There’s something you don’t see every day anymore


I must be old, because I’ve done this before. I tell you what, it was a durn sight better then having to chisel those stone slabs, which was even better than smearing ochre on a cave wall with a stick.

I gripe about how poor my public school experiences were in science class — none of them were very good, and they completely shied away from the terrifying topic of evolution. But when I was in middle school, we had an absolutely phenomenal shop class. First half of the year was all drafting and technical drawing, and I loved that; second half, though, was typesetting and printing. I made a book! We set metal type, we used a press, we also did offset printing (using a photographic process), and then we had to bind it. These were slim sample books, so we didn’t have to do all that stitching, but a lot of what I’m seeing in the video is familiar, as in suddenly remembering the tactile pleasures of making something, about 45 years ago.


45 years ago. I still remember my teacher vividly — irascible old Mr Brown, with his spectacular Sam Elliott moustache and full head of Mark Twain hair, and his perfectionist ways. He was a strict disciplinarian, but it was OK because you could tell he really loved the craft of printing.

I imagine it would be hard to find a middle school that had similar equipment nowadays. Who needs to set type when you just fire up the page layout software and send it to the laser printer?


  1. Al Dente says

    In the 16th and 17th Centuries, many books were sold unbound because binding was much more expensive than printing because of all the hand labor that went into binding.

  2. kc9oq says

    I do hand bookbinding using archival quality materials. The books I make will last a hundred years or more if given proper care. Much longer than an ebook on your kindle.

  3. Esteleth, RN's job is to save your ass, not kiss it says

    One of my favorite classes in college was “The History of Reading and Writing.” A section of this class focused on book-making, and we spent a day over at the rare book room of the library looking at various incunabula in the college’s collection, as well as post-printing hand-bound books. Gorgeous! We also got to play with the fully-functional printing press (very similar to the one shown here) that the library owns.

  4. PatrickG says

    just fire up the page layout software

    Believe me, there are equivalents to Mr. Brown in this medium. Oh. My. Gawd.

  5. says

    In the 16th and 17th Centuries, many books were sold unbound because binding was much more expensive than printing because of all the hand labor that went into binding.

    About 10 years ago Cuba decided to do something to provide people with classic literature at very cheap prices so every household could have a library. They printed stuff on newspaper sheets and sold it like that. You had to cut the pages apart and staple them to get your book.

  6. says

    That takes me back. I grew up with printing: composing sticks, formes, letterpress on big flatbed Heidleburgs, right through to pallets and handle letters—the lot.
    And back in more socialistic times in London I took evening classes in Restoration Bookbinding and Archive Repair at the LCP (by the Elephant and Castle roundabout) that cost almost nothing.
    When I was young it was pretty much all stuff that Gutenburg would have recognised, and now I write applications to do page makeup from databases. Sic transit just about everything…

  7. madtom1999 says

    With todays technology and (hopefully) more accessible approach the best thing to do is to prepare your work for the lowest common denominator – HTML that is legible on a phone – everything else follows with ease.
    Page layout software just means that you restrict yourself to A4 or Letter or some other paper size that is incompatible with everything else.

  8. carlie says

    Before the video loaded and I could only see the first two lines, I thought it was going to be about Leroy Lettering. My scientific illustration teacher told us once we learned it, we’d recognize it anywhere forever, and she was right. Not that I miss it.

  9. InitHello says

    #4 (chigau):

    I’ve seen parts of that video before, and been highly impressed by the skill and craftspersonship. Never saw the denouement before, and the clients’ reactions make the video all the more enjoyable to watch.

  10. frog says

    Al Dente @2:

    Even with machines, casebinding is still the most expensive part of making books.


    Like PZ, I also had print shop in junior high school (as mine was called; it’s “middle school” in other parts of the country). mumbletymumble years later, I still use those skills and terms every day at work, just adapted to newer technology.

    As sad as it is to lose the romance of typesetting in hot metal, my compositors charge exactly the same now as they did when I started this career more than 20 years ago. Computers have been a boon in that, at least.

  11. says

    I bound a book when I was young (10-12yo) and really enjoyed it. I’d like to do it again, but I have too many hobbies with specialized equipment already.

    @carlie #11

    I think I still have a Leroy set around here somewhere. I can’t even remember why I bought it (see remark above about too many hobbies.)

  12. Richard Smith says

    I think I was in pre-K 45 years ago, but I do share the occasional incredulity over how much time has passed.

    My father was a real handyman and tinkerer, and at one point was very much into genealogy, and wanted to update a family tree book that included his branch (as far as it went upon publication), The Craigs of Goulbourn and North Gower. He photocopied all the original pages, and typed up new pages, pasting in photos and hand-set genealogical branches of the newer generations, and copied onto a different colour of paper (something akin to “goldenrod”). I remember the whole family around the dining-room table, marching around and around, grabbing one sheet off of each stack arranged on top, then placing the resulting collation on the “finished” pile, and then ’round again. I don’t recall how many copies he made, and my copy is at home so I can’t check, but I believe he hand-stitched each bundle, then stitched them to the spine. He went through a lot of wood-grain Mactac for the covers, too.

  13. Richard Smith says

    My father also had a Leroy lettering set, with a good variety of letter sets. One of my brothers has them now. He also had drawers full of Letraset. He was quite a man of letters.

  14. Al Dente says

    robro @17

    Finally, a clear, concise presentation on how to use the “book”. But are they completely sure the text won’t disappear when the “book” is not used for a period of time, say 15 or 20 minutes?