DIY Composing Stick?

Hello friends! I’m hosting a stationery workshop soon and am wondering if anyone has ever made a DIY composing stick?

The students will be setting their names in metal type and printing them on a Kelsey. I own two composing sticks, but with 12 participants, I was thinking of putting something together that will at least hold the type as the students work and we can do the final typesetting in one of my actual composing sticks before locking up the type in the chase.

In the past we’ve just shared the two composing sticks, but this is a much larger class. My initial thoughts were to put together something with balsa wood? They will be using 20 pica leads, so the moveable end on an actual composing stick could be stationary in this case.

Anyone out there have any recommendations?

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I would think one could make s fixed length stick using glued together binders board, particularly if only setting a single line or two.

Very doable for function. A bit clunky, but workable.
I do not suggest balsa. Too soft.
I would use a piece of Masonite cut to the width of a composing stick and 40 picas long. To this you glue and screw a piece of hardwood 5/8” thick. No glue or screws in the middle 20 picas. You will cut this out very accurately to provide your 20 picas space for type. Fasten another piece of hardwood across the back of the gap.
If done well and accurately, the type should be in good form to transfer to the stick for final check.
Teach well and culture new students to the black art.

Alternately if you do not have a very accurate table saw to cut out the middle 20 picas.
Cut a 10 pica piece one or two inches. Glue to back edge of the Masonite. Place a hand full of 20 pica slugs for spacers and glue another 10 pica piece on the other end. Finish with a strip across the gap. Finish up with flat head screws recessed into the backside of the Masonite.

The wheels keep turning. If you can get your local woodworker/cabinet shop to cut very accurate 20 pica dados, you can get the work done much faster. With good clear stock about 2” wide and 1” thick, cut 40 pica lengths. Have the shop cut accurate 20 pica dados to 5/8” depth. Finish with a strip across the back of the gap. Make sure any debris is cleaned from the dado.

Alternatively, if you can find a supply of small cardboard boxes such as are used for notecards or as jewelry gift boxes, with fitted lids (maybe at a crafts store like Michaels), just tuck the lids under the boxes to reinforce them and give each participant a box. They can set the type in them with leads top and bottom and between lines, and then justify the set lines in one of the composing sticks. A 3x4 inch box will give 24 pica lines of type — if you have short wood furniture drop an 18 pica long by 4 pica thick piece in each box to reduce the line length to 20 picas. They should end each line with an em quad or two, to leave justification space.


With 12 D.I.Y. setting sticks, in prospect, follows thus:-
from ordinary Hardware store, 3/4/5 lengths of Extruded Aluminium 90 Degree angle, (from 3 Foot lengths, cut down to approx. 30 - 35 Em lengths?) but in the format of
3/4” X 1&1/4” (exactly replicating conventional lightweight Stick *L* shape) = laid flat on its back.!!

Per Stick (if possible) X 2 pieces of Resalite/Paxolin/Cornerstone furniture, 6 em x 4 em (or hardwood substitute?) One stop end, screwed through/fixed as in conventional Stick, Other end NOT screwed but Negotiable, IF required with just simple Hobby-craft, minature *G* clamps, exactly as Very old fashioned/vintage *Sticks* used to be .???

BUT, one proviso! because extruded angle has a slight >inner< radius/contour, 2 Pt. 3 Pt. lead stuck to rear of the *Stick* for Type to clear the radius.

Fairly accurate Facsimiles of original Sticks. TIMES 12.?

*** Even with the Genuine Articles, in the Hands of learners/novices, at least ONE Setting rule per Learner, should be available, for lifting, from the Stick, for make up or, transfer.!***
Good Luck

Congratulations to dameling for using stationery and stationary correctly in the same post.

Some interesting ideas, but here’s another.

Simple construction lath strips would suffice to make these. They’re pine and generally around 1.5” wide by around .25” thick and come in multiple lengths. They’re usually available at hardware and big box stores for just a couple of bucks each or less.

A lath strip could be cut to, say, 5” lengths for the back and floor of the stick, with 1.25” pieces cut for each end. Leave one of the 5” sections full width for the back and rip the second in half lengthwise to around .75” wide by 5” long for the floor of the stick. The ends can be cut from the second half of the floor section you ripped in two earlier.

Wood glue would suffice for construction. Modern glues are stronger than the wood they’re gluing. Glue the back, floor and right end and let dry. A small square would be handy here to make sure everything is aligned well. Then simply use a stack of 20 pica leading as a gluing jig to glue the left side on. If the right side is straight and square, the left will be as well.

A little light sanding and a coat of spray lacquer and you now have a perfectly serviceable composing stick that can be used over and over again. If you really want to get cute, you can even round the upper corner of the left end to make it more like a traditional composing stick and more comfortable in the hand to boot.

This technique would get you an entire composing stick from 10” of lath. A 6’ lath strip would net you 7 sticks. And while a table saw would be nice, the entire job could be produced with a fine-toothed dovetail saw and a miter-box.

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN

Thanks all for the great suggestions! I’m going to see what I can’t find for supplies and see what I can’t come up with.

Danielle Chargo
Iron Leaf Press
Mount Vernon, Iowa

And thanks Fritz1—-that’s one typo I see a lot (that also drives me a bit crazy), so I like to make sure that it is used correctly.

We had the same predicament a while ago when we ran some workshops and using the resources I had I made these up. Pretty basic with thumb screws to set the length. They did the trick!

image: settingsticks.png


D and d, those are really nice and almost exactly what I was envisioning. (sans sliding knee, of course)

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN

d and d—-those are great! Had I had a bit more time and a router, I may have gone that route.

As it was, I ended up making small wooden frames of sorts, with the left side glued in place. I left the opening slightly larger than 20 picas for ease of removal and they seemed to work decently well for the students to use.

(Attached photo from one of the students—-she didn’t have the type in with the nick showing, but what can you do? Pretty good results from their first go at it).

More photos of the actual workshop here:

image: Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 10.36.12 PM.png

Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 10.36.12 PM.png