similar storage boxes, but they cost more.

You can use a magic market to write on the tid to note sizes.

I have put 18 and 36 pt in the same box and 24 and 48 in the same box.

This much more convenient that putting the spaces in the type drawers.


I think i get this whole em quad thingy but i probably dont lol. I think that guage thing is what helps me most lol

But i love the suggestions

Never heard of this 3,4,5 to em terminology before, each space has a name. Thin, Mid, Thick, En (Nut), Em (Mutton).

You might find this link of use, listing the increasing thickness of space from a thin to an Em.

everywhere I worked that set hand type used that terminology, 3 to the em, 4 to the em and 5 to the em, by giving them numbers like I said you can figure out how to increase the spacing between words a little at a time. Your chart also works but I think its easier with the system I use, maybe cause I’ve done it this way for 55 years.

So Dick, with your numbering system, I’ve been thinking about it. Using that system, you could set a line without any spacing, and then just space the line out at the end. Then you could count the number values of the spaces at the end of the line (using 60 units per em, etc). If you divided the total number of spacing units, by the number of word spaces in the line, then you would know the exact amount of space needed between each word. Then you could take the space out from the end of the line and put the right amount of space between each word. Is that the way you did it? It does sound like it would eliminate a lot of trial and error. I think I am going to try it.

Only way I remember it to be. Dick.

we always used the 3 to the em space between words, unless you are setting caps then we used an en space, then its fairly simple to figure out how much to add to justify the line. Your way should work well also, as you get used to it you can get pretty fast at justifying.

3-to-em is standard in job work but in fine book work 4- or 5-to-em might be better, depending on the set width of the face, and then 6-to-ems also used, where needed.
If this terminology is unfamiliar, it is standard American usage.

Our shop goes down to 4 to the M in the type cases.
Check the layouts at Almbic Press.
There are LOTS of different case layouts, BTW.

We also have a rack that holds hair spacing in various widths.
I believe we go 6 8 10 12 14 18 24 30 36 48 in
thicknesses of : 2pt lead, 1pt brass, 1/2pt copper and 1/4pt steel.

Yes, we justify to the QUARTER POINT !

Great thread. Em, En and then 3, 4 & 5 to the Em have always been standard for me. The general rule that I was taught was to use 3 to the em between words. I’ve been tinkering with this stuff for 40 years and can tell you that ‘rule’ is OK, but 4 to the em makes a much nicer setting.

The other advantage of 4 to the em is that once you set your copy you can easily go back for justification and use the 3 to the em or 5 to the em to expand or contract your lines. Use thin spaces after that.

Also. At the end of a sentence or after a comma you can use a slightly thinner space because the period and the comma automatically create a little “air” all by themselves.

Large display type also needs less spacing between words.

Good spacing is what separates us from the animals and can be an art form all by itself.

Brass (1 pt.) and copper (half pt.) are standard, but steel (quarter point) is also very nice to have.

I have a habit of composing in the stick and usually have the luxury of rewriting my copy to help ensure good spacing for justification.


All good stuff, but beware. Your bulk purchase might just have been a bum steer. The automatic typesetting machine called a Monotype caster, uses an entirely different (and totally amazing and sensitive) system and its inter-word spaces vary all over the place, when setting continuous text matter. . They are totally incompatible with the ‘founders proper Anglo-American’ system well described above. If it gets mixed in with ‘the proper stuff’ it becomes a major problem. The same machine can however if properly tamed can and commonly does produce the proper stuff, but not if its casting continuous text. So those get put to one side and villains try to sell it to the unsuspecting! Sorting a small handful soon tells you.

Somebody needs to invent a day stretcher stretcher…

Im spread too thin, with all the non printing related things Im doing, but…

One of the projects languishing on the bench is a CNC machine for making matrices for borders & dingbats.

Ive been threatening to market kits for typecases.
Shipped knocked down, they would be cheaper.

If I ever finish the CNC machine, it might be up to mass producing typecase kits.

Some thoughts about spaces:

Once you have more than one font in the same size, it becomes a problem to get the right quads & spaces back in the right cases.
You end up running out of quads & spaces, and then having to hit one of the other cases of the same size for more.

The solution to this is to centralize them all in a “space case” (Yes, its called that)

Im still pretty new to this, so Im evolving.
Our crew has been having fun watching me play “catch-up” to the rest of them.
Apparently Ive been one of the fastest learners in our shops history.
The phrase “We created a monster” has been repeated.

The OCD part of me says that there should be 6-em 5-em 4-em 3-em en and em for each size.
It also says we need thin space for each size 6pt -48pt in our shop.

The engineer in me says there there should be a way to get 6-em 5-em 4-em & 3-em in each size, but not neccessarily with a single space.

Then the realist starts crunching the numbers.
6-em at 12pt is a 2pt lead out of the thin space case!
Ill spare you the rest of the calcs I did.

Before I started in the shoppe, our leaders husband packed up morst of the 4,5,6-em stuff and put it in storage, leaving us to use the thins for these jobs.
It was just too hard distributing all the under 3-em spaces.
The 3-em box was full of 4s etc.
I petitioned the rest of the crew to bring those other sizes back into the shoppe.

After I did that number crunching, I saw my folly.
For the type of work we do in historical reenactments, 4-em only becomes relevant at 18pt!

I rescinded my campaign for the smaller spaces, and then Don showed me the spreadsheet he did about 10 years ago.
Sure enough he knew THEN that for our work, 6-em was more trouble than it was worth.

The rest of the crew was very nice about it, but my ears are STILL crimson!

OK long story, but as long as you have a “hair case” with 2 1 1/2 & 1/4 for each size, dont sweat the 4 5 6-ems.

In my day, late 40s to 60s, we used 3em spaces virtually exclusively for all word spacing. That was what was taught in school and why the 3em space location, except for e, is among the largest in the most widely used Job Cases.
In addition to 4 and 5em spaces, we used thin copper and slightly thicker brass spaces as needed for final justification. and letter spacing.

In my day, late 40s to 60s, we used 3em spaces virtually exclusively for all word spacing. That was what was taught in school and why the 3em space location, except for e, is among the largest in the most widely used Job Cases.
In addition to 4 and 5em spaces, we used thin copper and slightly thicker brass spaces as needed for final justification. and letter spacing.

I’ve got a fairly extensive page on my website that I hope will be a useful reference on spaces, their use and terminology, and a bit about storage:

My impression is that terms like “thin”, “mid”, and “thick” spaces never had a really precise and universal meaning in the trade, though individual foundries might have had their own standards, which might have been shared by others to varying extents at various times. Those terms were products of the pre-standardization era, when spacing was not necessarily even strictly proportionate to point size. They fell out of use, perhaps only very gradually, after the point system gave printers (and equipment manufacturers) a numerical basis for thinking about and working with spaces, and mechanization required increased consistency and accuracy.

But there’s always more to learn. 1/4 point steel spaces are new to me!

In the London trade in the 1950s/60s, the better class of shop would indeed use the one third of the em space to start with when setting a line, and replace those with other combinations to finally justify the line to the measure. If only a few such replacements to justify were called for, they would sometimes be chosen to be placed where a descender letter fell adjacent (the other side of the gap) with another such. Or descender pairings. Exception might be with faces of very narrow set-width where the ?initial space would be a ‘mid’, ie a four to the em eg Bembo and Ehrhardt. We are talking about classy work here. . In passing its not spacers, theres no ‘r’, they are just spaces.
If you were working on a big job you might have a separate five or six division box along side your working case, and that was known for some strange reason as a space ‘barge’. There would be several of different sizes floating around the case room, and one heard the cry ”whose got the 8 point barge”
As for hairspaces, in those days always one point brass and sometimes half point copper would be available, or cut your own out of card!!, ( Fritz Klinke still sells ‘em, or did.)

We still offer brass and copper thin spaces in all sizes except 72 pt copper. We can cut it to any point size, even for one order. And we use the original machine that ATF developed in the 1890s and used up until their closure in 1993.

On another topic in this thread, at least the U.S. type case makers Hamilton and Thompson offered a variety of sorts cases that fit their type stands. The one I use is a wood Hamilton one that spans a double case stand and includes all point sizes of metal spaces from 6 to 72 pt, then a section for the same range of brass and copper spaces, and a third section for 2 pt metal spaces in the full range. Their catalogs illustrated these case offerings so there is no need to set out to reinvent these things, just copy the work already done if the passion to build something is there. When full, one of these things take 2 people to lift and move it.