Cleaning Wood Type | Best Practices

Hey friends. I would like to know your best-practice methods for cleaning wood type to ultimately print with. I did a search but the subject was convoluted, so I am hoping to gain some wisdom on cleaning and care plus whatever relevant stories you have from this knowledge-stream at Briar Press.

Thank you in advance.


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It will be interesting to hear from some other printers on this topic. Last year I spent a fair amount of time cleaning 100’s of pieces of wood type. They were encrusted with mold, mildew, ink and whatever.
I used a toothbrush and odorless mineral spirits. First I’d brush on the mineral spirits to about 15 pieces. Then start cleaning with the brush, wiping off the grime and spirits with a paper towel.
It worked quite well and the type didn’t loose any of its natural patina. The pieces print and take ink as they should.

Good advice from Steve. If you are going to print with it (only proper use for wood type) do not be concerned about getting all the old ink out of the pores of the wood. Just get the accumulated ink and grunk off. A little color in the wood after a good scrub and good rub with paper towels will be fine.


I have, over the past few years, taken fine wood type through any number of cleaning processes. My first priority is to preserve the integrity and longevity of the type itself. Close behind that ranking is making the type print once again. At times this required a simple dusting. Other times gently wiping with solvent (kerosene or mineral spirits. Cosmetically the aged and stained wood does have an appeal to myself and many others. It is, though, a side-benefit to getting the type ready for printing use. Some more involved cleaning I did involved mold, old surface ink, insect damage, moisture-caused warping of the sorts.
etc. Each one an adventure! My most extreme situations involve the accumulations of heavy ink deposits in the counters and inner points. In most of these situations I use engraving tools (some patterned after those housed at Hamilton Wood Type Museum) to pick the ink out. Believe me, I would much rather be printing than cleaning type, but as the attached photo shows, it is worth the time and effort, and I only have to do each piece one time!

Thanks for reading!


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