Punchcutting tools: the drawing box

The punchcutters from the Imprimerie Nationale use a curious instrument to transfer drawings to the punch's surface that I haven't seen anywhere else: the drawing box (boîte à tracer). In Christian Paput's book there is a page with a description of it and its purpose but it does not go much on details and I can't understand how it works.
Has anyone had the opportunity of working with it? Can you explain how it works?  


  • Thanks to Stan Nelson (I will never tire of thanking Stan; my debt to him is great), here are some images of the Drawing Box and its use from his Wells College class last year.  

    The Drawing Box has at least two uses (maybe more?)  First, it is used for its named purpose: drawing on the end of the punch.  You will be doing this with a fine scribe even if you transfer a design by other means, because a transferred design is quickly rubbed away.  You need scribed lines and dots (you can draw straight lines with a scribe, but will need to run a series of fine dots around curves).  The Drawing Box simply holds the punch blank.

    Second, it is used to hold the punch during the process of transferring a design to the punch.  The examples I have to illustrate show the use of soot and mylar to transfer an existing type design to a punch.

    First, here are some views of three drawing boxes:  The fancy one after the fashion of l'Imprimerie nationale (this one was made by Stan), a much simpler but perfectly useful one made of wood (again, made by Stan - he made these in quantity for equipping the class), and a single shot of a simpler steel example.  If you look closely at the wooden one, you'll see that it was made of two parts glued together - easier than drilling and broaching a square hole.

    BTW (not shown), if you lack a drawing box you can improvise using a machinist's V-block, if it is large enough to accomodate the length of the punch.

    ... (I think I'll continue with the use for transferring in a posting to follow)

  • Thanks a lot. Now I get it. The images from Paput's book are not very good and I though the instrument had an optic or sorts. Now I see it's a much simpler device. 
    I think the tracing box could be made to work also as facing tool, right?
  • Now on to one of the uses of the Drawing Box.  The goal here is to transfer the image of an existing type to the polished working end of the punch blank.

    First, the type is held in a different fixture, also "box-like."  It is convenient if this box is type-high (as the face of the type must be flush with the top of the box), but I don't think that this is a necessary requirement.  As you can see by his punched signature, this one was made by Stan Nelson.  Here it is, shown empty.

    The next step is to take a flame and deposit soot on the end of the punch.  Stan uses a "Lampe Olympe," just as they do at l'Imprimerie nationale.  This is a version of the Lampe Pigeon.  It's not as hard to get them as you might think (both used and new), so you can set up your bench in proper style.  I should post images of the lamp later.  But any sooty flame will do.  Here it is shown first from the side (those are Stan's hands in the first photo) and then from below (as done by a student in the class);

    Here is a view of the "smoked" type in its box, together with a punch ready to go in the Drawing Box:

    The transfer of the soot image from the type is done first to a Mylar sheet.  (The film by Carl Dair indicates that they used gelatine sheet at Enschede.  You can still get gelatine cooking sheets, but I haven't tried this.  Stan uses mylar, and it works.)  Here is a picture of a student using a flat rubbing tool (I do not know its name) to transfer from the type to the Mylar (the Mylar is invisible in the photo, but it is there).

    Here's a view of Stan carefully placing a mylar sheet over the punch blank, held in the Drawing Box.  You can't see (or perhaps can barely see part of) the soot image on the mylar  in the photo, but it is there.

    Here is the student using the same tool to transfer the image from the mylar to the punch blank.

    [Ignore the two attachments below; they're the same as two of the inline images.  I hit the wrong button, and can't figure out how to get rid of them.]

    Further questions:

    Does anyone have examples of other uses of the Drawing Box?  Or other Drawing Boxes?  Or pictures of its use for drawing on the punch blank?  Or better pictures than those above?  (I took a *lot* of pictures at Stan's class, but I'm not a very good photographer.)

    Can anyone explain why the style of Drawing Box used at the IN has a circular cutout and space around the punch blank?  Stan may have told us, but I've forgotten.

    What is the name of the spatula-like rubbing tool?  Again, I'm sure that Stan called it by name, but I've forgotten.

  • Ramiro - In geometrical theory, yes, you could use a Drawing Box as a Facer (Facing Tool).  But in practice you would not want to do so.  The Facer is necessarily worn down in use by the stone.  It must be resurfaced periodically, and finally discarded when too worn.  You wouldn't want to subject a nice drawing box to this.  (And if you use a wooden drawing box you can't do it at all.  Just to try it, I did attempt to use a wooden Facer.  On a rough stone, it didn't last long enough to face a single punch blank.)

    I'll post some images of traditional facers shortly.  But Stan discovered that the common machinist's V-block, turned on its side, can be used as a perfectly good facer.  (Because I'm obsessive, back in my shop I tested a cheap import-grade V-block with a dial test indicator on a surface plate - it was precise to within a few "tenths" (ten-thousandths of an inch.))  Impressive.   In the US, mail-order, V-blocks are available for about $25 for a pair.  See for example:


  • Ramiro EspinozaRamiro Espinoza Posts: 839
    edited May 2017
    Thanks a lot for documenting the process and sharing it. I tell you how I did.
    I simplified the system because I still don't have several specific tool, but I successfully transferred the design by covering in soot a brass relief engraving of my model (ordered at an engraving store). I used my Pigeon lamp (filled with white spirit) to cover in soot the engraved letter and instead of film, I transferred the impression on a piece of coated paper. Then I rubbed carefully the paper on the surface of the punch, which was pressed in my vice. It worked very well. After this, I used an etching needle to fix the contours of the letters because the soot goes easily away when you star to file the punch.
    But I understand now a tracing box can be much more conformable, specially if you need to lay a grid with the etching needle.
  • Just realized that I left out one step.  The transfer works better if the mylar is slightly oily.  To make it so, Stan used a lump of modeling clay (plasticene/plastilina).  Knead a lump of it to soften it, then push the lump against the mylar where you'll be doing the transfer, then remove it.  The clay is oily, so some of the oil remains on the surface.  I can't remember if he did the same to the punch blank surface (you wouldn't  to the type to be sooted; it would burn away).  My notes also say that in preparation for all of this he cleaned the Drawing Box (and I presume the "sooting box" and the type, though my notes are silent on this) by at least wiping them down, preferably with alcohol.

    My notes say "burnish lightly" when transferring the soot image, so I'll bet Stan called the rubbing tool a burnisher.  I wouldn't swear to it, though.  (Sorry if I end up saying "I forgot" too often - we covered a huge amount of information in those five days.  Even a binder full of notes and nearly 1000 photographs couldn't capture it all.)

  • Ramiro EspinozaRamiro Espinoza Posts: 839
    edited June 2017
    I just tested again my primitive method and it can be done this way, albeit not so comfortably, with no drawing box, no film and no plasticine. I pressed my punch in my vise, then transferred carefully the soot impression on a piece of paper and then used this piece of paper to transfer it again on the surface of the punch. I read somewhere you can replace the modelling clay with some candle wax and that is what I am doing: I rub some wax on the surface of the punch to make it more 'soot friendly' :)

  • Here is my affordable but very functional version of the tracing box, made out of laser cut layers of plywood. I will try later to add metal plates on bottom and top and possibly a harder wood, but for the moment it works super fine. The screw came from an Ikea's desktop lamp.

  • The flat rubbing tool is definitely a burnisher. You should be able to find one if you search for printmaking tools.

    And I want to add, thank you for sharing these type making posts. I'm very interested in hearing more.
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