Removing paper from type cases

Does anyone have a good way to remove filthy, torn paper from the bottom of type cases? I have tried using my air compressor and a utility knife, but it is a slow and cumbersome way to do this. There has got to be a better way!

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Remove the back from the case. There usually large head nails around the edge, pull those out and the back slides out. Worst case you end up cutting a new piece of wood.

My experience is that these paper covered wood cases were made out of 3 or 4 pieces of wood and the paper kept the type from spilling as the wood shrank. I solved the problem by getting quality cases.

I have been restoring my type cases, which involves sanding the battleship gray and the radiator silver paint off the cases. After an application of oak stain they really look great. The paper is more than annoying.

I thought sliding the back off sounded like good advice. Turned one of the offending cases over. Okaaay. 67 large head nails, plus a few wood staples and where nails were put though the sort compartment intersections, the long ends sticking through the back were pounded in sideways. Couldn’t see any easy way to get the large head nails out without damaging the wood. And it turned out, these were solid bottoms, not the slide out kind. Guess I’m back to a knife and the air compressor.

And Fritz? You are quite right about some of the papered bottoms covering up cracks.

I think I read somewhere (probably here?) that if you spray the case with a jet of hot water the paper disintegrates. Then you have to dry the case quickly (e.g first with air to get all the loose water out and then with a hot air gun or hair dryer) to keep the wood from warping. You probably won’t be able to get the case completely dry but that is OK. As I recall, I tried it with a case several years ago and it worked.

Don’t forget to employ the proper safety precautions when working with fast flowing air and also with lead. Be sure to protect your whole face and especially your eyes, with the proper shielding. Don’t forget, whether you do it your way or the above way, the air and water streams are distributing lead particles around. Orient the case and also the air and water streams so none of the air, water or lead particles come toward you.

This reminds me of something I learned in industry many years ago. Before doing ANYTHING, first ask yourself, is this the safe way to do this?

Geoffrey is of course absolutely right about safety. On the other hand it isn’t lead per se, but a three metal alloy with quite remarkably different properties, and d’you know after forty years in the trade I never actually heard of a compositor dying of lead poisoning, and you can be absolutely certain that if some had the Union would have made a row you could hear from one end of the land to the other. . But as Geoffrey says one should take care with dust. I think that paper was added to the compartments to stop very thin small sorts slipping underneath shrunken dividers into adjacent boxes, think five point thins. . The late Cornerstone plastic moulded ones of course fixed this, but lacked antique charm, and also had lesser capacity. .

i have power washed really cruddy old cases, most of them dried out alright. dont drink the overflow and you wont have any lead problems

I tend to wear a dust mask and safety googles! There is a lot of crud flying when I use the air compressor, and if often includes mouse poop. And I’m sure some of the old oak cases are covered with lead-based paint. None of which I want to breathe. The power washer is an interesting idea, although I don’t own one.

Hi Lauri,

I have no experience in this whatsoever but your question got me intrigued so I went online and apparently hydrochloric acid dissolves paper and from the videos that I’ve seen it does not eat at the wood. That being said I have no idea if there are long term consequences or health risks involved but maybe something to look into and research more?

Good luck and hopefully something efficient comes your way!

Shadi Ayoub

I’ve used a plain water hose with a nozzle to clean dirty cases a couple of times. On a hot day with sunshine, it dries out quickly with no apparent damage. HCl? I don’t think I want to mess with that. I think a vacuum cleaner with a narrow attachment and/or brush gets the loose paper and dirt out just as well the water method. Easier on your newly refinished case fronts, too.

Remember, once there is type in the case, the remaining paper on the bottom of the compartments isn’t very visible.