Chandler & Price Hand Fed platen press
Letterpress Printing
in the cold
Golding "Jobber" Hand Press
  About temperature in the print shop. Indeed. The demands of that magic chemistry between ink, rollers, type and paper are more respected than any concerns about the physical comfort of any printer. Many private press shops do not have full climate control and it can get cold in the print shop - sometimes very cold. So cold that ink gets very, very stiff - too stiff to work on the press. But, when it does, we have a solution.

We call it "the ink candle".

When I was young - about 1965 - I met Mr. Liberty, who was in his late 80's at the time and had immigrated from Romania. He told me that as a young printer in Romania, they had placed a thick candle behind the ink table to keep it warm so that the ink would spread properly. I laughed to myself as he told me the story, assuming it was of historical value only.

But, within a few years, I had my first large press set up in my parents' unfinished basement and had to apply that trick myself. Of course, you must be sure to never leave the press idle once the ink candle is lit, as it will create a hot spot on the ink table. And, if you leave the ink rollers - especially soft composition rollers on a hot spot like this -  like a certain young printer I know quite well once did - you will be sadly surprised to return to find a melted roller on your ink table... So. Use the ink candle if you must - but be forewarned...

A few years ago, we had a visitor to the shop who described a press he had just looked at. He was cleaning it and was intrigued when he discovered melted wax on the shelf behind the ink table. He could not understand why it was there or how it got there. I just laughed and pointed to the back of my circa 1914 10x15 C&P to show him the melted wax behind my ink table...

Then I told him the story of Mr. Liberty and his "ink candle" and the mystery was explained..

The technique works well. In fact, the updated procedure for me on those very cold winter days in the barn these days is to remove the entire ink table from the top of the press and lay it on top of my 'trash can' propane heater to warm it up to 100 degrees or so, then replace it on the press and light my 'ink candle'. As the ink table rotates, the candle beneath keeps it work. This technique works very well.

Of course, summertime brings an equally challenging condition. When it gets hot and humid, the ink gets very 'soupy' and must be stiffened with binders to make it usable. Moisture in the paper has an impact as well, too much moisture and the ink simply will not transfer, but a little moisture just makes for a stronger impression.

And, when printing large images, it sometimes helps to moisten the back of the sheets just prior to printing. This is how Gutenberg, Franklin and all those other horizontal platen press printers were able to successfully print large forms of type with a flat platen press. A flatbed cylinder, like the Vandercook, however, has a contact area of only 18 points as the platen rolls over the bed, and such extreme measures are rarely, if ever necessary.

Another interesting anecdote about climate control in a printing shop goes back to the early part of the last century. Mr. Carrier was contacted to control the temperature and humidity in a New York print shop so that the heat and moisture would not affect the printing during a hot summer. His system - the *first* commercial a/c system - worked well and his "air conditioning" business flourished as a result of the interest other printers had for the same system. Eventually Carrier Air Conditioners became a common household word as we began using his home-sized units in our windows during the early 60's....


Please contact Alan Runfeldt with other questions using this convenient and spam-free
 contact form


page last updated February 8 July 30, 2007