Honeycomb base

Can someone explain the honeycomb base? Are they used frequently in letterpress printing? If so, how is it used? Where can it be purchased? Has anyone had a good experience with this type of base? I have a Kelsey 5x8 (will it work for this type of press?). I am a total newbie to letterpress, so I apologize if I’m coming off as clueless. I have attached a picture that I found while perusing online.

image: 2008 07 31 049.jpg

2008 07 31 049.jpg

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the web site is pretty lame but, this is the company for support products for this system. i use this daily in foil stamping and embossing. it works well. other members here though will have to advise you on its usefullness with inkers. you will need to match the honeycomb+die height to meet type high requirements.
if you notice the little black attachments on each side of this die, a special little tool is used to tighten them to lock up the die. they are called “hooks” expensive at $14 each, but, really slick little items. keep them clean and lubed.

What is the honeycomb made of? It looks as if there is plastic wrap or wax.

Sterling honeycomb is made of steel (magnesium too at one time); the old Blatchford honeycomb, of some other alloys. That picture just shows a base that isn’t very clean.
Honeycomb is often made in sections that are locked up together for different configurations. Most common for the Sterling brand is the L-section, which is almost 4-1/4” on each leg (there were also rectangular pieces and small square pieces). Two Ls would make a base about 4-1/4 x 6-1/2”, so that would fit in your 5 x 8 chase. You’d need to buy 11-point plates (.1522”) for the normal .759” base, but other bases were made for 1/4” stamping dies as well. For a regular original photoengraving (in the neighborhood of .060”) you’d have to add a backing to make it thick enough to work with the hooks and get up to type height.

I’m guessing that a regular-thickness photoengraving would have trouble with “dishing” into the holes of the honeycomb base due to the thinner metal. 11-point is probably thick enough, and 1/4” certainly is, to avoid that problem. I thought honeycomb was made primarily for embossing and such like operations. Maybe for electros too, though I think on long runs they’d have a problem due to the soft backing metal.

Printing electrotypes and stereotype duplicate plates (standard thickness 11-point) mounted on honeycomb or other patent bases was the standard method for long-run commercial letterpress for many decades. I’ve never seen any reference to metal plates collapsing over honeycomb holes, though filler pieces were made for the various grooved bases; for example, Warnock sold filler pieces to be used when embossing. But the point is that original plates just can’t be used on honeycomb base without additional backing material, something that was sold by American Printing Equipment at one time. Well, Sterling did make special low-profile hooks for 16-gauge plates, but they were intended for light proofing only.

I use honeycomb bases for mounting plates on my presses. I have both 11pt. and 1/4” bases and, of course, use the appropriate plate with no difficulties with the reduction in impression at the hole positions.

I also use the honeycomb bases for photopolymer by pre-mounting the photopolymer plate to an intermediate base of solid styrene or polycarbonate before mounting on the honeycomb base. It works well for me, and I would recommend it to anyone, but would not purchase the honeycomb base for the purpose, I just had it and found it expedient to use it for my photopolymer use.

John G. Henry
Cedar Creek Press

i agree with the above. that honey comb is Very dirty. you have stated that you are using a 5x8, i have a dented honey comb (aluminum) that i could cut a piece out of for a small fee.this would give you a one piece unit instead of the “L” shaped.(the L shape works fine). send me the size. remember to allow for lock up quoines. this link shows some pics i took of the system in use. i would have to check the thickness of this plate, but, we use a standard 1/4” thick die.i can help you in finding a few toggles with tool.

A honeycomb base is used to attach 1/4” metal dies for foil stamping & embossing. The dies can be made from
magnesium(mag) & copper. The dies are secured with
hooks(toggles). If your going to print using a letterpress,
you need to determine what type of die you will use. Another way to print is using a woodmount. It is cheaper than a mag & copper, and you don’t need a honeycomb
type of system.

On second look, the base in the photo is Blatchford honeycomb, which has smaller holes, more closely spaced than Sterling. Large Blatchford Ls are 30 picas on a side, and also smaller Ls, 15 picas on a side. Blatchford base is made of non-ferrous metal, but I’m not sure exactly what it is. The hooks are harder to find than Sterling hooks, which are still made; Dave Churchman might have some.

How much does a base cost? Does anyone still make them?

I have been interested in one (I think it would could be easier to work with and the plates would take less space with out the wood on the back of them!) But I have yet to find one.. I have an 8x12 press and I have been printing with 16 gauge but I have had some problems with the non printing areas of the plate (the edge) printing sometimes.

My friend sent me a link to this discussion. It’s a picture of my honeycomb base. If you think the base is dirty now, you should have seen it when I got it! It is indeed a Blatchford base (2 Blatchford Ls in a 7” x 11” chase), and it was caked, and I mean caked, with years worth of dried up ink when I acquired it (from the looks of it coming off the base, lots of black and red). I cleaned it enough for the toggles to fit in the holes and the base to be back to .759. I bought it used and was warned that it was caked with ink, but it was a steal compared to the cost of the Sterling honeycomb. I got the base, the hooks, and the key from Dave Churchman. The toggle hooks were nowhere near $14 each, maybe $2-$3 each. The plate on top is magnesium 11pt.

I love the way 11pt on the honeycomb prints, but the cost of the plates are higher than other systems. I have tried out magnesium mounted on wood, magnesium with the honeycomb base, and plastic backed photopolymer on an aluminum base, and I do like this system best.

I hope that helps!

Sterling has discontinued making Blatchford hooks though they still have some new ones in stock. New Sterling hooks, and the #2 size is the most popular, run between $10.75 each from me to $10.90 at American, to whatever anyone else wants to charge and can get away with. The L shaped base sections are special order only now and Sterling will make just about any size as a rectangular unit. Their main market is Europe these days.

What they typically sell are complete bases in custom chases made to order for what ever press is being used, and these cost a lot depending on size. The people I have helped switch from photopolymer to the honeycomb base using either mag or copper dies are more than pleased with the increase in quality, control over inking and impression, and sharper and more reliable plates. While not a choice for everyone, it is a consideration. What is lost is the immediacy of being able to make your own plates quickly and the additional cost. But other efficiencies are achieved that offset the higher plate cost. And there is scrap value in the copper.