Letter press plates

I’m interested in applications beyond woodcarving.

Does x-carve or carvey have the accuracy to make letterpress plates for a home printing press? Or say embossing plates? I realize inside corners would be limited to the smallest diameter bit or be worked by hand. At what point size type would you say is the smallest these machines could produce in metal?



You can use a v-carving technique to get sharp inside corners for stamps and letter press letters.

Here is an example of v-carving a pocket around a letter inside of a circle in brass (mock-up courtesy of v-carve pro)

Would you be working in linotype metal. If so I see no reason you can not machine it. Using an engraving bit you can get good sharp corners to your letters.
To bad they have scraped all the linotypes or you could find a print shop that is selling all of there letter press type for a good price.

Ariel, WA

Don’t machine Linotype metal or metal type — it has a high lead content.

If you find any metal type, please preserve it and don’t melt it down — there isn’t much being cast these days, and it should be passed on to someone who can use it.

@Earwigger thanks for this. I didn’t know this was possible. I see that the x-carve can do up to around .075mm accuracy vs the carvey .001mm. Both these numbers are very small, but so is a dot on an i. As an example could you get nice quality down to 12 point type say in a sarif font like Times?

Not on my stock 1000mm x-carve. I am building a second machine SUPER rigid with a 10x17" cutting area. I would guess I could get close… 14 point possibly. But there are others who have focused on metal who will probably chime in any minute. They have already achieved great results in fine metal detail.

I can do it in walnut and even pre-treated MDF. Here is an example:

What is wrong with machining Linotype metal. You are not going to eat the chips and machining will not generate enough heat to melt the metal and cause metal vapor.

I’ll bet you don’t machine brass because it has zinc in it or bronze because it has tin in it and I’ll bet you say the machining 12L14 that is leaded steel in a lathe will kill you also.

Ariel, WA

CNC routing / machining tends to make very small dust particles, which are extremely hazardous, esp. if composed of a material which bio-accumulates.

You should use a HEPA air filtration system which filters particles down to 0.3 microns for safety’s sake.

You should not machine materials which are hazardous by nature such as copper alloys containing beryllium, or lead w/o adequate safeguards.

Cautionary story about exposure to fine lead particles: http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19900731&slug=1085288 — it would have been fine to have re-cast the hammer (which is what happened to the beat up ones which are turned in) and I can still remember a local garage melting down and re-casting lead mallets, and still have some ornaments which a friend cast on his Linotype (as well as a fairly large collection of metal and wooden type), and used to consult for a print shop which still used their Linotype (w/ suitable precautions so as to maintain OSHA/EPA compliance) for numbering jobs.

In the case you linked to, the person involved was doing every thing wrong. Using a belt sander to recondition his lead hammer, Not using a simple dust mask, not changing cloths before going home. His supervisors screwed up by not stopping an unsafe practice that generated very fine dust.

Machining linotype metal that is 84% lead using the right end mills, feeds and speed, DOC,WOC, etc will not generate extremely fine dust. Using a vacuum shoe on your machine and a good dust mask and keep your face away from the spindle will insure you do not get enough exposure to cause problems.

Now you change your story to use adequate safeguards.

Ariel, WA

What type of stock would you recommend for this application with safety and quality of the final product taken into account? Maybe some sort of plastic/polycarbonate would even work.

How meany sheets are you going to run. 100 sheets is one thing 10,000 is something entirely different. For 10K sheets you would need to find a material that will last for the run and give good prints on sheet #1 and sheet # 10K.

Hi Dave, I would only do this for shorter runs like a few hundred, never more than 1000.


If one wishes to do prints, Resingrave prints wonderfully and is well-suited to being cut w/ rotary tools.

Barry Moser used Resingrave for his illustrated edition of the Pennyroyal Caxton Bible and spoke highly of the material.

I worked in the die cutting industry for over 20 years as a die maker. Foiling, embossing and debossing dies for the most part are usually etched with acid. The other problem is that magnesium dies are very soft and the brass/ copper ones are hard… All I can say is good Luck. What ever the make ready your using to make the male is another factor. If I was going to make my own I would try some type of very hard tight grained exotic wood like lignum vitae. I would not go near lead type set either due to health concerns their is a reason the printing industry got away from it. Good luck, I am sure you will figure out a way of getting something to work.

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Thanks will this stuff looks like a good place to start.