What is the best way to clean wood type to remove old ink? Thanks in advance.

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Similar question further down the list, 1 March, may have the answer.

I’ve use mineral spirits and a soft tooth brush for counters.

If you are speaking of old dried ink as in a film or haze on the printing surface then a good rag wiping of mineral spirits will do the job. Caked-on, counter-filling, corner-rounding, rock-hard accumulations then something stronger is in order. I have tried many different approaches and, of late, have been using this method: I place ten or so sorts face down on a hot plate (hot plate surface protected by a sheet or two of scrap paper) at approximately 225 degree F. Allow the type to warm up at least five minutes. Because the old inks were almost always linseed oil based, the heat will soften the ink to the consistency of window glazing putty. I have a set of wood engraving tools reserved just for wood type cleaning, and armed with my favorite three tools I quickly scrape and pick the old ink away. I use a cotton garden glove to hold the type. Each time I finish five or so sorts, I load on some new ones, so that they new additions will have time to heat up before I work on them. This method often releases residual ink from the printing surface of the sorts, which sticks to the scrap paper while on the hot plate. With this method, you must work fast, as any ink remaining when it cools down will return to its original hard state. To clean the face of the sorts I use (with much localized ventilation) lacquer thinner with #0000 steel wool wiped VERY GENTLY across the face, followed QUICKLY with a soft cotton rag. When that step is completed, I fill a tray one-quarter of an inch deep with Watco brand Danish Oil. I place each sort in this solution for a minute or so, then remove to a metal tray or other non-absorbent surface and allow to rest for about twenty minutes or so. I wipe down each piece of type and place on a sheet of cardboard for approximately twelve hours or less, then wipe it down again with a dry rag to remove any trace from the face. I have cleaned A LOT of wood type, trying many different methods and chemicals, all with the priority of not damaging the wood material or the printing quality, and have found this to work well, with the least effort. Any time while doing this if I feel like it is just too much work for the result, I look at a couple of test prints I did of the “before and after” versions of type when I got it versus what it prints like after the cleaning. Contact me if you have any questions or suggestions!


Jim, Great description and process, thank you.

Inky Lips Press

Would you believe ‘Ink stripper’…?

If you’re in the UK, Ultrachem do a very good one; much more volatile than white spirit, though, and you’ll want to wear decent gloves when using it.