Making hand molds

I know this topic area is for lino/inter/monotype, ludlow and whatnot, but can we go back yet another hundred years?

Does anyone here have experience making hand molds? I would be curious to know how it is done. I have a fairly firm grasp of machining techniques, so I am looking for design resources.

I tossed together some ideas in a CAD program, but I’m lacking certain pieces of information, so I’m looking for resources…Diderot’s diagrams are lacking.

Other then usefulness in hand-composition, does the nick serve a purpose in the casting process?

I was wondering what the standard drive was on matrices. .035 inches? .050 inches?

How much overlap is there between the edge of a letter and the edge of the matrix?

Anyway, if someone has info or can point me towards some, that would be great.


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Stan Nelson is the person to talk to. Formerly of the Smithsonian. He builds hand molds and has for years.

Also Neil Giroux casts type by hand.

Thanks for the info! This whole idea actually started because of a film Mr. Nelson made in the 80s. I didn’t know he was still around.

LRF… actually, Diderot’s drawings themselves are quite complete IF you are good at 3-Puzzles. All of the parts are accurately drawn to scale. What is lacking in the Dover version is the text which describes how they go together. It took me two days to figure them out…. and there is still one small piece that seems to serve no purpose.

The resulting mold is a rather complex device, and the few folks who make historically accurate copies are justified in charging high prices for them.

The complexity seems to arise from three factors:
1. the need for the mold to be adjustable for various widths of letters within a given point size.
2. the need to make the sprue (the lead casting stem that gets cut off) also adjustable for width.
3. The use of several small parts instead of fewer large parts. I would guess that this was done because they didn’t have milling machines back then, and it was the most expedient way to create the desired shape.

I spent some time sketching out designs for molds that would be simpler to make. I don’t see it as a very difficult proposition…. especially IF we could live with a single width of letter, like a typewriter face.

This might become my next project after my press is complete. It’s going to be either that, or a pantograph for making wood-type. I haven’t decided yet.

I dismissed Diderot mainly due to #3. There are far too many parts given the state of modern machining. Repros, of course are a different issue. I have the French reprint of Diderot’s printing section, and the pictures, along with the French text give a fairly complete picture.

When I played around in a CAD program, I found I could make a mold of only four principle parts, each requiring 3 to 5 setups to make. Two mold bodies and two nozzles (sprues) plus the matrix is all it should take.

If the width of the matrix is used to define the width of the letter (so the “i” matrix is narrower than the “m” mat) then the machining gets a little easier. Otherwise, holes have to be drilled and tapped to justify the matrix.

Anyway, that is where I got. Now, I just need a milling machine…

For sometime now I have been thinking a lot about type founding. Just a dream of designing a typeface and produce it the old fashion way. I have no idea how I would make the punches… I haven’t a clue about metallurgy. I suppose there are people out there doing it. Is there? I followed the links provided by Arie Koelewyn and it gave me some more information. Thank You.
I think that there could be a way to produce mats using todays technology, then found it using a hand mould.
I am not adding any information with my post as I am not literate on this matter, just adding more questions.



You’ll want to read Theo Rehak’s book Practical Typecasting which NA Graphics sells:

Thank You. I have found NA before. It is impressive the information one get from there, especially about type foundries and metal type, borders and ornaments.

New to this site
I was casting lead for fishing weights in the 50’s.
Many years of CAD and moldmaking experience offered. What do you need, free cheap advice freely given. Teach or do. See wanted (press) for what I am here for. We can make anything.
Brian O

Sorry, I’m late to this discussion but I don’t spend a lot of time on my computer.
The Diderot illustrations are the work of Pierre Simon Fournier, and one can see similar images in his “Manuel Typographique.” I believe you can get a good reproduction of the Diderot plates with text from David Peat, of Indianapolis.
Early in my efforts to build a mould I made a wooden model from these plates and came up with a good, three dimensional pattern. This is an effective, low tech approach, and the model is quite useful.
There are 19th century ‘fitter’s’ moulds that are of a simpler construction and such would be a good choice for a practical working mould.
Remember that there isn’t much point in ‘re-inventing the wheel’ when making a new hand-mould. You are returning to a technology that was largely abandoned over 150 years ago. Any tool you make now will survive as an example of its kind. If you create a ‘newly engineered’ tool it will soon be seen as an ‘antique’ type mould and not very useful to future students of printing.
Also, the older patterns of moulds are made the way they are for a reason. Most were easily adjusted for wear, and could be made to cast different heights (to match the customer’s needs or changes in matrices). Some can be made to cast several sizes of type. There are a great variety of mould structures, and these are part of a continuing study I am working on. More about this soon.
If you need specific information on plans for a type mould, feel free to e-mail me.
Stan Nelson