Equipment in use at the Excelsior Press Museum Print
Kelsey Excelsior Press

Adjusting the Platen on your
 Small Platen Press

Craftsman Imperial Platen Press

Adjusting the platen on a Kelsey Excelsior 6x10 :

> from: Valerie
> subject: Kelsey Victor 6x10
> message: Hi Alan - I purchased a Kelsey Victor that Louis had restored, and I'm finally getting around to printing with it. My printing experience is with a Vandercook only, and I think I overestimated my capacity to transfer my knowledge to using the Kelsey. I am getting absolutely no impression. So, I'm wondering if you can recommend a source that will provide me with the very basics on setting up, leveling the platen, proper packing/makeready, etc., since I can't seem to figure it out on my own. Thanks so much for any suggestions!
> ------------------------

Yes. I think I can help. This is a common issue on older or restored presses and I have developed a small kit to make adjusting the platen pretty much a straightforward, 10-minute process.

Most folks recommend doing a quick adjustment using a 'lollipop' - a tool made for adjusting roller height, but also handy for getting a first setting on a platen.

At The Excelsior Press, however, we are fortunate to have been the recipient of a very special gift from Gene Mosher, manger of the Kelsey Company from 1958-1994. Mr. Moser gave us the actual platen leveling gauges made for and used by The Kelsey Company in Meriden Connecticut - and most likely used to level the platen on your own press when it was new.

Of course, there is only one set of these gauges and few folks have lollipops, and they can be expensive to buy, so we have designed a set of 4 identical Ludlow slugs which can be locked up in your chase to use as a gauge.

We have also developed an identical set of photopolymer plates that can be used just the same way when mounted on any full-bed plate base.

First of all, your platen should be just about .918"  from the bed (aka "type height") when the platen has 3-5 sheets of oiled tympan paper on it - one top sheet, clamped in place by the bails, 3-4 more oiled tympan sheets underneath.

The trick is getting a .918 measurement. The way I do that - and the best way I can recommend that you do it - is with some Ludlow slugs (4) that I cast with three different-sized "X"'s embedded on ends of the slugs. These are exactly .918 high. You can do the same thing with 4 large and 4 small letters locked up in the corners. However, not everyone has 36 point type to do this with, so my Ludlow slugs fill the bill perfectly.

I have not documented nor promoted my 'platen leveling kit' on the web site yet, but I have used it here with students to great success.
(In fact, this may well be the beginning of a web page on the subject including photos and illustrations...)

Here's the procedure in a nutshell:
  1. Lock up my Ludlow slugs so that the X's fit nearly into the four corners of your chase.
  2. pack your platen with one oiled top sheet and 3-4 oiled under sheets
  3. Install the chase and take an impression on a 3 sheet stack of some 20# bond or similar paper
  4. turn the top sheet over and look at how much impression comes through from the lighter x's vs the larger, bold x's. -  compare the top sheet with the others to see which X is highest.
  5. Loosen the lock nuts and adjust the platen leveling screws (can be accessed easily from the front when you pull down the handle to close the press)
  6. Adjust the screws and strike more impressions until all four corners make the same amount of impression.
  7. At this point, ink up your press and use the same letters to check your ink roller height. It is not at all uncommon that taping the trucks (not the rails) will allow you to set the rollers to leave a 12-18 point stripe of ink on the larger Xs in your chase. This will require some photos to properly illustrate, and I have not taken any photos yet. I guess this is something I'll have to do in the next few days so that I can build the web page, promote my kit and instructions, and help you get your press properly adjusted to do good printing...

If you need any items from my "starter kit" selection on, I can easily add a platen adjustment kit to the package. Otherwise, figure $13.50 + 4.95 shipping to send a set of slugs to you.

BTW - I also cast custom lines of Ludlow for printing. Customers often like having their name - or the name of their studio - or even just 'common phrases' cast on reusable slugs. I have fonts from 10-72 point - but have also not yet posted my "fonts available" list on the site. One more little project I need to get to...

If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to call.

- Alan
908 627-2730

We will add photos of this kit in use as soon as we have our next set ready to go.

BUT - until then, here's an excellent page - from THE CRANKY PRESS - on leveling the platen on a larger table-top press

For more information on using the Kelsey - or any small press - we recommend a visit to Don Black's web site, where he has published portions of the orginal Kelsey "Printer's Guide" -


last updated 3/1/2010 6/15/2012 7/27/2016
contact Alan with Questions