Ludlow Casting Question…

Is there a safer casting alloy usable in a Ludlow machine (less toxic than lead, let’s say).

Rotometals has something called “Low 271” and Hi Tech has two similar low melt point alloys (“Low” and “Cast”). Would these would work in a Ludlow?

Also, what is the the capacity of the pot on the Ludlow (e.g. if one were going to entirely replace the lead in it, how much new material would be needed?).

Any help appreciated!


Log in to reply   34 replies so far

As long as you are vented i see no problem with lead, at least last 40 or so years i haven’t had a problem.

I see no problem either dickg, but my wife you see…

I have one of those too, she don’t like the smell and when i clean them i’m always in trouble. I did somewhat solve the problem, i moved to an out building.

Lead in general is harmless in its stable state , the dross off the pot containing the oxides are your problem and any white flakey powder .Keeping the pot metal in warm dry conditions will keep it stable and sensible dross disposal you will have no problems .

A little story……
…..Buddy, who helped me get my Ludlow up and running several years ago runs a trophy shop in town and has the only other working Ludlow in the area that I know of. Anyway, he apparently had a guy working for him some years back who got sick and was diagnosed with lead poisoning. He went to get workers’ compensation and as a result, the Department of Health and Safety came in and took readings for lead in his shop. They could find nothing significant. On further investigation, it turned out the guy had been stripping lead paint in his house over a period of time and had absorbed enough of it to give him lead poisoning. Thus no workers’ compensation…….and, thus, Buddy says he no longer has anyone working for him.

Guesses not Facts, in our museum the Ludlow and the Monotype stand within 5 feet of each other and appear to take within 10 minutes of each other, the same time to heat up, the most capacity the Monotype can take is no more than 90lbs of lead, logic would imply that the Ludlow must be very close capacity wise,!!! A long time ago, most hot metal users, Monotype, Linotype/Intertype, Ludlow, Elrod, used the services of (here in least) Fry,s Metal Foundries, They, were sent a representative cross section of the metal, currently in use, In House, assayed it and recommended which grade of reviver to use, to bring it (the lead) back up to scratch whichever system(s) were in use, but at least every six months The Rep would visit the firm on a goodwill tour, (probably keeping His commission up) but we the operators, welcomed his visits because we could glean little snippets of info, regarding what was going down at other firms in the area, but an important side benefit was, (after prompting by the Printing Dept of the Polytechnic) most every body would question? Was their an alternative to normal lead composition, for Typecasters and always the answer was catergorically NO. Purely because of the combination and function of Lead, Tin and Antimony, in whatever Ratio.!!!>>>>Completely understandably that was then, but now as the H.and S. executive say, you cant use lead based solder anymore, etc etc and plumbers must use compression joints etc etc blah blah blah, it must possibly follow that there is an alternative whatever it is, but how it will work and FLOW through Moulds that were designed for conventional lead alloy up to 100 years ago is a puzzle??? Would love to see a post on, up to date thinking/tecnolgy. It is too late for Me!!! after I had been running the Monotype for 20 years plus, our U.K. H and S decided that maybe I and many others, were taking on some bad c**p, so we wore a pack with the sensor within about 3 inches of the nose and SURPRISE, SURPRISE some Bad C**P was going down, little bit to late!!! My Doctor is quite adamant that I havent got lead poisoning, but my chest is partly ruined from the fumes from the Caster with mould oil dripping on to the Pot, over the course of 25 years. Just my take, here in U.K. we seem to have several Ludlow Engineers listed, for some accurate info and DON BLACK Linecasting in Toronto would seem to be THE MAN, For Chapter and Verse etc. Good Luck.

Monotype Mick, come on fumes from the castors ruined your chest, i know even in England those who worked with hot metal smoked like chimneys and drank beer by the gallons, don’t you think that could have caused most of your problems?????

Peter is correct — that said, if you really want to swap out the metal, I’d get in touch with Dave Seat — he has customers in California that run a non-lead pewter alloy. It’s very soft though — if memory serves they are book binders or trophy ribbon printers or such — that use the slugs for very limited runs.

Dickg — Mick is referring to the effects of the caster oil used on some Monotype units. The fumes cause angina-like symptoms.

Didn’t know that, thanks. I’m just trying to rattle his cage a little.

Dick g Yes you are 95% correct in that Printers along with many others did consume more than usual amounts of alchohol which went hand in hand with smokey atmospheres and smoking, but in my case I swear on Tolbert Lanstons Life I have never done either, and still DO NOT!!! But Dick I will state that for 14 years before Litho sold us all down the river My self and the other Caster operator agreed to work permanently same shift, i.e. My self doing permanent early, and He doing permanent late, instead of a week about, as did the others in the same Shop. (Ditchling Press in sleepy downtown Sussex which was the progression from St. Dominic,s Press, i.e. ERIC GILL etc) It is with much sadness that my opposite number, did in fact succumb to the Big “C” what proportion of the effects of Lead based, Drink or smoking based hazards, were responsible we did not know. >>>> Dick consider my cage rattled but in this case incorrect, Peter L. will verify that even now I still toe my party line, my EX Wife maintains that I am possibly mad from the Lead and Mercury in my system, but still knows who to contact when the chips are down, mercury as well, YES, when the borden tube, from the melting pot on the caster, to the tilt switch in the control box busted, along with others, we salvaged the mercury for scrap, which NOW gets rejected by every scrap merchant as bad news!!! And Jeff is also correct, The Super Caster running strip product, always used pure unrefined Castor Oil, but as yet touch wood angina is not on the cards for me!!! I fortunately did not come into contact with the Super Caster anywhere near as much as the composition Casters, although mid 50,s mid 60,s when the word carsonogenic, had not been invented after many visits to our (Brands Hatch) equivalent of Seebring or Watkins Glen, seeing and smelling some of our Hero,s running race bykes on Castrol “R” it seemed like a good idea to use Castor Oil, filched from the Casting dept, in our motor cycles, we got the good smell, but that was all, it gummed the valve gear up, exactly the same as the Super Caster moulds, so in view of the limited time span on that score, that is/was not an issue in my case, but Jeff,s comments may well point out to others the possible dangers, Thank you buddy. Still can not get my head round how, a product described as soft as pewter, can possibly make type, that will stand up, to even a handfull of impressions, let alone runs into the thousands, especially in todays norm where punching into the paper, seems to be the order of the day!!! Would really like to see a post, with some, or any results, using said material, if in fact it has actually been used and how many impressions it sustained??? Dick and Jeff regards and thanks, Mick.

Yes, Dave Seat arranged that particular Ludlow to run on Pewter. However, it is very time consuming to change one over. It has to be cleaned to an above average condition. But it’s still a metal, still toxic in its own way. Just not with all the hype like lead. Really wouldn’t be worth changing over if your planning any kind of production. I’ve never known anyone affected by working with lead in letterpress. A guy near me had 66 years in printing and it never affected him.

to mkusnir1, dickg, Peter Luckhurst, David Brewer, monotype mick, Jeff Shay, Theo Bell and others:

I cannot claim to be an expert, but my opinion is that one should read all available comment on lead poisoning, and make up one’s own mind.

Before I started my apprenticeship, I worked a few weeks at a battery service shop, which sold new batteries, recharged them (early auto electrical systems were not like they are today) and maintained, repaired or rebuilt batteries of the lead-acid variety; also, “wet” (lead acid) batteries were used to power wireless (radio) receivers in the country districts, and there was a system of “loaner” batteries, bus transport and recharging for these. The owner of the shop sat us down to a glass of milk part-way through the morning. There was a good deal of powdery stuff around, which would have been various compounds of lead. I was taught “lead-burning” which uses an oxy-acetylene flame to weld lead metal parts of the batteries.

At the newspaper during my apprenticeship, linotype went up to 36 point, and a condensed 42 point, and hand-set type from 30 point to 72 point. At first, it was foundry type, later some was Monotype. I was advised to wash my hands several times a day, and especially before any eating. But many of the lino operators smoked hand-rolled cigarettes which involved much handling of the constituents. During my working life, I saw several cautions advising not to put type in the mouth; apparently some people put small things between the lips to hold them while they needed to have two hands free for some other task. When I sought advice from an industrial safety person on some other subjects, at the end he asked me why the regulations were that electrically-heated lino pots did not require special ventilation, but gas-fired pots were required to have a hood (a cowl above the pot) and a flue (chimney) to the outer air. [This was how it was where I worked.] I did not have a ready answer; but later, I realised that some Linotype pots had the electric heating elements immersed in the molten metal, so the hottest part of the whole system was not in contact with the air, and no part was hotter than a little above the controlled temperature of the type metal. I have read that Intertype put the heating elements on the outside of the crucible of the pot, so they may have been a little hotter than the Linotype heating elements? I noticed that the gas-heated pots had stalactites hanging under them, directly in the gas flame. There were some sparks as tiny portions of something detached and fell through the flame. Some of the stalactites appeared to be shiny type metal, some appeared to be oxidised metal, and some had a yellow appearance as though they may have been sulphur (sulfer in U.S.); the gas was produced from coal, which may have contained some sulphur compounds; it was reticulated through the town by low-pressure pipes, underground. I never asked whether these stalactites were metal which leaked through fissures in the crucible, or splashes originating at the top of the pot, seeping through the fibrous insulation surrounding the crucibles.

It is my understanding that lead, as an element (as a metal), is not very dangerous, but the compounds, usually oxides, are much more soluble and thus may be absorbed into the human body quite easily.

During my whole life, I have never encountered a case of lead-posioning, and some care is taken that it does not happen, in ordinary life as well as in manufacturing industry. Australia is passing through a traumatic time because almost all of our houses built before circa 1980 used a [small or large quantity of] flat-sheet building material incorporating asbestos, and it is now recognised that asbestos fibres are dangerous. Corrugated fibro-asbestos roofing is particularly subject to deterioration and flaking; “Fibro” is made from mostly cement and asbestos.

My home town has had an ongoing debate about fluoridation of the town water supply, with some vehement complaints about the taste of “fluoride” in the water. A few days ago, it was revealed that no fluoride has been added to the water for more than six months, I believe the unpleasant taste is caused by chlorine compounds added to the water for the usual reasons.

Castor oil or caster oil? And, many years ago, at a race meeting of motorbikes near here (about 150 miles south), one team thought they had lost too much Castrol R from their bike, so (allegedly) one of the team went to pharmaceutical shops (drug-stores in U.S.) and bought bottles of medicinal castor oil which, at that time, was still used as a purgative of humans. (We use tablet medications now.)

Smells? I could write something about that, but some smells are in the nose of the beholder.


P.S. to my lengthy note about lino pots and lead poisoning; the whole point about electric and gas pots is that, with the gas pots, lead compounds may easily come in contact with the high-temperature gas flame, which would vaporise the substance, which could be breathed by the lino operator. This reinforces my belief that elemental lead is relatively not dangerous, but lead compounds (oxides or others, usually discoloured, or dust) are dangerous; the dust in hand-set cases of foundry type is considered a real problem. — Alan.

Alan, seriously loved your last post, bet that gets a few would be printers thinking about, what they are coming into contact with besides (well docunented) LYE and similar, and yes, we probably all did the, hair spaces in the lips etc, but I also happen to like milk, then, and still now, so maybe I have inadvertently hedged my bets, until 1952 we were out in the sticks, and radios ran from a 90 volt dry battery, and a 6 volt accumulator, lead/acid, in a glass container, which in our case, was one of two, per radio as you imply, one on charge at the local garage and the other on the radio, till it went flat, thanks for that!!! Now the sting in the tail, as you have afforded everybody else the courtesy of Capital Letters on their name, may have to resort to publishing on line remarks about your P. M. j. g. and start the tit for tat etc, or worse get the boys round, to your address and put something unsavoury in your letterbox one dark night, got Buddies in Victoria, Queensland, and more, you have been advised, Thanks Mick, (with the obligatory you notice)!!!

We used to work on the basis keep it out of the air ,once airborn its indiscriminate…
The first signs of lead poisoning is seen in the teeth ans shows as a darkening line across the tooth at gum level .
A bit of a wild guess on the numbers but i would say tewnty or so percent of homes in the uk are still fed from a lead pipe from the street to the first internal pipe connection as i clearly remember the removal from buildings but the street to house was never replaced to my knowledge
One thing i can say for 100% is moany type mick has never smoked in his life and has never as far as i know had more than a sip of anything alcaholic ! I smoke and i dont cough like he does !
A Question …
To reduce the lead would require another additive ,
How much higher could the temperature be raised to deal with a different metal ,
Could the cooling circuit handle the increased temperature or would the cycle have to be slowed to deal with that Or would a larger water pump be enough to get cold to the mould ?????

mick, we were told when i started out working with the lead to drink lots of milk, but milk and i don’t get along. When i worked for the newspaper we had about 18 linotypes and all the old timers would always wrap their sandwiches in tin foil and stick them on top of the lead pots to heat them just before lunch. Even back then i often wondered if that was a good practice. I enjoy reading your posts, Alan, Peter and Mick, hope to keep reading them for years to come. all the best Dick G.

The uk used to force schoolchildren to drink milk every morning ,factories made you drink it at shift start if you were welding or working in fumey or smokey environments .
Maggie Thatcher stopped school milk to cut costs ,when she was in a lesser position than her international image .
It was one of the three sensible decisions she made …

…retirement being the second, what was the third?

The third was asking Peter for a date!!!

CastOr oil…

Steps back in amazement and spilled my 7th cup of milky coffee TODAY, Peter appearing to concede that one of my silly posts is bordering on fact, ( in actual fact when we occasionally go on a Wayzgoose, usually Classic Motor Cycles, but sometimes PRINT I drive 3 of us because!!!) Ta. Dick, yes did do the pasty in foil on the pot (with variation) in one plant I worked at, they had a skeleton machine, Monotype, which only cast strip up to 12 point, bit c***p and display up to 36 point, you call them Orphan Annies in the states, I believe, because of the Prefix to the serial number, but in my case their was a protruding abutment, which was ideal for the aforementioned pasty!!! but that didnt have to last too long, I was sent on a course to Cornerstone/Hawthorne Baker to learn how to operate a moulding press, producing plastic plates (from granules) and rubber plates (from vulcanised rubber) via phrenolithic flongs, as newsprint stereos!!! The Press had a Top and Bottom platen HEATED, and would produce 50 tons pressure when required, but was the most beautiful pasty warmer ever made, about 15 minutes at about 1 inch gap, One more, at the last position before redundancy, we had A super Caster and would hire display mats from Monotye Lending Library and when for example 60 pt. or 72 pt. was being cast on the big sizes cap M, W, or similar it was turning at very few revs per minute, so some crank (who shall be faceless) worked out that a sealed bottle of milk strapped to the hand wheel of the Super would produce Butter, True, but it took more than 3 hours and 1 pint produced less than a tiny egg cup full, and Mr. Faceless got a little heat. Some of the preceding offered in jest, but although the main thrust, of the many items in this particular set of posts, is not strictly relevant to the original query I am sure that the combined efforts have provoked some serious research by The New Ones!!! Thanks to All, Mick.

Mick, i worked for a company that made rubber plates that were used to print on corrugated boxes. The rubber stamp press was heated with steam and was large enough to lie down on the plates, it too produced 50 tons of pressure. These were the largest stamp presses i ever saw, about 3-1/2 feet by 6 feet, you would place steel bars on each side to give you the height of your stamp. our boss would like to cook his grilled cheese in the press, he woukd set the steel bars then close the press, we would sneek around back and remove the bars, when the press opened he would have a sandwich about as thick as copy paper and around 3 feet in diameter, good times.

M. Gerstenberg, formerly of Stempel Schriftensevice, casts handtype in aluminium. He explained to me that it was more difficult, as he had to increase the heat a lot more, the machine would slow down and jam more often.
There is also another guy in Germany who seems to cast lead-free type for use in schools…

Thanks to all for the rich responses…


to all

This may be not the best place, but the question is raised here.

I have been told many names for items used in printing originated in the monasteries, from the names of things they were familiar with; words such as quad and fount (font).

Much of our language uses words which are not quite what we expect, but words are being used to describe items which were in use long before the transference of a name from one item to a newer item.
Probably from something else entirely, but I wonder about the origin of the word ?

Anyone feel like giving an opinion?


to Alan (myself)

Oops. Oops. Oops. Oops. and more oops.

Looks like a word became lost somewhere.

But as a candidate (there may be other words) I suggest

ream (500 sheets of paper, 1000 pages)

Certainly, there may be other words, but I have not brought them to mind.


I will go searching for a solution, but some posts have this box for response, marked Post comment; others do not.


to all

I have not found the general site for raising new topics, so take this one.

The “blower” Linotype was rather thoroughly re-designed to result in the model 1 Linotype.

But the fact that the blower worked, and worked well, shows the genius.

One aspect of linos which I would like to read about in history is the keyboard layout. The fact that the order of the characters was the best for distribution is in favour of the etaoin layout.

[Except for a few special cases, which apparently include high-speed tape-operated Elektrons and human-operated mixer machines. It seems if the operator and the owner of the machine are able to accept that it is necessary to slow down on a mixer, realising that machine composition is still better than hand-set type, makes a mixer barely acceptable. Fortunately, I have never seen a mixer.]

Pictures of the b;lower indicate that someone re-designed the keyboard; does anyone know who did this re-design?


P.S. to all re etaoin keyboard: I reckon the lino would have been less successful if the keyboard layout had been different, the wait for matrices to return to the magazine would have caused even more problems.

As it is, some newspapers tried printing examination results direct from a file which had been generated in the newspaper’s computer, taking input from the university’s computer file. The overlooked problem was the number of leader matrices and blank matrices required by the table of results. The best that was achieved was automatic operation, without human at keyboard, but with a delay after each line had been “sent on its way” inserted before resumption of reading of the file, which slowed the production and allowed the appropriate matrices to return to the magazine.

Not of much practical interest now, but of some historical importance. The way in which various typesetting machines, including electronic/digital, gave problems and how these problems were solved were important even n today’s world.

I hope the various programs along the way handle the following message, otherwise, another P.S.

One of my sons says,



re solving problems

Gutenberg, Caxton, Mergenthaler succeeded by solving problems.

The message I tried to send may be read as

F I R S T . D E F I N E . T H E . P R O B L E M


re alloys

I may be wrong.

The alloy used in linotype had, I was told, the following attributes:

lower melting temperature than lead
harder than lead
expanded slightly on solidifying, made sharp-edged types.

Most newspapers used the same alloy for strip (leads and rules) as the linotype alloy; these metals not kept separated. Stereotype metal (printing plates on rotary presses) could be kept separated, some differences of alloy, harder, less effect by wear. Foundry type much harder, stood up to stereotype pressures for many years. Monotype types somewhat harder metal than linotype, could be kept separated relatively well/easily.

So far as I know, we did not have a rep call, but sent dross regularly to a specialist company at Slacks Creek, south Queensland, who were, apparently, highly skilled. Also sent them, regularly, a sample of the lino metal in use, they would analyse, send back metal to be put into our metal to correct any discrepancies. Dunno what was done if there was too much zinc; we were careful to keep zinc (from photo-etched plates) out, it was not my department.

If you look up Woods Metal, you will find a range of nearly a dozen alloys with low melting points, also some of their properties, not suitable for use as types? Is there any alloy suitable for casting types which does not contain lead?

As I mentioned, avoiding vapourising (vaporising) compounds of lead (oxides and others) is of utmost importance.

One of my workmates went to doctor (general practitioner), complained of “not feeling well”; doctor said, “Lead poisoning, you’re a printer.” Pathology (laboratory) tests showed no sign of lead poisoning. Of major concern is the deteriorated lead paint of old buildings. When trams (street cars) were taken out of service, charities/playgrounds wanted them as places for children to play, but the authorities insisted on having the paint stripped and replaced. This cost more than the non-profit organisations were willing to pay, especially as the vehicles were “no cost at depot”. The authorities, after the paint on the vehicles had been oxidising for a few years, started burning them, which generated a huge outcry about “wastage” but no one wanted to pay for maintenance of the paint. [The vapours of the lead must have gone into the atmosphere.] There is a preservation society which keeps a few (trams, street cars) vehicles, and significant items, maintains a mile or so of track and some vehicles in good order. I do not know who supervises the condition of the paint or if they have started using house paint (non lead).

I never met with anyone who had been diagnosed with lead poisoning.

In Australia, we have a large lead smelter, it is said that lead from it can be detected all over the whole continent.

Depending on what’s in the water, lead pipes may develop a coating which prevents soluble compounds leaching into the water. Many years ago, the city council of my home town engaged contractors to scrape the insides of the water mains, we found it difficult to believe what came out of them, plant-like substances.

[At primary school, we were warned not to suck “lead” pencils. Now it is ball-point pens, especially the caps. A girl sucked the end, it came loose and stuck in her throat; she died in the classroom.]

It’s all a matter of relativity, some of us will die by accidents; some will die of ignorance, sometimes of ignorance of simple hygiene.


Thoughts on points raised in various posts up-thread:

Lead free solder was mentioned. It is used mainly because if a building is supplied with slightly acidic water, the water will dissolve the solder. The beneficial effects on plumbers is merely a by-product, not the main reason for its use. Here in the Uk all mains water is made slightly alkaline to obviate plumbo-solvency of old lead pipework (still lots of it in use) and leaded solder (vast amounts of it still in use). When I was in the water supply industry, light sodium carbonate was used to correct acidity in potable water - many UK water sources are reservoirs in upland areas that have naturally somewhat acidic water (excacerbated in modern times by acid rain).

Yellow stalactites beneath the lead pot on a caster were mentioned. Oxides of lead can vary considerably in colour. Besides the very familiar white oxide dust we all know from type that has been stored in damp conditions, there is a range of lead oxides that vary from yellow, through ornage to red (hence red lead paint). The stalactites may have been yellow oxide of lead rather than sulphur.

Visible signs of lead poisoning in the form of blue lines in gums around teeth were mentioned. Another visible sign that occurs at similar body levels of lead is blue lines around the roots of nails. Both are signs of gross lead poisoning, rarely seen in modern times. Ingestion of fine dusts of lead salts (including oxides) were the major source of lead poisoning. Lead burners (i.e. lead welders and fabricators) and plumbers tended to be the most likely to be affected. Cadmium contamination of lead and lead solder (formerly not uncommon) is even worse - I read of one case where a plumber died a few hours after making a single large wiped joint during which he spent 20 mins with his face near the joint and his flame in a confined space.

The consumption of milk was mentioned. Until recent decades men working with lead paints, solders, in lead burning, etc were directed to drink milk. This was founded on the belief that the calcium in the milk would help form realtively insoluble lead carbonates in the body. Modern research showed this belief to be a falacy.

Having spent a good deal of time surveying disused lead mines as well as being an amateur printer, I do wonder what a blood lead test might reveal… :)

to all

Many years ago, a friend worked a table-top offset press (Multilith, AB Dick or similar); these were regarded as a substitute for a photocopier or Gestetner.

My friend decided that the direction of the grain in the paper affected the automatic feeding of the paper; has anyone thought the same of letterpress? Perhaps the “graininess” of the paper would have an effect, possibly because of a difference of the stiffness of the paper? Only guessing.


Of course paper grain has a big effect on feeding, especially with lighter stock. More importantly, however, is how grain affects the final finishing/folding of a product.

Most folks only worry about how to get the most out of a sheet (understandable considering some pricey papers) but sometimes the cheap route will not work.

When running heavy stock on cylinder presses, grain direction will effect the ability to feed, the amount of “slap” at the tail, or the ability to deliver (as on Heidelberg cylinders). If die-cutting, that can make the difference between a sheet that delivers well, and one that self-destructs (and needs excessive amounts of die-nicks).