vandercook 11 block leveler

The airlines have conspired to strand me in the NY area. So I decided to send you all a note from red hook. Unfortunately, I won’t have time to visit the Arm this time, but i did spend a week at the Dale Guild in NJ, and took some pictures of Theo’s vandercook block leveler. I thought it was interesting, and i bet you will too. Enjoy – alex

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Fritz Klinke
16 years ago

These were used for planing the bottoms of wood mounted electrotypes and photoengravings. Wood is the worst mounting material and is often warped, or has high and low spots. This machine would bring all the high spots to .918, type high. For that matter, any printing material, like solid cast stereotypes, could be levelled in the same manner. In Theo’s use at the type foundry, this machine was/is used to plane down cast type to type high, like many European faces cast at Didot height of .928. Each line has to be locked in place, thus the chase, furniture and quoins in the pictures, then the revolving cutter head in the upper part of the machine, that moves back an forth by hand control, planes the type down. Theo told us that if a line of type worked loose, there was hell to pay and sometimes the middle of the line would lift and the planing would be uneven. He wasn’t really pleased with the net result at times. It should be pointed out that the printing surface is placed face down on the bed of the machine, and the bottom of the cut or type is in the up position. This machine would be used in conjunction with a Hacker test gauge to do premakeready for plates before going on press. The Vandercook Block Leveler is the subsequent model that was originated by Hacker and taken over by Vandercook. It was part of their push to eliminate crappy printing materials that were inaccurate that cost hours of press time in doing makereadies–part of what killed commercial letterpress.

A plate shaver, not this machine, would be used for electros to get a uniform thickness before mounting to a base–the copper shell of an electrotype is backed with poured type metal, and the resulting plate has to be shaved to the right thickness. Copper, for photoengraving, like magnesium and zinc, comes from the mill rolled to correct thickness.

The Arm
16 years ago

It planes material to a consistent thickness. I think they were usually used for backing magnesium or copper cuts.

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

Nathan Rose
16 years ago

hey guys,
forgive my ignorance, but…what does it do, exactly?

The Arm
16 years ago

Hey Alex,
Sorry you didn’t make it out here. If you happen to pass back through let me know. I usually have somewhere I can set someone up overnight at the studio.
I have been looking for one of those block levelers for ages. I had no idea that Theo had one. If you ever hear of one for sale I’d love to hear about it.
I haven’t seen Theo Rehak since the summer of 2000 when he, Steve Heaver and I took a trip to Oak Knoll. I have read his book The Fall of ATF probably a half dozen times since then…

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

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