Is there no end to the marvelous talents of the Arab press? On Friday I finally got to try die cutting, and it was as successful and easy as one could hope for. Die cutting is where a shaped blade is set into the chase and used to cut paper in the same way that the press prints- instead of ink marks on the paper you get crisp clean cuts.
I've been working towards this new trick for a few months. The most time consuming thing was figuring out how to get a platen sleeve to protect the platen from the sharp blade of the die. Many conversations with the various chaps who are my loose and informal advisory board eventually emboldened me to commission a sleeve from a metal work company in town.
I don't know if my advisory board fully appreciate what a cultural leap it was for me to get a part machined to my specifications. I can't think of anyone in my family or any woman of my acquaintance who has ever done such a thing. When I ventured to the industrial area of town and picked up the finished platen sleeve from a grungy workshop on Port Road I felt the kind of trepidation that I feel visiting a foreign country. The satisfaction of seeing how sweetly the sleeve fits the Arab was like that of completing a successful negotiation in pidgin and sign language in a foreign market. For extra affirmation, my advisory board members have all been very impressed with the sleeve and it is still so new and shiny that even a casual passerby would have to think it rather special.
Then the ever generous Murray Inder gave me a couple of oval die forms that he doesn't need anymore so the Arab's first cuts (in this phase of its career anyway) were egg shapes. When I come to a particular die cutting project (and there's one coming right up) I can either borrow a die, if Murray has a suitable one, or get one made any shape I want. But the ovals were just right for figuring out how to do it.
The rollers have to come off the press when you are die cutting (otherwise the rollers would get shredded by the blades) so that was to be my next thing to figure out. But then David Golding showed up on Friday morning, having made a beautiful new (oak?) tray for the Arab (the old tray was broken and even an old repair job had broken long before I ever saw it). David is one of several retired printers who contacted me after the Arab and I featured on the front page of the paper a few weeks ago, and he is fantastically helpful. He offered to take the Arab's rollers away and clean them properly (apparently they are too shiny to hold ink properly) while I had a go at die cutting.
He also explained why the die forms were covered in rubber. In my ignorance I had imagined the rubber was a removable protection to stop the blades getting damaged in storage. But no, the rubber provides a springy resistance so the paper doesn't stick to the die form but is pushed back to the platen after it's cut. Lucky he told me that before I started trying to get to rubber off!
With all the necessary elements in place I set about my usual trial and error approach to extending my printing skills. There was nothing about die cutting in my new bible, General Printing, a 1950s text book that my dad gave me recently but common sense goes a long way in printing. My recent lessons in make ready (placing bits of paper behind different parts of the form or platen to ensure an even pressure) were fresh in my mind so I was able to progress steadily towards cutting a complete egg in one kiss of the die to the paper. My number one coach, Jim Morrison, showed up just as I achieved this so I was able to show off to him.
We spent a happy few hours fine tuning the lays and make ready to produce lots of lovely creamy eggs.