Punchcutters' Signature Jig

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1. Overview

Terminological Note: I do not believe that there is a published term for this jig. Stan Nelson calls it a "Bevel Jig," no doubt because of its prominent bevel. I have chosen instead to call it a "signature jig" because of its function, but I may come to regret introducing yet another name into the already confusing lexicon of punchcutting.

In cutting a punch or patrix, by hand or machine, it is necessary to mark one side of the punch/patrix so as to allow its orientation to be distinguished. Most simply, this can be done by scribing a line across one of the four sides. This line is called the signature mark. Stan Nelson 1 notes that French punchcutters put this line on the back side of the punch (just as French type has its nick at the back). His own practice (and I assume also general Anglo-American practice) puts the signature mark on the front side of the punch. Stan puts his signature mark about 1/3 of the way up from the hammer-end of the punch.

If the punchcutter also has a personal engraver's mark - that is, a punch with their own distinctive mark - the punch may also be stamped with it in addition to the line of the regular signature mark. {Nelson 2016}

It looks better if all of the signature marks line up across the series of punches. An easy way to ensure this is to use a signature jig. This is nothing more than a small piece of brass or other material relieved to accommodate the hammer-end of a punch and provided with an opening through which the signature mark may be scribed at a fixed distance from the hammer-end.

Typically the signature mark is scribed first; this leaves a relatively light line. Then the signature jig is removed and the line is deepened using needle files.

To people such as myself who spend too much time thinking about these things, a question naturally arises at this point: is this device a "jig" or a "fixture"?

These two terms are sometimes used interchangeable or inconsistently. Carr Lane Mfg. Co., a major and long-established supplier of tooling and components for jig and fixture manufacturing, has established the following convention:

"A jig ... guides the cutting tool. A fixture references the cutting tool." ( {Carr-Lane 1995}: 2)

Using this definition, the present device is jig, not a fixture.

2. Evidence

I am unware of any published example of or reference to this jig as of 2017.

We know that it must be used at l'Imprimerie Nationale in France because Stan Nelson writes of it and draws it in his Paris '92 Sketchbook, ( {Nelson 2016}) However, I have not yet been able to find any photograph of one in the tools shown there.

Stan Nelson uses the signature jig shown below in his own work.

These are the only references of which I am presently aware. If I am missing any other reference due to my oversight or ignorance, I would appreciate learning of it.

3. Alternatives

A signature jig is not an essential tool of the punchcutter. The ordinary machinist's square can be used to scribe the signature mark, and a machinist's square should probably be on your punchcutting bench anyway. The signature jig just makes it easier.

The photo below left shows a machinist's square, punch blank, and scribe. The photo below right shows a signature mark on a (not very good) punch blank after it has been deepened by filing. In both photos, the hammer end is the rounded end of the punch.

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4. Stan Nelson's Signature Jig

This is the signature jig made by Stan Nelson. I had the opportunity to photograph it during his 2016 Wells College punchcutting class. My thanks to Stan both for the class and for his generosity in allowing us to photograph his extensive set of tools (many of which he made himself).

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Here it is shown with a punch blank in place. Although it is not visible, the finished hammer-end of the punch blank is to the top, held against the top "shelf" of the signature jig. You would scribe the line of the signature mark along the horizontal bevel at the bottom of the cutout/window.

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Here it is in six views:

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5. CircuitousRoot 15TM Signature Jig (after Nelson)

This signature jig is a part of the Open Source Hardware on CircuitousRoot. Please see that Notebook for information on Open Source Hardware and the licensing terms of this project. More specifically, this signature jig it is part of CircuitousRoot Series TM - Type Makers' Tools.)

This is a signature jig based on Stan Nelson's. It is designed to accommodate flat-sided punches of approximately 2 1/4 inches length at up to 36 American points in punch blank width. It would not work well with the less flat sides of earlier punches as shown in Moxon. (Moxon's hand-forged punches are more cigar-shaped in their longitudinal profiles, and might rock if used in this gauge.) It may be used for both punches in steel or patrices in soft metal, but it is not appropriate for significantly shorter machine-cut punches or patrices. However, its dimensions may be varied at will to suit the punch or patrix being made.

As this is a type making tool, it is dimensioned appropriately in points. (I'm using American Printers' Points, taken to be 0.013,8 inches, but any point system would work just as well.) It positions the signature mark 48 points from the hammer end. This is a bit less than 1/3 of the length of a 2 1/4 inch (163 point) punch - you may wish to alter this position.

Here are views of a CAD model of it, shown with a punch blank in place (with the punch's hammer-end up).

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Here's the manual and parts list:

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15TM0 Signature Jig: Manual and Parts List

(Much of the manual reproduces material from this present Notebook.)

Here's the OpenOffice .odt format source file for the manual and parts list: cr-15TM0-signature-jig.odt

The CAD source for this drawing (and the model it is derived from) is maintained using the commercial "cloud-based" Onshape CAD system. If you have an Onshape account, you can copy this project (Onshape "document") to your own space and modify it. Here is a link to this project: https://cad.onshape.com/documents/005fc0e1711a6edf2ca3f898/w/c9a3c4bc0021ea25798e9dda/e/e1ad52edc0165cb6e50c829f

Here is an engineering drawing of this signature jig as a PDF file (click on the image):

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Here is a DXF (Rel. 14) format exported version of this drawing. Note, however, that LibreCAD through at least Version 2.1.3 (2017) cannot properly display this. (It messes up the lettering, especially; that or DXF isn't as universal as we've been led to believe.)

Here are exported versions of the model in STEP, IGES, Solidworks, and STL formats. These may be of use to you if you do not use Onshape. Please note that these are as automatically exported from Onshape; I have not checked them.

Here are the CircuitousRoot Manufacturing Operations Schedules for this project. These are appropriate (or at least I hope they are) for making this device in one-off quantities in a home machine shop equipped with at least a small vertical milling machine. Note that while the Manual is assigned a part symbol because it is a part of the device, the Operations Schedules are not assigned part symbols because they're external to the device. (It may be manufactured in many different ways.)

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Operations Schedule for Making 15TM1


[Although I would envision this tool as furnished in a nice box, and although I've optimistically allocated part numbers for such a box, at present it is boxless. So there are no Operations Sheets for the box yet.]

6. Making the 15TM1 Jig

Here is a brief summary of making this device in my shop. This account isn't intended to be a complete construction article.


7. Notes

1. Raymond Stanley Nelson, well-known within the metal type community, is a noted authority on the typefounders' hand mold and typographical punchcutting (and early metal type and printing in general). He is retired from the Smithsonian Institution.

8. Bibliography

{Carr-Lane 1995} Carr-Lane Mfg. Co. Jig and Fixture Handbook. Third Edition. St. Louis, Mo: Carr-Lane Mfg. Co., 1995

{Nelson 2016} Nelson, Stan. Paris '92 Sketchbook. Charles Town, WV: [unpublished], 2016.

This is an annotated version of Stan's notebook from his 1992 studies with Dan Carr under Nellie Gable at l'Imprimerie Nationale in Paris. It was distributed with the course material of his 2016 Wells College punchcutting class. It is unpublished.

9. Licensing

This project is Open Source Hardware. For a discussion of the issues of Open Source Hardware and the use of Creative Commons licenses to ensure its freedom via documentation licensing, see the CircuitousRoot Notebook Open Source Hardware on CircuitousRoot, http://www.CircuitousRoot.com/oshw/index.html.

See also the printable CircuitousRoot document 1ZZ0 The CircuitousRoot Open Source Hardware Licensing Terms, which is available with the distribution of this hardware design.

(The licensing terms for the present document appear in the text box below. All components of this design are licensed under the same terms.)