Type metal formula question

Does anyone know the process that is used to determine the percentage of lead, antimony and tin in a given quantity of type metal?

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Depends on the type of metal.

Analysis of metal alloy is typically accomplished by methods, such as gravimetry or plasma spectrometry. Newer methods such as XRF (X-Ray Flourescence) have been developed which can determine alloys in metals without the difficult specimen prep required for the older methods.

I don’t really know what methods were used in the early 20th C. to determine alloy strength, however, in the printing industry. It is a good topic to discuss, and I look forward to someone with application knowledge in the printing industry to respond.

jhenry, Thanks. I’m looking forward to hearing from someone who has actually worked for a company that did this also although I don’t know if they visit Briar Press. I’ve been told that years ago the metal supplier “in your area” would come to your shop and take your used metal back to their plant where they remelted it and ‘toned’ it up with the correct amount of antimony and tin or ‘plus metal’ for your machine.

In Australia a sample of linotype metal was sent to the metal processers who would report on the contamination and composition of the sample.Zinc was especially harmful;we were told it made linotype metal stick to the steel mould.(I useAustralian spellings.)Dross was sent, and valuable metals extracted and re-used.Additive metal sent to user,which corrected composition back to optimum.Today I called up

linotype metal composition

on Internet,found a few things I had not known,even how early type-metal suppliers produced antimony; I am astonished that so much info is being lost.Having done chemistry at high school circa 1945,I would guess that ordinary chemical quantitive analysis would have been used to determine percentages of elemental metals in type-casting alloys.We used linotype alloy for spacing leads,in fact before we got an Elrod we used Linotype metal, even casting a 3-point lead on model 5 Linotype(with the ribs ground out of the mould cap)but this gave a tapered “lead” which was a little troublesome;but it was better than the cardboard we used previously.

Occasionally there is something on Internet with which I disagree, but gives me food for thought as to how difference of opinion had arisen.[I had worked as proof-reader sometimes,which gave me an insight into how some people’s thoughts were assembled. One journo added up the rainfall figures for about 20 individual reporting sites,claimed that this represented the overall rainfall for that region.]


We have good communicatiobn systems for calculating data today that fourty years ago wasnt even discussed in theory . We do have to remember we know bugger all in reality , einstein has not long been dead and we know his theory does not work really , in fact some scientists believe the use of it is holding technology back .
we built an air plane and twenty years later we made them bigger then thirty years later bigger still until they were dropping out of the sky like raindrops when the wings fell off . When i wanted a smaller bit of mechano i repeatedly bent it till it broke , at seven years old i did that ,what were they thinking in the 50s when they built those planes !
Yes we are losing abilities to make stuff but if you look at what we have done so far it may be a good thing we lose some knowledge because we are not responsible or thoughtful enough to go some places with our inventions and sciences, that ,if the current track record is anything to go by means really letterpress is about ready for us to have a go at .!!

Back in the golden age of letterpress, (in the 50’s), in my apprenticeship, it was one of my duties to gather up lead shavings; samples (about a couple of teaspoons) off the floor at the Linotypes and the Ludlow; also at the saws and the power mitering machine, at regular intervals, these samples were then sent to Imperial Type Metals Corp., in Chicago. They would analyze these shavings, and send us a formula to bring our metal back to specs. This plus metal, I believe was rich in tin and antimony, and was added to our smelting pot where our metal was melted, skimmed and, with a big, heavy ladle (long before OSHA) poured into large pigs (about 22 pounds) with an eye on one end to be hung on a Star or Margach feeder on our typesetting machines. I recall blue lead tubes containing flux, a blue waxy substance which was added to the smelting pot (and sometimes used in the Linotype or Ludlow pots) to bring the sludge and gunk (string, wood type, brass and perforating rule, cigar butts, etc.), to the top after being stirred up with a slotted ladle. In the absence of flux, we would cut a medium potatoe and attach it to the slotted ladle with some stitcher wire (courtesy of the bindery), then submerge it in the pot (OSHA please note!) and stir from the bottom to bring up what was called dross. This dross, after accumulating a small barrel was shipped to Imperial, where I would guess they processed it, selling it back to us as plus metal. Again all this was long before OSHA. And that folks is today’s trip down memory lane.

stanislaus, i started like you (although i’m a lot younger) in the mid 60’s my first job was cleaning the linos and smelting the metal. pouring the pigs was a dirty job, no air conditioning, very hot and lots of smoke. those were great times, thanks for jogging the memory.

To those of you with real-life hands-on experience with remelting slugs and pouring into pigs, I started this discussion by asking the question because I am doing the same thing. I have a couple of remelters, the (yes, blue) flux and different size pig molds. So far I have remelted and cast into pigs a couple of tons of metal with more to go. The foundry type I am doing separately and casting into smaller ‘bricks’. A few years ago a fellow in Indianapolis told me that a way to tone up type metal is to add the same amount of foundry type as the dross you remove - by weight. Or, to add 1 pound of foundry type to each 200 pounds of metal. I started doing that but stopped because I had no way of knowing if I had a good batch of metal or a batch that needed ‘toning up’. What about you guys who are running type foundrys, you must need to know something about the metal you use?

I was taught not to add foundry type to Linotype metal as it contained copper, especially Barnhart Brother & Spindler, who advertised “Superior Copper-Mixed Type.”
Also we had an older saw used exclusively for copper-faced electrotypes, which were backed by a much softer lead; wood furniture and photo-engravings, which were zinc at that time, magnesium later. Zinc supposedly had a bad effect on the mouthpieces of linecasting machines.


If you are trying to determine the metal content of a piece of type metal you can get that from a lab that specializes in this. Cost is maybe around $100 these days.

If you are trying to determine what is the desired percentage in various techniques, foundry, Monotype, Linotype, etc. there is an abundance of printed material in this regard. Go to abe.com.


\i never got into the tyesetting and casting rooms but then a monday morning soon put me off even considering it , the caster op would be reaming the piston hole and wiping off the pot then pulling the bleeding hot piston that he would have balanced in the edge of the crucible out and brass brushing it down bits of molten lead springing off the bristles . Ten minutes later huge clouds of stinking oil smoke as he poured a great gob of oil so thick it should be labelled grease into the crucible before replacing the piston passing it throughthe pool of smoking oil floating on the top to lube the bore as it was pushed back in . when the door of the room was opened great gouts of stinking smoke emerged like a london smog . That was monday mornings and sometimes if the casting run was for millions of 8pt quads it would be done almost daily .The only time i come to appreciated being left handed .

There are bars of lead being sold on E-Bay, mostly for bullet making people, and they advertise it as monotype lead and is very hard, twice the tin and twice the antimony. (72% lead, 9% tin and 19% antimony) I’m assuming there is no copper in them. Would this lead be OK to use in a Linotype or Ludlow?

I’d be very careful taking anyone’s word, especially on a site as anonymous as eBay, that the metal they are selling is strictly Monotype. I’ve been told not to use Monotype metal in a Ludlow. I’ve also been told that you can. I’ve been told that anything other than the recommended Ludlow formula will do things like jam up your plunger and ruin your mouthpiece. I know that I have metal of different consistencies. From time to time I have to play around with the temperature and plunger pressure to get a perfectly solid slug but I clean everything regularly and I haven’t had any other problems.

I have in my memory a comment that was made to me when i asked as a youngster that the higher the tin content the longer the cooling period required therefore it was usable in theory but in practice you could not as the ludlow only ran at a given speed per cycle !

I’m coming late to this thread, but I have a booklet published by one of the typemetal suppliers. They confirm the recommendation you have been given. Add as much plus metal as you remove in dross. They say that they have performed studies which indicate this is a good practical way that works. I’ve forgoten their company name.

this is an interesting discussion that brings me back to my early days, too. In our shop, we used a hardness tester to determine the hardness of any group of ingots….. then added either more “soft lead” if it was too hard, or more “hard lead” if it was too soft. Using that method, we kept all of our linotype lead within a nice useable hardness range.

Like Stanislaus, we never added foundry type to our mix, since “you never know what them founders are using these days…”

One thing we did do that I’ve not seen mentioned here is that we used pure tin to modify the “flowability” of the metal into the molds. Tin is great stuff…… it makes your lead flow like water, even stuff with a lot of antimony in it. I always considered it to be “
anti-antimony. “

Since I first asked this question I’ve learned that in this day and age the preferred method of analyzing metals is done with an Emissons Spectograph and one of the leading manufacturers of these units is the Jarrell Ash Co. I’ve also learned that if you can find one complete and in working condition, they are a bit pricey even used. It’s a coincidence that WCP mentioned using a hardness tester because that is the direction I was headed in. They are more affordable and I have the tin and antimony.

Hi Everyone

New to Briar Press but old to everything else!
Did my apprenticeship in London as a Monotype Caster and the metal mix that was used “generally” was 10/16, namely 10% Tin and 16% Antimony the 74% being Lead. This was the mix used on a day-to-day basis and was definitely the preferred mix for quality and cost. There was however an alternative 12/24 which produced a harder (but prone to be brittle on smaller sizes) finished character, this was more demanding to produce … with speed, water temp (mould), metal temp and speed all having to be “just so”.
If my memory serves me right(?) Foundry type was even harder possibly 20/30, this was produced for “hand floggiing” and obviously display work. Hope my “two penneth” is of interest.

welcome-visit Amberley Working Museum in Sussex, lovely collection of presses and casters open 11-18 Feb half term then and lovely ex printing bods as volunteers doing demos in the season always looking for extra people

Hey, here’s a good article, albeit it’s in spanish.. the google translation seems pretty accurate. It has metal type alloy percentages, hope it helps.



The Wikipedia article on Type Metal is interesting: