BASIC Press works subjects:
Letterpress printing is not rocket science. But it is a craft and there are techniques to study and learn. Below is a short list of subjects worth viewing or reviewing if you are to get the most out of your letterpress experience.
This page will grow as we get more photos - and time to add comments on each of the following subjects:
Tympan, Packing and Make Ready
To mount your gauge pins and set the proper packing thickness on your small platen press, you'll have to first "hang" a "hanger sheet" onto your platen. The hanger sheet is typically a very hard, oiled & calendered paper known as "Tympan" (as in the Timpani drum). The paper is intended to be clamped onto the platen and be stretched as tight as a drum head. (Some tympan is actually marketed as "Drum Head Tympan")
Once your top sheet - the "hanger sheet" is in place, you can open the upper bale and slip in 3-6 additional sheets of tympan, or perhaps a single piece of heavy thick hard "pressboard" and a few sheets of oiled tympan, and perhaps a sheet or two of hard coated "book paper" and lastly, perhaps a sheet of something thin - a 20# bond or some 9# onionskin.
Do NOT use any sort of cardboard for packing. It is too soft and too impressible. Using cardboard can overload your packing and lock up your press. Stick with hard paper and adjust the amount carefully, and you will get a good impression and avoid damage to your press.
This is a good starting point for setting the impression for each particular job. Printing on thick paper requires less packing, printing on thinner paper - or printing a large full form - will require more packing.
Note: If your press requires considerably more packing to get a sharp clear impression - or "punches" the image with this amount of packing, you may want to look at adjusting your platen height - see "leveling your platen"
Beware of the "soft packing". It may force a deep impression, but can also lead to quite literally breaking your press. When soft packing is compressed during the printing cycle, it absorbs energy and produces a "spring-back" effect which can cause your platen, form and bed to "lock up" whereby it is nearly impossible to get it free of impression simply because the packing compressed too much.
In cases like this, it may become necessary to use a wrench and "back off" the platen impression bolts to relieve the pressure without snapping some old piece of cast iron by forcing it through a cycle it cannot safely complete.
Chandler & Price platen presses have been known to lock up like this; Kelseys do it quite often and we have had to repair a number of Pilot Presses - both cast iron and aluminum - which have broken under the strain of too much impression.
So. rule #1: Don't Break Your Press
Now, for some advanced discussion, see: Extreme Make Ready
Setting Gauge Pins
On a small press platen, space is limited. Furthermore, sometimes the left-side gauge pin may be "in the way" of a gripper arm, the left roller rail or an engraving or polymer plate base. When it's a appropriate, you can simply cut a small trianglular slit for the left guide instead of mounting a gauge pin where it may be crushed.
Note: This same triangular slit technique can be applied if you want your left guide to be off of the platen - when you're feeding a wide sheet, for example. When this is the case, you can insert a particularly wide stiff undersheet into your packing and extend it off to the left (or right) of the platen. (We'll add a photo of this next time we think to take one...)
click here for more information on the common Megill Gauge Pins
Mounting a Frisket
Sometimes, you may encounter a job in which the background image of an engraving - or polymer base - or your roller rails or roller bearers - pick up some ink and leave unwanted marks on your printed sheet.
To protect your printed sheet, you can mount a FRISKET onto your press by taping a sheet of packing between the gripper arms, then cutting a hole to let the type print on your sheet.
Note the use in the gague pins photo above of a triangular slit in your tympan in place of a gauge pin. This can be very helpful when using a frisket - and could save your pins from being smashed...
Use of a frisket is also helpful if you will be using ink ROLLER BEARERS to aid in inking. (see more about roller bearers below.)
Taping the Trucks to adjust roller height on a platen press.
Taping the rails is an old trick that works okay on some larger presses - presses like the big commercial-grade Chandler & Price that have 3/4" wide rails. But it's still not accurate on a roller-by-roller basis, and is definitely not a good idea on a table-top press with narrow rails.
Since the technique is known as an old printer's trick, some less-well-informed members of the new letterpress community try to apply it to the smaller presses they use. Not good. The Kelsey rails are only about 1/4" wide and building up tape on them is just asking for trouble.
Shortly after the turn of the century, a fellow named Morgan designed an expandable truck for the C&P and other large presses. This truck can be adjusted to different diameters based upon the condition of the individual roller its mounted on. I use them on my big presses and they work great.
And, that's where I got the idea of taping the trucks instead of the rails - and that's why I sent along the tape for you to use.
I strongly recommend taping the trucks vs the rails. It works well; I do it; I teach it and I endorse the technique. Besides, when you're done, you have a nice rubber "tire" wrapped about you trucks and they roll more smoothly and quietly. Just be sure to trim off any excess tape on the edges - so that the truck edge is clean and does not jam against the hooks.
I have not written a detailed instructions page on this subject yet, but I did address it - with photos - when Lauren and Amanda came by with their 5x8 last June. Please take a look at blog.2011.html to see the June 18 entry showing Lauren's taped trucks.
That's what we're aiming for.
If it still raises the roller about 1/16" of an inch - or the thickness of two heavy-weight business cards, you could still be okay on that press. If not, the truck may need some more tape. I generally use 12-24" tape on each truck, depending upon the press and the difference between the roller and truck diameters - and the height of the rails on the press I'm working on. (see note below)
But do be careful about applying so much tape that the roller does not roll over the form with enough pressure. You may need to increase spring tension if the roller isn't being pulled to the for with enough force to lay ink on the entire form.
Note: Some ill-informed and inexperienced printers believe that the trucks and rollers should be the exact same diameter and should match some oem "specification". But, from my experience - particularly with the Kelsey presses, I have found variations in the height of the rails between presses - and sometimes even between opposite sides of one press.
For that reason, I have decided that the only way to accurately adjust the height of the ink rollers is to adjust the trucks individually to match the press they're on - and a $1 roll of tape and a little bit of time is the perfect way to do that.
Adjusting roller spring tension on a Kelsey Excelsior:
Basically, the challenge is to supply sufficient pressure so that the rollers depress against the form and the trucks roll flat along the rails, but not have so much pressure that they hang up as they roll up the form and onto the ink disk.
That's the trouble spot - you hit it on the upstroke. It's that change in angle from rollers coming across the ink disk then compressing the springs almost fully as the hooks get pulled out and around that sharp angle before they begin going down the form.
Too much tension and you just about pull the press off of the desk; too little and the rollers don't deflect enough to leave a nice film of ink behind. On a 5x8 Kelsey Excelsior, I'd guess the optimum deflection would be something between 6 and 12 points.
The optimum tension? I don't really know. It really is mostly an effort of trial and error to get just the right amount of tension for your press. If I get a gauge on one of my presses, I'll do some tests and update this page.
Using Roller Bearers on a platen press.
The original Kelsey roller trucks were not locked to the shaft as on rollers for larger commercial presses. Since these roller trucks were "freewheeling", and would spin independent of the rollers, many small press users run into problems inking their form properly.
While some replacement roller manufacturers have locking trucks (NA Graphics, Excelsior Parts), many small presses are being used without this advantage. Furthermore, even with locking trucks, there is often insufficient spring tension to "drive" the rollers as they descend the rails and ink the form. The rollers slip and rotate only when they are crossing the form. If you increase your roller spring tension, you may encounter problems opening and closing the press as the rollers navigate the sharp angle between the chase and the ink table.
As a result, when you are printing a small form, or if your roller height is not perfectly adjusted, you may run into issues with roller "slur" which occurs as the ink rollers initially hit your form on the downstroke and quite literally smear the ink a bit against the leading edge of your form. This affects your print quality and does not look good.
One tried and true solution to this is to use Roller Bearers to support and help keep your ink rollers rolling over the form.
To the right, you can see a pair of roller bearers of the style we manufacture for the Kelsey 5x8 press. These bearers are undercut so that they occupy only 18 points (1/4") on either side of the chase. ($28/set from Excelsior Press) These roller bearers are finished to be exactly .918" - aka "Type High".
These next two photos show how to install undercut bearers in a Kelsey 5x8 chase.
Note the undercut of the bearing surface. This allows the user to lock up the bearers so that they take up less space in the chase while giving the maximum support to the rollers as they travel down the form.
On the left, you can see how they will fit over the edge of the chase. On the right, you can see a bearer properly installed. When you lock up your form, these bearers - made of recycled hard wood furniture - will be held in place as would any other piece of furniture in the form.
Other bearers have been used over the years which are simply blocks locked up in the chase. Two disadvantages of this alternate design - especially on small presses - are the width of the rolling surface vs the space they occupy in the chase, and the fact that without the top and bottom undercut, they are contacted by the rollers only after they've reached the form. With the undercut design, the contact surface is wider, the space lost in the chase is limited to 18-36 points, and, with the top and bottom extensions beyond the inner chase area, the rollers contact the bearers before they reach the chase. This way, they are assured to be rolling when they hit the form, thereby eliminating slur on all but the most poorly adjusted or worn rollers.
This makes for better quality printing on a smaller - or, for that matter - on any platen press.
HOWEVER - There's more to think about: When you are using roller bearers in your chase, you will essentially be printing two large stripes on either side of your form.
To protect your printed sheet, we recommend that you build a frisket (see above) to protect your paper from all of this ink..
ALSO - Very important
- Make 100% certain that your gripper fingers and gauge pins are CLEAR of where the roller bearers will strike the form. Otherwise, you will quite likely damage the bearers and be pretty much stuck.... Ignore this warning at your peril!
We will add photos of roller bearers installed and inking as soon as we have our next set ready to go. - unless we get some photos of Fernando using his new set! - as seen in the photos above ;)
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" - http://www.donblack.ca/kelsey/
last updated 3/1/2010 10/14/2011
contact Alan with Questions