Punchcutting has been a part of the activities of the Atelier Press & Letterfoundry almost from its inception. Experimental punches were filed up, struck into matrices and cast in 1971 and work has continued unabated ever since. While three complete alphabets have been cut, special attention has been given to experiment and variety, such as the set of vignettes that form Ghost Ranch Horizon border. (see Portfolio)
Described simply, for centuries punchcutting was the only way to create a new kind of printing type.
To practice this art the punchcutter files and carves a letter or design into the end of a small billet of high carbon steel in the exact size and shape of the desired printing type design, using specialized tools and methods. There are two major kinds of technique, both of which have their advantages. One is the use of counter-punches to form the inner hollows of letters. (see the illustration by Fritz Kredel for Paul Koch's article in The Dolphin) The other method relies entirely on gravers to dig out the counters. When counters are very complex, as was often the case in German fraktur designs, the graver was the only choice.
The finished steel letter is then toughened by heating it to a cherry red color and quenching it in tepid water – making the punch extremely hard, but brittle. Subsequent re-heating draws the hardness back to a suitable state that is ready to be driven into copper, forming a 'strike.'
The copper 'strike' will become a useable matrix once it is 'fitted' ( a process of careful filing and measurement that makes the impression level and of the correct depth, as well as a number of other factors). From the fitted matrix limitless numbers of printing types can be cast.
But it all begins with the original, hand cut punch.