Sheep skins untanned used for ball leathers. — M.
The pelts that were used previous to the introduction of composition, were sheep skins, with the wool taken off, dressed with lime, and dried. They are nearly superseded by composition balls and rollers.
When they are wanted for use, they are steeped in urine to soften them, then rubbed through a twisted iron to supple them, and to take out part of the moisture, which is termed currying; and afterwards trodden under foot at the press side, by the pressman who is beating, to expel the superfluous moisture; they are then scraped, to clean the surface, and made up into balls, stuffed with carded wool, having a lining made of a pelt taken from an old ball. This lining keeps the outer skin moist, and makes the ball firmer on the stock.
The softer a pelt is, so long as it is not surcharged with moisture, the better it will cover the surface of the type or engraving with ink: and it will also retain on its surface particles of dust, wool, or other extraneous matter, without parting with them to the letter or engraving; so that the work will be better and clearer of picks, than when the pelt is drier and harder.
In knocking-up balls, it is not necessary to tread the pelts, as is usually done, and which is inconvenient when a man is working at half press: it will answer equally well if the pelts be well curried, and, after the balls are made, well scraped; which may be done by placing the ball on the knees, with its handle against the stomach, to hold it firm; then taking a sharp table knife, the handle of which is held with one hand and the point with the other, and scraping from the stock over the edge of the ball to the centre; by which operation the superfluous moisture will be got rid of, and the ball will work equally well as those that have been trod by the pressman.
It is customary for pressmen to throw aside pelts that are greasy, and not to use them, till the last, in consequence of an opinion general among them, that they will not take ink: but, from repeated experiments that I have made, I could not perceive the least difference between the most greasy pelts and those that were free from grease; the one taking ink and retaining it on its surface, equally as well as the other. Since then I have frequently mentioned the subject to some of the most experienced pressmen, who all allow that a greasy pelt is more durable than one clear of grease.
A greasy pelt requires more currying than one that is not greasy; and it is better to let it remain longer in the pelt pot, currying it occasionally, which act the pressmen term giving it exercise. It is an advantage also to curry, occasionally, any pelts that are in the pelt pot; as it improves their condition, and prevents their spoiling, so soon as they would otherwise do, by being in soak, when not immediately wanted.
In the country I have found it more convenient to get sheep's skins from the skinners, without any other preparation than having the wool taken off; and these were more durable, and made softer and better balls, than when dressed and dried in the usual way. See Currying.