Two Letters Re: Disseminating Local News and Information in a Grid-Down Societal Collapse

I think Brian raises a good question and your suggestion about using manual typewriters and mimeograph machines is a great idea. Here’s another one. While watching the the first season of Jericho DVDs, I noticed that in an episode titled “Black Jack” some of the characters went to a barter fair called Black Jack. They had to travel 200 miles to get to this town. The town’s fairgrounds were used as a barter fair location and in the middle (I assume the middle) was a tall board with a platform and a big roll of newspaper on the top. A writer standing on the platform would receive news from various sources and pull down the paper and write the news on it so everyone could see. I was thinking if rolls of paper are not available one could use black boards screwed together. If “black board paint” is available they could paint some 4′ x 8′ sheets of plywood. A place like this could become a very important gathering place for the local community to exchange news, barter for goods and bring some level of normal life back to folks post TEOTWAWKI. Just My Humble Opinion. – Larry in Kansas


Dear Jim;
As a former offset press operator with an interest in Christian missions and the underground Church, I’ve spent considerable time in researching simple printing methods. There are multiple methods that are suitable for short-run print production, though many take a degree of skill and a bit of patience to produce.

An excellent reference book for those interested in the manual printing arts is “The Alternative Printing Handbook,” (ISBN 014046509X), published by Penguin, but now out of print. Used copies are available on Amazon, though it’s listed there as “The Art of Printing by Hand.” It covers multiple printing methods for the do-it-yourself, small-scale printer. I’d like to touch on methods that require no power and are accessible to anyone with a little time, patience and a desire to get the word out.

You’ve already mentioned stencil duplicating, which I have used in the past. The Wikipedia article you linked to is an excellent introduction to the theory and history, but doesn’t contain much on actual process. For someone dealing with printed matter containing great quantities of text, this is one of the easiest methods to use. One of the commercial machines would be handy to have, but not required, as a simple flatbed duplicator can be constructed out of basic materials found in most homes. One benefit of many commercial units is that they are hand-cranked, ideal for a grid-down situation. Some electric units also have a hand-crank option as well, giving the best of both worlds. If you go this route, you will need a supply of blank stencils and the thick stencil ink, as well as a typewriter.

Another method, commonly used today for signs and fabric, is screen printing. Again, simple screen printing equipment can be made at home from readily-available materials and the process is not complicated. However, due to the screens used, it is not suitable for small type, but it is a great choice for handbills and posters. See some samples of DIY screen printing at this Instructables page and at this ThreadBanger page. Of course, you don’t have to build it all yourself if you don’t want to. Many art supply and craft stores offer screen printing kits for beginners at very reasonable prices.
Relief printing uses involves carving a reverse image into a wooden block, linoleum, or other substance that can be carved, inking the block and pressing paper into the wet ink. Though a time-tested method that requires little in the way of specialized tools, it has many limitations. It is time-consuming to create the block and takes a steady hand. Small type is difficult, if not impossible. Plus, the difficulty of working in reverse is quite challenging.

A form of relief printing that is within reach of the average person and allows for legible text is rubber stamping. Several manufacturers produce “make your own text” rubber stamp kits that will allow you to produce small blocks of text. It’s similar to the moveable type pioneered by Gutenberg centuries ago, using rubber instead of metal type. The biggest drawback is that producing anything more than a few sentences involves setting the type in a small block, stamping out however many copies you need, removing the type, setting the next block, stamping that, and then repeating… again. It’s time-consuming and tedious work, but for the patient person, it’s better than nothing, cheap to acquire and requires no skills to use. The drudgery involved is also likely to do much to make your writing concise and to the point! Interestingly, the large kits that I would recommend seem to only be offered in the UK. However, eBay is your friend to obtain them.

[Traditional ] letterpress is also an option, but as an older technology, the equipment is hard to come by, and much in demand by artisans who use it for printing and embossing.

Spirit duplication (“ditto” machines) use a dye sheet as a master, which can be typed or hand-written. The dye is released by a solvent and transferred to a sheet of paper. If you recall duplicated sheets in purple ink from your school days, those sheets were made with a spirit duplicator. Used machines can be found on eBay or from time to time on Craig’s List. Look for a hand-cranked model. If you choose this method, you’ll need to lay in a supply of the master dye sheets, as well as the liquid “spirits.”

There are other methods that might be investigated by the curious:
History of Duplication Machines

The biggest drawback to most of these print methods is that the ones that are best for text tend to require consumables that will be difficult or impossible to replace in a long-term disruption. Since some are older, near-obsolete methods, local sources of supplies are unlikely and may be pricey via mail-order. Even if you have a functioning print method, the availability of paper may also become an issue. Despite these challenges, familiarity with printing methods opens the door to improvisation at a later date: knowledge is power! As inspiration, consider Khristianin, an underground publisher in Soviet-era Russia, which created their first hand-operated offset printing press with gears from a bicycle and motorcycle and rollers taken from a washing machine. Ink was derived from burnt rubber boots and boiled moss, yet their first publication was of the entire New Testament. If such a work could be done in secret under one of the most oppressive modern regimes, there is no reason that it could not be repeated should the need arise.

Remember: “Freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one.”

For the Kingdom, – Jason R.