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About Me

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Tucson, Arizona, United States
I work as Panther Peak Bindery and am a bookbinder, conservator and instructor working outside Tucson, Arizona for individual and institutional clients across the country. I am a two term President of the Guild of Book Workers, was a Fulbright Scholar, taught at North Bennet Street School for over nine years and was the fastest in my middle school class at running up and down a flight of stairs (really!).



Monday, June 27, 2016

Kensol vs. Kwikprint, a skirmish

About a year and a half ago I received a phone call. I'm a little ashamed that I'm always a bit surprised and a bit frustrated when the phone rings because so many are robo calls and I hate wasting time. And if they're not robo calls then they're sales calls and they're not much better, though I have been criticized for being too kind and polite to folks making sales calls. Which I am because I think their job must be awful and mine is perfect so I think I can afford to be gracious to them. Unless they won't listen to me, of course. Then I get a bit more surly and tell them I'm hanging up, but not before wishing them a nice day. (This sort of behavior is why I never quite fit in with Boston's culture.)

The voice on the end of this call basically said, "We are having an auction in Phoenix of bookbinding equipment and no one is bidding. You might be interested. Here is where you should look on the web." It was one of those perfect calls that benefits both parties.

I looked and they had lots of stuff that didn't interest me, but they did have a Kensol. That is a machine that heats type and dies for stamping titles and designs on books, if you don't know.

My method of stamping is a Kwikprint, of which I've posted a couple of videos on YouTube. (The newest one is here: ) The problem with the Kwikprint is that you can only stamp one line at a time (practically) and only stamp dies up to about 2 inches by 9 inches on my machine. Some Kwikprints won't even stamp dies half that size. And sometimes you want more capability than that.

The auction house didn't guarantee the Kensol was going to work so I limited my bid to $275, which I thought I could get back if it was non-working. I won the auction and drove up to Phoenix to pick it up. Someday I might post about my trip getting it back to Tucson, but I get a cold sweat just thinking about it. It was the scariest prolonged thing I've done.

It came on a blue metal table and weighed a lot. It had pneumatics hooked up to it.

I hooked up my air compressor from my nailers to it to see what would happen. It worked!

The pneumatics are not at all necessary but can be convenient in that they control how long of a dwell the machine uses (how long the die or type will touch the cover when stamping) and you can also regulate how deep of an impression it makes. When using the pneumatics all the impressions will be exactly the same, which wouldn't be the case if done by hand.

In order to stamp by hand, I bought some pipe at Home Depot and used a bench grinder to take down the end so that it would fit in the machine. I made handles that were 3 and 5 feet. In the midst of this clutter, you can see the ground-down end of the pipe.

In the end the pneumatics were a problem because the timer didn't work right. It can be replaced for a few hundred dollars, though a friend says he can use a converted timer from something else for much less. I believe him but haven't had the time to look into it yet.

Other than that it works perfectly. I could remove the pneumatics but don't want to. Yet.

Eventually I made a table for it. As I said it weighs A LOT. While building the house, the one thing I was never all that good at is using a circular saw, so I decided to make this using only that saw and pocket screws. We like to challenge ourselves, don't we? Diane went off to Boston for a couple of weeks last year so I did it over a weekend. Surprisingly all the cuts were straight. Sometimes getting away from something is all it takes to get better at it.

Because the Kensol weighs so much I built the table around the blue metal stand that it came on. There are a lot of peripheral items with this, and it's nice to have places to store them. Plus with the old table, things were constantly falling on the floor.

You can compare it to the Kwikprint:

To me the Kwikprint is a car and the Kensol is a truck. Not a semi truck but like a large pickup. Not as nimble—takes a bit longer to set up—but it can generate much more force and can do larger things easily. All those things are very, very good but not necessary on every project. 

If I just need a line or two. I'll use the Kwikprint every time. If I'm doing many lines on many books, I'll take the time to use the Kensol.

This last photo shows the area that can be used on each machine. The honeycomb metal is about 5 x 8 and fits the Kensol, the smaller metal above it shows what can be stamped using the Kwikprint, which is significantly smaller.

But even if a die or type is placed within that area of the Kwikprint, you can have real trouble getting an impression because of the inability to put enough down force on it. So the real useful space on the Kwikprint is probably half the size shown here.

Still, I love my Kwikprint.

I'm going to do two posts in the future about the Kensol. One is a way to use it to stamp multiple lines without going bankrupt buying chases. The other is a way to line up the stamping in a simple, quick and effective way—which will also work on the Kwikprint.

It's funny that a used Kensol can be bought for less than the Kwikprint. Probably because of the size and space requirement and because fewer folks know how to use it.  All those things add up to the Kensol being less useful as a hobby machine. But worth searching out I think.

They're out there.

See also:

Monday, June 20, 2016

In the summertime....

Tucson sort of clears out in the summer.  It might have something to do with the heat, which reaches  116 at our place (that's 46 to the rest of the world).  Funny thing is that 116 is hot but not unbearable if you are not doing stupid things.

A smart thing to do in the summer is to take a bookbinding class. Well, the smartest thing to do in the summer is to take a bookbinding class.  I decided to try some one day summer classes to see if there was interest. Summer is the perfect time for indoor activities, after all, and no indoor activity is more fun than binding.  There was interest and we'll have two classes this June.

I work and teach in a barn which was built by my in-laws.  The tall part of the barn, the main room, held their RV, and has a 14 foot ceiling.  Originally it had a 12 foot square metal door.  In this picture it was being guarded by Pete, the dog who was in charge of building the house.  You'll remember if you read the blog in those days.  Pete was the only dog I've ever know that I wished I could have talked to, he was incredible and did such interesting things.

One mistake we made in building the house was ordering a window we had dropped from the plans, but it was perfect to put above the door and fills the bindery with light.  Sort of hearkens to a hay loft we think.

There is a loft in the barn, however.  It's opening is covered with I suspect is the only Linköping Lions flag in any bindery in the world. That's how special we are at PPB.  It's a hockey team, by the way.

It's even fun setting up the class room.

One of the many things that are fun about classes are the reasons the students are taking the classes. Some do it because they've always wanted to make a book, some because they're bibliophiles and maybe want to work on their collection, some are librarians and want to know more about books.  There are almost as many reasons as students, which means they all want different things from the class and that only makes things more fun and interesting.  

The first class this summer was called Simple Bookbinding, the class covered sewing a text block on tapes and then lacing it into a cover, which was in turn covered with decorated paper.  It's a great introduction to binding as sewing on tapes is the fundamental way of sewing hand made books these days.

The consistent thing in teaching are the diversity of reactions at the end. Some are amazed they made a book.  Some see how they can take what they learned and do more and different things.  Some have one more thing to check off their bucket list.  Some just see the mistakes, not knowing that everyone else has made the same mistakes when they were starting out.

But all seem to walk out between happy and thrilled.  It's a great thing to be part of. 

The greatest journey starts with one step.  Bookbinding is a fantastic career, it's creative, challenging, puzzling, satisfying and relaxing.  It might be an even better hobby for those same reasons.  And the greatest hobby or career can begin with one simple one day class.

The second class this summer will be a cloth case binding.  Should be fun, it's just the class I would have wanted to take when I was starting out.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Blogging schedule

I've been mulling this over and I'll be posting every Monday at 6 am local time. There will probably be some newsy posts between on occasion.

There is room in the flatback cloth binding this weekend, it's not too late to sign up. It can, and probably will, change your life. For the better.

In the meantime, and since it was nearly 120 degrees today (48C), please enjoy this photograph taken here a couple of years ago.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Pencils, a quest

Is there anything we use more than a pencil?  I can't remember that last project I did where I didn't need one at some point in the process.

For years I wanted a good, reliable mechanical pencil. Seems so simple, but it never really was.  I'd buy ones I thought would be good but they'd break after several months and it always bummed me out a bit.  Ask my students, they'll tell you.  Clearly I wasn't buying the right pencils because they always let me down.  Sort of like network television.

Part of the problem is that I never really knew where to look, I guess. I'd go to the University Bookstore (at Washington) and they just had run of the mill ones.  I would see fancier ones but they were more about the bling than reliability and functionality.  I didn't need a Mountblanc pencil to mark my squares.

A bit over a year ago I was teaching a class in San Francisco and was taken to a store called Flax.  They had some really nice pens and pencils.  I decided to make the plunge and buy a Rotring.  Rotring was a German brand, now they are part of the Sanford company.  I think they're made in Japan.  

It felt substantial. It had weight.  It seemed like it would last.  It felt like it would be fun to use!  Clearly it was made from metal and not plastic, which I felt had to be a good sign.  

The model was the 600 and it was a .5mm pencil. 

I loved using it.

There was a problem with it, however.  If the pencil was put down, or dropped on the tip it would bend. And when I'm working I tend to focus on what I need to do rather than putting the pencil down carefully.  

It's like baseball, of course. When you hit the ball you think more about getting to first base than you down about putting the bat down.  Unless you're Ichiro then you do both at the same time but that's another issue all together.  Sad to say there's no real equivilent for Ichiro hitting and measuring a shoulder on a book.  Sorry. Life would be so much better if it were so.

I guess I just never had the discipline to think before casting the pencil aside. 

I think you can see in the above picture that the tip is a bit bent. It still works but this is after it was straightened out a few times.  It can be easily straightened by rolling the tip on the edge of a table, but  that takes time and it's also a distraction.   

The other problem was that it would poke when it was put in a shirt pocket.  I'm still teaching a couple of months a year so I need to carry a pencil around the classroom.  This meant that I was getting stabbed by my pencil enough times to set some kind of record.  And there are enough cacti around these parts --they can take care of the agony of being stabbed by foreign objects.  That's their job, this pencil is just intruding on the cactus' domain.  Unfair! 

It was a great pencil but wasn't the answer.

Next up was the Rotring 800, which has a retractable tip.

I really liked this pencil a lot.  It was even weightier than the 600, beefier.  

The pencil was so heavy, so substantial that it felt like you wouldn't be creating the letters and lines on the paper, rather every letter and shape you ever would need was pre-loaded into the pencil and all you would be doing is letting them escape.  

Unfortunately the letters they pre-loaded still had my handwriting.

The mechanics of the pencil are so smooth, it's just fun to open and retract the tip.  The tip extends by twisting the top of the shaft.  And that was a bit of a problem.  I think normally you'd use two hands.  But if you're holding a ruler and want to get the lead out you can pick up the pencil, flip it in your hand, extend the tip and then flip it back to writing position.

That would be a really fun thing to do in front of other people while acting like it wasn't anything at all, but isn't that what jazz hands are for?

A student came for a class and had the Pentel GraphGear 1000.  It came up because he also suffered through broken and bent ends of pencils and found this.  It's probably 1/5 the price of the Rotring.

With this pencil the tip extends by pressing on the end, and it retracts by moving the top of the clip. I think the clip would be great if I had a pocket protector, just the accessory to go with that fashion statement.  Unfortunately there's no way to remove it and still have the pencil work.  It works just like a pen.

What's great is that both movements can be easily done with one thumb.

I've been using this pencil for about six months now and it seems pretty mechanically sound.  I have them in several sizes (.3, .5, .7, .9) and they all are pretty great.  I expect them to last many years.

I should add that much of this quest was happening before the days of the inter web and pencil reviews on Amazon.  But now we have those things and the consensus seems to be that the GraphGears last years before breaking.

They are lighter than the Rotrings, and have more plastic inside.  I can deal with that.   I have hope.

In the meantime I use the 600s at my desks.  I keep the 800s in the toolbox.  They still fun to use.  Next time I see a rattlesnake outside the bindery I'm going to bring one out and taunt it. If it doesn't have hands how could it work the pencil?  Then it'll feel bad and move over to our neighbor's property. Amazing animals, dignified and adroit, but can't work a Rotring 800.

In the meantime, it's all about the retractable tip.  Buy the GraphGear. I think you'll be happy with it. I've been.  So far.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Bard and me, and a secret

Sometime last Fall I was approached to do something to go with the display of the Shakespeare First Folio which was coming to town.  After talking with them I proposed making a binding in the style of books of that era, but with cut aways so that people could see the insides. See the structure.  This Folio is from the Bodlean Library in its original binding.

It was then proposed that the first few pages of the Folio would be printed using the letterpress equipment in the UA Art School on some handmade paper.

Great ideas all around.

Unfortunately we live in a society where public cultural institutions are gasping for air.  Well, not their basketball or football teams but, you know, the school part of the equation.  This meant that there wasn't any money for it.  Like virtually none.  Karen Zimmerman at the Art School is fantastic, and took on the printing of the pages. Which involved getting plates made and finding a student to do the printing.

But, because there were no funds, she had to do it when she could find the time.  Money and time sort of go hand in hand, money sort of buys time.  Karen couldn't get to it until January. She's busy, she's teaching, the holidays were happening.  And she had no money to hire someone to take it on as a project.  It's one thing to ask a student to print a few pages, a whole other thing to do all the leg work that led up to that point.  It wasn't going to be a simple task, it takes time to find the images, she needed the plates to print, send them off, and so on...

I wanted the pages by mid-January.  I was going to go all out, even though it was a volunteer project. (I did get some money for it, but it pretty much just covered the materials.)  Edge treatments, double flexible sewing, endbands, decorative tooling.  I wanted two or three weeks.  I really was looking forward to doing the work, my contribution to culture and all that.

In the end I received the pages at the start of February, around dinner time on a Monday.  I needed to line up a video crew from the library and the local PBS station to film the process, so I couldn't do anything until Wednesday.

(By the way here is the link to one of the videos they produced. It's really nicely done.)

Wednesday I sewed it. After they left I rounded and backed it,  lined the boards, sewed the endbands. Thursday I laced on the boards, lined the spine, pared the leather and dyed it.  Friday I applied fixative to the leather dye and let that dry, then pasted out the leather and put it on the book.  At that point I watched the clock and let the leather dry as long as I dared and did the paste downs and some simple tooling.  Done.

Not what I had hoped or planned for.  But this does happen when projects like this are taken on; everyone does what they can and everyone moves on.  Who hasn't been there?  I was amazed at the work Karen and her student did, and enjoyed taking the book as far along as I could.  I also tried not to spend too much time thinking about the values of society.

But the one thing it made me want is to develop a super secret system for binders.  I haven't fully developed it but here goes:

NT should be discreetly placed in locations of bindings where the client did not provide enough time to do the necessary or wanted work.

NM should be placed in locations of bindings where the client didn't provide enough money to have the desired work done.

Now where and how exactly I'm not totally sure.  They would have to be done in a way that "civilians" wouldn't really notice. Or if they saw those notations they wouldn't register.  Maybe I should apply for a grant in order to properly research the feasibility of the idea.  We could also add

NG for no guts, but that's probably another concept all together.

The thing is that we can't let anyone know we're doing this!

Anyway here is the book.  I was rather disappointed with it when I was done so didn't take any pictures. But on the night of the opening "gala" I had my iPad and took some.  Bad pictures, but that's perfectly fine.  And I'd do it again.

In the end it was put on a table with a bunch of other stuff about the folio.  A nice place to rest your hands, it seems.  And that's perfectly fine.  It just could have been so much more.