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Matrix repair or new.

Started by craig_star, January 24, 2010, 12:53:46 PM

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Hello. Im new to the forum.
I use a Linotype everyday, because we foil serviettes for wedding stationary.
The machine is newly refurbished and runs perfect. The problem is we have poor quality matrices. I am starting the project of making my own. Brand new from scratch. Is there a thread on this forum already discussing this idea? Is there anyone who used to, and can remember how they did it in the 60s? I can mill out the blanks easy enough.. I'll get a cutter made for the key, but its the letter punch that I either need to make or buy. Does any one have any suggestions please?

Dave Hughes

Hi Craig, and welcome to the Metal Type Forum.  :)

There is an abundant supply of second-hand matrices offered for sale on Ebay from time to time.

We do list some on Metal Type here:

There has been much discussion in the past on these boards about matrix teeth patterns, etc. which is one problem you will have to overcome.

I don't believe there is currently anyone who still manufactures the matrices.

Hopefully someone may be able to post some useful advice on here for you.

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Dan Williams


Making mats? Man, you've got some cohunus.

Yes, I imagine that it can be done, although that craftwork, knowledge base and science are all surely in the grave.
We see some of the numerous steps taken in manufacture of mats in that Harris Intertype photo collection. It is surely a very demanding program, where accuracy and precision must balance against economics. Imagine machining a mat to the right shape, you still must punch the image to the right depth. Then that means having a punch in hardened steel. I believe that fabricating a workable punch is probably ten times as difficult as making matrix blanks.

No, economics dictate that you roll over every stone to find as many mats as you can. Right now there are lots out there, although conditions of them may leave some doubt. Hairline and damaged lugs being the main issue.

Frankly you can throw ten times the bid amount for the average ebay sale and buy every font that surfaces, and still be way ahead of cost of manufacture. I have no doubt about that. And, there are still lots of mats out there.

That brings up the other issue: now more than ever in a functioning shop the machine must be in tune. What I mean is that the condition of the machine must be such that it is not eating or damaging mats.

Wish I could help.

Good luck!


Hi Guys. Thanks for the speedy replies. Ive not done much window shopping for mats yet, I have not entertained the thought because I know that when I have this figured out I will be able to make for myself the mats in any typeface and in any point size.

Dan you've hit the nail on the head. Work load+time v economics. Its no good if it takes me a week to make a single mat. And probably the start is going to be a crusade costing me money and time with the risk of failure. But then I may reach the point of equilibrium where I can safely churn out the first full set with all special characters for less time+money than just buying one ready made.

I just like my guarantee. It flies in the face of market forces. Sometime, somebody has to do it. It would be good if I had no concern about making fresh mats.

What about in 20 years time? I will be 52. Will all these Ebay mats still be floating around? Hobbyists will always be around. It's just one day the demand/supply will get so strong someone will do it. Maybe a far eastern country will just flick it's fingers and off they come, a conveyor pouring them into buckets. It's like a car becoming classic. Sooner or later an engineer starts making the parts again.

Regarding the steel punches there is one thing I have on my side that Harris Corp did not have; CNC. I'm not a very computer literate person. But surely a short course in CAD would see me engraving the simple 2-dimensional shapes into steel to make punches. I could upload any character of any font and sit back and watch. I just wanted to know how it was done in the old days. Were the punches hand engraved? If so, that is something I wont  contemplate. Unless there is a secret art that is east enough to teach/learn. If there's anyone still around.

I'm first going to start refurbishing the damaged mats I already have. In no time I will organise a production line. All of my battered mats are only damaged at the tops where the disser gets mangled and bends all the key teeth and little tabs. This top (3rd?) can be guillotined off. Ill braze on a new (head) from blanks I'll have already made. Then file down the correct key tooth combination.

Dave Hughes

Hi Craig, don't know how much time you've spent looking through the site, but there's some pics of the matrix-making department at Intertype, taken in 1966 here:
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Dan Williams

Might want to look closely at your distributor. You should rarely get mangled mats with that thing. Something sounds fishy, maybe with the clutch and spiral automatics. Stoppage is  expectedas these old machines approach 75 years, but with a properly adjusted clutch they shouldnt necessarily bend mats. Typically the casting system is the mat killer.


I must say that I have to agree with Dan. I have not made any comments previously as I couldn't get passed the fact that you were thinking of manufacturing matrices yourself. You say that the machine is running smoothly and that you have poor quality matrices. The quality of the matrices usually deteriorates because the machine is not adjusted correctly. If you are using fonts that have been used on a poorly adjusted machine then maybe the fonts have been damaged and are part of the problem.

I have been involved with matrices sourced from most manufactures and I have never seen a matrix damaged because it was of poor quality. I have seen poor quality of mats due to the incorrect depth of the character punched in the matrix, but nothing else.

If matrices are being bent it has to be as they are being lifted from the distributor box onto the distributer bar or as a result mats failing to drop freely from the distributor bar through the channel entrance and into magazine.
Matrices can be damaged in the casting and transferring process by falling out of the assembler or first elevator. If the toes of the mat are damaged by the mold during the lockup for casting the line, that can cause a pile up in the channel entrance. Once again that is a machine or operator fault not the matrix's.

I see videos on the internet where the operator sends the line away and then has to push it to help it into the first elevator. An obvious indication that something is not lubricated or aligned correctly.
There must be thousands of fonts for sale on the internet without the need to start manufacturing them. Here are a few matrix suppliers.

Woodside Press, New York:-

Linecasting Machinery Ltd, Kent England:-

Don Black, Toronto, Canada:-

If you don't have one buy a copy of the Linotype Machine Principles. Published by the Mergenthaler Linotype Company. There are a lot for sale on the Internet. Don Black has them in stock.
George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast


Following is a site I had forgoten about. The site contains a lot scanned books related to maintenance of linotypes including Linotype Machine Principles. These files can all be downloaded:-
George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast



There were a couple companies in the US making special character mats by using Gorton Pantograph engraving machines which would reduce the image from a etched pattern plate (we used photopolymer pattern plates) it would take at least five to ten minutes to engrave a suitable mat, and the most critical part of the process was the sharpening of the engraving tool which had to be only a couple thousandths of an inch at the tip in order to get sharp corners in the characters. I have always thought it would be possible to drive the pattern arm of the pantograph with a CNC device which need not have the resolution to engrave an 8pt. character, but would be able to swing a pattern 20 times larger, and use the pantograph to do the actual cutting. Speed and uniformity of the cut is critical, and the CNC device could be programmed to do the work with greater facility than a human hand.

No pattern plates would be necessary, and any image could be produced.

We purchased a complete matrix engraving shop in Northern Wisconsin, and ran it for a short period of time. It became evident during that time that the costs associated with the labor involved made it not feasible commercially. However, there is much more interest today than 15 years ago, and with CNC, it might be possible to make a profit. The equipment included some equipment from the Ludlow shops in Chicago and a monster combination cutter from Linotype.

By the way, there seemed to be more interest in Monotype display mats for borders and special characters than Linecaster mats, but we did some engraving of accents and logotype mats (for better fitting), and Ludlow mats for special characters.

John G. Henry


If you haven't already run across it, the following url will take you to a review of "Anatomy of a typeface" by Alexander S. Lawson. It maybe of interest to you.

Canadian Linotype did some matrix modification. The fact that Canada has a large French population they often had to produce special accent characters and cut the teeth to run in selected magazine channels.  If my memory is correct the machine use to cut the teeth was not that large. However I did not work in that section.

George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast


The machine I've seen to cut matrix teeth OFF is indeed small. Great when you have a pi mat (that is, one with all the teeth ) that you want to run in a particular channel, or a mat that you want to run pi (that'd be one with no teeth). Removing teeth is easy enough to do with a file. But there isn't an easy way to add teeth, is there?
I have a mat that had a dovetail cut into it and an engraved logo piece sweated into it, rather like a border slide placed in the slide block. That is an alternative to engraving directly on a matrix.


Hi Guys,

Thanks for all this great advice.

Dave: those pics at Intertype 1966 are great. Those pantographs are huge! I wonder what modern pantograph could be used today?

Dan: yes there is a small problem with the distributer. I have tried earnestly to sort it out to no avail. The mats, particularly the vowels get stuck in the copper fins and dont fall in the magazine. If they pile up on top of one another the the one that protrudes out of the top causes the crash. Ive tried everything. If I tweak it I make it worse. Its really annoying, I have to always check the coast is clear after I send a line away so then im ok to do another. Something is out of alignment, but only slightly.
Other than that the machine is perfect.

Mechanic & jhenry: thanks for the links.

I have the project on hold until I learn a little more. I am in talks with local engineers. I might have a go just for the fun of it. One question I think; CNC the character in the mat or make punches? or even pantograph?


I think we, as the linecasting community, really need to look at making mats and to have that knowledge (and preferably machinery) in place for the future.  All these wonderful machines are handicapped by the need for mats.  Each font of mats is handicapped by either general wear (hairlining) or failure of critical sorts.

How many of you have gotten mats and found that there were no lower case e's or r's or periods?   Ebay is not a source for mats, period.  There was a year long period that there were mats, but that was one operator, and given the price of scrap, the likelihood of that happening again is rather slim.  I know that there are places where mats are seemingly common, but to think that will last another 10 or 15 years is wishful thinking.

If we want to keep these machines going, just as people keep running (and building from scratch sometimes!) steam tractors, then we need to a: find a new generation of people who consider these machines important and worth preserving, and b: maintain parts and mat availablity (just having drawings out in public view would help).   

Perhaps we need to develop a central clearinghouse for those who want to retire out so that their equipment/mats/parts would be available to newcomers, and not just shuffled off to the scrap heap as is mostly the case now.   I will give immense kudos to Larry Raid and his Linotype University in Iowa, but we need more than just his efforts to carry the day.  A major U.S. parts jobber and one of the few remaining traveling mechanics are getting up in years and soon will be gone.  Who will replace them?   It's quite frankly up to us to do something--else we might as well scrap out everything now.

So, if somebody does know the production process for making mats, it would be most useful to post that information, or provide reference to publications or whereever that information is.   This is a great discussion and I hope others post to it.

Dan Williams

I still see mat sales on ebay. Good question about completeness of fonts and certainly the condition of fonts, also. During the letterpress era, every magazine of mats had a companion set of pi mats in a cabinet, somewhere.
Regarding availability, there seem to be various sources of used mats. Don Black, and SOS Lino are some names that come to mind and there are certainly many others. The idea of allied users is a good one; these forums help provide that service.
The last trained users of the technology arent that old - perhaps into their late 60s. Many of these fellows socked away machines and mats in their garages. I have seen and inspected estates that seem to bear that out.
There will be more of these sales that surface.
In my opinion, the greatest obstacle to preserving the stocks of machines and parts has been the low perceived value of the equipment relative to scrap value. Frankly, you couldnt give the stuff away not ten years ago. Some time ago a collector asked why he should pay for my model 35 when he could get it free somewhere else.  So I so let it go to scrap when the estate property sold 5 years ago. On the other hand, for nice price I sold a  model 29 to a collector on the West Coast.
So I think that when folks are willing to spend money for parts and service, it will go along way to ensure availability of these things.


My interest in mat fabrication is probably more an intellectual excercise, but still the information should be retained somewhere, just in case somebody wants to make mats in the future.   I've an idea how it could be done, but what order of operations was required for making the mats and punches is useful knowledge that would save reinventing the wheel.
A lot of machinery is going to vanish in the next generation.  I would place where we are now to where steam locomotives in the US were in the mid-1950s.  Compare that to what's running today and it's pretty mind boggling.  I suppose it's not our problem, but it's a shame for such a bridge technology to vanish from our knowledge.  If you don't believe that, start finding people who still have a decent skill set doing cold type and  negative stripping.

So, again, does anybody know, or know where to look, for information on matrice manufacturing?   Likewise, does anybody have any fabrication equipment/punches/whatall remaining?

Michael Seitz
Missoula MT

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