surface plate as composing stone?

Hello Gang

been looking around
a composing stone

who works tool and die
told me to check
machine shop granite surface plate

local tool supply house
has 12 X 18 grade B granite surface plates
for less than 50 bucks

has anybody here used machine shop
surface plates for composing stones

yours truly

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No, but I would not hesitate to use one.
You can’t go wrong there. The flatter the better.
50 bucks sounds like a bargain, but I’m not sure what “grade B” constitutes.
They had really huge ones in the tool room of the factory I used to work at, and I was always very impressed with them.


my first stone was a formica counter top, worked well for quite a few years.

I have a granite surface plate, which is 12 X 18, which I got at Busy Bee tools in Ontario, Canada and I think mine is grade B. It works fine……I highly recommend it.

By the way, it is an imposing stone, not a composing stone. You do composition using your composing stick, and you do imposition on your imposing stone.

Don’t hesitate to look at an off-cut scrap piece of granite or one of the man-made stones used for kitchen countertops. Often free.

If you try the countertop route, bring a good straightedge to the store with you (new line gauge or level, etc.), and check the surface. It might be fine, however a friend of mine gave me a piece of man-made countertop and it wasn’t flat.



thank you

deprived apprenticeship

and only offset

yours truly

Lee Valley (; search for ‘granite’) also has a granite stone (9x12”) for $36CDN, which seems quite good for a tabletop (tolerant to ±0.0001”). I went with an off cut (as someone else suggested) of granite from a local counter top place. I think the total was < $60 for a 18x24” piece.


Good luck with your surface plate, Mac, if you decide to go that way. Best, Geoff

Early pioneer printers would occasionally use a neglected gravestone for an imposing surface, but that is generally frowned upon. I found a steel surface plate at a used machinist’s tool dealer’s shop. It measures 18” x 24” and was made by the Challenge Tool Company, the same company that made so many steel tops for the printing trade. It doesn’t have the rabbeted edge for loading galleys, but that is the only thing about it that is different from an imposing stone. I looked at granite stones as well, and outside of the weight, they would and do make perfectly good imposing surfaces. A good rule of thumb is to get one twice the size of the chase that fits your press, so you have some room to work around the chase.


Slightly off topic.
Old granite stones were often ground flat on both sides. When one side was beat up, it was turned over.
Another story claimed that the forman of a shop did that. The owner was irate. He said the unused side was intended to be inscribed for his gravestone.

The old stones were marble, and as the demand for them declined, so did the quality. I got a ‘new’ stone from Thompson Cabinet, and it was made from two stones laminated together to have two good surfaces. Old stones can have their surfaces re-ground, and the coffin (the box that holds the stone) can be filled with more sawdust, which was traditionally used to seat the stones. Granite ought to wear much better than marble which tends to be rather soft. I personally would rather have a steel surface to impose forms upon, but they take more maintenance than a real stone. I’ve built a wooden cover for mine to block the destructive sea air that plagues all metal objects in this area.


I have been using a machine shop granite surface plate for several years, works perfectly well. I’ve got a small size, that turns out to be ideal when I demonstrate with an 8 x 5 Adana, you can easily take it along. Last year I ordered a larger piece of granite from a kitchen worktop supplier and fitted that onto a sturdy base that I found at Ikea. That works out to be even better.

image: imposing stone.jpg

imposing stone.jpg

Iwas in a shop that was closing, my friend was buying a bunch of letterpress stuff from this 85 year old printer, i was poking around and the man asked if i was interested in anything, i said how much for the stone, the man was really mad and said don’t you know anything boy, printers use them for their grave stones, this one is already engraved with my name, it just needs the dates. I have never heard of that before. It was around 1970, that man wouldn’t sell me anything after that, most of his equipment had custom chrome nuts and a lot of gold pin stripping that he added, the 8x12 c&p was beautiful. My friend (and teacher who taught me to run a linotype) bought this mans linotype, whcih had quite a bit of parts on it that were chromed, pin stripping everywhere, the thing i got a kick out of was the bicycle hand grip with the tassles hanging down on the right hand handle that lifts your assembler.

to dickg et al.:
The old printer arrived at the Pearly Gates carrying his (ghostly) stone.
St Peter knew what the stone signified, and said …


I picked up a piece of scrap granite at the local quarry. Check it with a straight edge and I hope it works as well as mine- Total Cost=0

From the old guys like R.O. Vandercook and Hacker, plus a guy named Lex Claybourn, the most significant effort of letterpress up until about 1950 was perfecting letterpress equipment and tools that were accurate, and dead accurate at that. Hacker made precision plate and type gauges, Vandercook made precision proof presses, and Claybourn made precision presses and plate making equipment. ATF made type accurate to.0005” and now the suggestions I read in almost every post in this thread make me cringe—using a straight edge is good enough? Unknown pieces of stone from countertop material, backs of grave stones, or whatever is dumb. As a good letterpress printer friend of mine says “get serious.” The original material suggested, a granite surface plate is both reasonable and proper, but it is the only affordable new surface out there right now. We are all working with worn out presses, why make the problem worse with poor and inaccurate lockups? Enjoy printing by using the best and most accurate material you can locate within your budget, and granite surface stones are very reasonable. Accuracy pays off—I see too many chewing gum and baling wire solutions presented that are, to use the word again, just plain dumb.

I used to work right across from a shop that did counter tops. The pieces that where cut out for the sink are a great size it seems for imposing. They just piled them up and I guess got tossed after that. I could probably just go by there and load up a ton of them. That is if I needed them. I don’t. :(

Going along with what Fritz said, when people say they use countertops, etc., all I think of is, if they have to do a lot of makeready for every job, does it ever occur to them that it may be their inaccurate imposing surface that is causing them all that extra makeready time?

If they got a truly flat imposing surface like a surface plate, maybe they could cut their makeready time in half.

We discuss print shop management very little on this site, but maybe we should devote more time to it because good management will have a significant positive impact on productivity and profit.

I do this as a hobby on a limited budget. A free piece of granite which does the job for me? Far from “dumb”! I love my press and enjoy the time I’m in my shop. I’m sure that if I were doing this professionally I would feel differently, but for right now I am having fun and that’s what counts!!

when i started out i was just 13 years old, didn’t have much money so i used what i could, the formica counter top worked very well for a long time. some of my type cases were egg cartons. Making what you have work to get you printing i don’t thing is dumb. Fritz, whats wrong with chewing gum and bailing wire, personally i don’t like the bailing wire, i prefer paper clips.

the imposing stone I work on is an old marble bathroom stall divider. The mounting holes work as a great place to put my quoin key.

Sorry, I should be more positive in my outlook. And I should say that the smart thing to do is use the appropriate tools, procedures, and materials for letterpress. It is smart to learn what works best that produces the best work within one’s abilities and limitations of equipment. And it is smart to seek out those who are knowledgable in the craft and who can give sound and reasonable advice.

I would also add that it is smart to learn the history of the craft and to acquire the vocabulary used in letterpress.


Fritz, no need to be sorry, you are well respected and loved in this business, when us cheap guys decide to do it with the right stuff it is you who gets the call, what you say is very true, printing goes a lot better with the right tools and things but you can fudge some things and get by.


again thanks


kinda get strange dichotomy

some willing to pay
ten grand for Vandercook

others too cheap to buy
imposing stone

went to Production Tool
bought a 12 X 18 X 3 granite surface flat
certified accuracy .0001

fifty bucks for precision tool
is such a deal

have spent
much of my life doing make ready

prepress done wrong
is a pain

coming from offset

knowing imposing stone is right
is worth more than fifty bucks

yours truly

One other thing that everybody should consider is to make the investment in better tools and equipment as one learns and grows in the trade. This probably doesn’t ring as important when running polymer (one base does it all….) but for those running metal, all the pieces and the equipment to assemble them, are important and good tools make things a lot more fun.