Refinishing Wood Type Letters

Hello, I was wondering if anyone out there has had any luck with fixing up old letters. I’m looking to refinish some letters that have severe ink caked on them. I have no problem getting the old ink off, but some letters have tiny holes, dents, etc on the face of the letter. I’ve heard some people fill in any pockets or dents with epoxy and then after sanding them, put on a coat of shellac. Is that all or does anyone else out there have other solutions they wouldn’t mind sharing?

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Why would you want to fill the holes and dents? For many the beauty of letterpress is the slight imperfections - the signs of wear and tear to the type, that years of use and history have imparted to individual sorts. Plus imagine how ugly your type will look in a case with nasty bits of epoxy all over it.

But it is your type and you have every right to do what you want to it.

Personally I’d print with it and enjoy each and every imperfection - get to the point where you know the particularly damaged ‘T’ in a certain font and either avoid or overuse it.

You can run out perfect type using any old desktop printer.

There was a previous discussion of this here:

Automotive glazing compound, used in the final prep stages when preparing a car for paint, works well. It comes in a tube. You apply it very thin and sand it smooth with 1000 grit sand paper. Available at automotive paint stores. P.S., it also works on polymer plates. Applied thin, sometimes in multiple applications, you can get away without sanding.

Here is a picture of what I am talking about. You’ll notice the letter on the right has lost the printable serifs on top that really make the font. Take a look. I hate to do it, but I feel I must. I have about 5 or 6 letters that have the serious smash on the top of the letter. I could also keep it as is and cut some new letters. Am I a purist or do I want to print?

image: Gothic Tuscan C.jpeg

Gothic Tuscan C.jpeg

Dear Richard,

I see what you mean that is no small ding. Of course you should restore YOUR type so it prints as you wish it to. Please don’t listen to me - I made a snap comment without knowing any facts.


No problem Alistair. I take real good care of my wood type. I remember when I accidentally drop a ink knife on my “fl” of a beautiful and complete 12 line Arcadian. My eyes started to well up, but then I just put on some rubber based ink and it solved the problem. I hate to add bondo or some type of epoxy to any of these.

@ Richard. It looks to me that it would be easier to remake the letters. I have an advantage in that respect, owning a radial arm router I made letters as I needed them. If Hamilton wasn’t in such a mess at the moment you might be able to find the original patterns there. I would consider taking a crack at recutting if you are game.


image: RadialArmRouterLogotypes.jpg


Let’s remake some letters!