Type Case: Dismantling and re-assembling

I recently got a large double type cabinet, that I am working on refinishing. All of the drawers however are plain open drawers without dividers.
I also have some other older style divided drawers, that came with type, the drawers are the same size.

I would like to try and take the dividers out of the older drawers and put them into the refinished ones.

Does anyone have any pointers on getting the dividers out? I can see the nail heads but I can’t seem to get under them without damaging the cases and I’d rather not have to take the drawers entirely apart if I don’t have to.

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The back of the case must be removed to remove the dividers. Different makers used different dimensions for their dividers, so be very sure that the dividers will fit into the other cases before you disassemble the intact cases.


Its manual, no trans lines, mechanical clutch not hydraulic…

Surely you may be better off just using the cases that are divided as a model and go to the cheapy store ,buy a couple of louvred blinds dismantle them and make new dividers from the strips they are much the same dimension as the dividers of a type case and that way you wont destroy your original cases . (louvred blinds ,I meant to say venetian blinds but could not remember the name )
For some reason this is cheaper than buying the wood and getting it cut and thicknessed .
The nails in the dividers dont hold the strips down they are usually glued and because the base is plywood you will find that it de laminates when you try to break them down !

to ChristinaMarie and others

From memory [it’s 40 years or more since I handled a wooden typecase of metal letters — we changed to a Nebitype] the bottom of the cases we used were of thin ply; too thin to hold the small nails (brads?). Ask among your acquaintances to find a joiner (cabinet-maker) who may be able to explain better.

I do not want to be rude, there must be a reason why seekers-of-advice in this very friendly group do not give their location — usually the name of the State of the U.S.A., which seems to be of help sometimes.

Cases I saw had the nails almost recessed, I would not like to try to remove them. Also, during my apprenticeship one of my chores was to remove stereotype casts of advertising which had been mounted on wood bases, some were impossible to remove without damage to the stereotype flat cast. Try to find someone with knowledge of small nails (brads?) who can show you nails which were designed to be NOT removed. Some had a strange-shaped tip instead of a point, most have knurling (small furrows) which grip the wood. Further, are the nails brass or iron/steel? A magnet would indicate that. I expect them to be brass, but if steel, rust will hold them very tightly in the timber; nails unlikely to be steel/iron. It seems to be a task which could lead to disappointment, but try to find an experienced person with a great deal of knowledge about wood. Good luck!


Yesterday, I placed an order for dividers with a guy who has got a computer steered router. I supplied him with a PDF of my dividers, he charges me 260 euro for enough dividers to do 15 cases. Consider something like that, rather then ripping good quality cases apart and finding yourself with a botched job.

i would not tear good cases apart, i think it would take a long time and i’m sure it is not easy. There are plastic inserts (i think) that you could buy and just lay them in the blank cases, don’t know who makes them but i would try John Barrett at Letterpress Things of Fritz at NA Graphics and see if they could give you some advice.

You will never extract all the dividers from one case successfully and insert them into another unless you already understand woodworking and joinery. Just have new dividers made to fit the blank case. Less effort, less misery. And you will still have both sets of cases instead of two damaged sets.
(Repeat after me: type goes into a type case, type cases go into a cabinet or rack. There are no drawers involved.)

Ironically, I’ve just finished up re-dividering a lead case. However, I regularly do woodworking (and restoration), so I have both the experience and the tools. In this case (pardon the pun), for reasons of space requirements I have had to cut the cases down to 2/3 size, and custom build a frame for them that would fit under my pre-existing workbench. The trickiest part was what to do with the lovely, full case of leads-and-slugs. So, I cut off 1/3, then divided the larger partitions sideways to fit a more modest inventory of shorter-sized lengths of leading.

There is huge variation in construction of cases. The case I just did is maple with a masonite bottom. The wider inner dividers were mortised, and the smaller dividers (which actually do the work) fit into the slots. The small dividers also then each had a long finishing nail passing through their height, into the bottom.

This being said, the one common construction detail throughout most cases is that the dividers are fitted before the bottom. You have to take the case significantly apart before you can get any of the dividers out. Essentially, it’s an all-or-nothing situation, not to be attempted unless you have a sacrificial case or two for the sake of learning.

I actually ended up re-configuring the dividers to a style similar to that used in writing box dividers, which you can see in the accompanying photo. By chiseling a v-shaped tenon on the end of each divider, and a corresponding socket where it fits, each will stay in place by friction, or with a small dab of glue.

As another part of this whole exercise I have replaced—on a different case—a 1/4” pine case bottom for one made of 1/8” masonite. The wood comprising the dividers was extremely dry, and a number of them shattered during the process. As an aside, the original bottom was nailed in place with the monstrous square-cut nails in the first photo. Square-cut nails have great holding power, and don’t split the wood like round nails do.

When it comes to fitting dividers into an un-divided case, it would be difficult unless you are also transferring the sides, front, and back which all contain the appropriate slots into which the dividers fit. Unless you are looking for something which is rare or doesn’t exist (like my 2/3-size leading case), it will likely be much easier, quicker, and therefore cheaper, to find an existing good-quality case. If you ask around you can find spares quite affordably.


image: Back when they knew how to make nails!

Back when they knew how to make nails!

image: Mortised sides, and smaller dividers (note that each divider extends into the matching socket in the frame by about 1/4").

Mortised sides, and smaller dividers (note that each divider extends into the matching socket in the frame by about 1/4").

image: Re-configured case (upper left-hand corner).

Re-configured case (upper left-hand corner).

image: Dividers held in place by friction (and a little glue).

Dividers held in place by friction (and a little glue).

Thank you David, your post was very helpful.
I am not a woodworker, but I do have experience building, and creating joints which is why I posted before trying to dismantle any of them. I thought that the dividers may be running into sockets in the side pieces and as your pictures show that is probably the case.

The cases I am trying to take the dividers out of are older and in worse shape than the newer blank ones. It is not my intent to destroy either style of case, so if it does prove too difficult and damaging then I will not be doing it.

Thank you to everyone else for your input as well. If anyone can make dividers of knows someone who can, please let me know, I would appreciate it.

Also, I am located Philadelphia Area.