equipment in use at the Excelsior Press
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Restoration of a 5x8 Excelsior for

University of Pennsylvania Libraries

Press and Temperature in Paint Booth Special Features
of this Restoration

Updates:
click on any photo for a closer look


The University of Pennsylvania Libraries
needed some printing presses. They needed a flatbed - galley style - proof or sign press and a mobile platen press
, so they came to us. They took a nice Morgan Line-o-Scribe we had here and asked me to restore a 5x8 Kelsey for them as well.


They have organized A Year of Whitman, to celebrate the bicentennial of the birth of Walt Whitman, America's "poet of democracy," on May 31, 2019.

Whitman at 200: Art and Democracy  is a Philadelphia/Camden region-wide series of cultural events and artistic commission generated by Penn Libraries and partner organizations which recognizes Whitman's connection to the region, where he lived the last two decades of his life, and his far-reaching relevance today.

One of the projects is an undergraduate public art course on Whitman and letterpress printing being taught at the University of Pennsylvania. The course, Walt Whitman and the People's Press, will design a mobile printing studio and develop programming around Whitman and printing.

The mobile printing studio will be deployed in late May and early June to various locations in the region to share Whitman's poetry and his interest in letterpress printing with those communities. The presses at the Common Press, Penn's letterpress studio, were too large and heavy for such a project, so Lynne Farrington, the Project Director, and Mary Tasillo, the manager of the Common Press, went looking for two tabletop presses - one rolling and one platen - for the mobile studio demonstrations. They contacted us in search of the presses they needed and picked up the Line-o-Scribe last fall and are looking forward to this fully restored platen press as soon as the full restoration is completed. 

Another part of the project is a symposium, to be held in late March at the Kislak Center. It will include a printing demonstration with the two tabletop presses at The Common Press. For that reason, we are doing a full factory restoration of this 1941 Kelsey 5x8 Excelsior Model O.



The press has been fully disassembled, with all cast iron parts sandblasted and immediately primed. It is getting new stainless steel shafts which will be held in place using spring steel E-clips, a new set of freshly-cast 20-durometer urethane rubber ink rollers - soft but hardy and good for at least ten years' service, a new gripper spring and new grippers and new - or perfectly restored - roller hooks and springs.

It will be mounted on a 12x18" cabinet-grade 1/2" maple plywood base, and since this will be a portable exhibit, the base will also have handles for easy moving. All in all, this press will, when done, be better than new - fully "factory re-manufactured" by an experienced press restoration team. See some of the special features being incorporated into this restoration.



A little interesting history about this press: It began printing in Philadelphia many years ago, but then was taken to Michigan by its owner, who then decided that he no longer needed it, so he contacted me and brought it back to PA with him on a family visit. So now, the press is going "back home" to Philadephia, where it first began printing so many years ago...


And more... A few years after this press was built, Kelsey Company and/or Pfeiffer Company of Newark, NJ built an identical press - but cast in aluminum to save weight and designed for quick assembly and disassembly so that it would fit into a suitcase and be air-dropped behind the lines in Europe for use by the Dutch Resistance in their struggle against Nazi Germany during WWII.

Such a press was found recently in Holland, but since the story is that it had been airdropped by the British, their press was initially assumed to be an English-made Adana press. The museum in Holland contacted us to confirm its identification, but we told them that it was not the Adana they had assumed it must be, but was a 5x8 Kelsey press just like the one we are restoring for UPenn. And, it was made in the U.S.

This press, however, was special. It was cast of aluminum and was also modified for easy assembly and disassembly and was carried in a normal-sized suit case. The cast-iron press weighs 65 pounds, whereas one cast of aluminum would only weigh about 25 pounds, so a these presses were supplied to the British who arranged for them to be air dropped to the Dutch Resistance who used them to forge official documents and anything else needed to support the resistance.


Press and Temperature in Paint BoothJan 30, 2019
Progress so far:

Well, the press was sandblasted and primed quite a while ago, so the first step was to remove the old primer and prepare the press and parts for repainting. This time, it will be black.

The ink disk has been refinished on the lathe, using the sanding sponge shown to the bottom left corner of this photo. We made a special adapter that allows us to mount the ink disk on our big Shop Smith lathe and we can hand-sand the surface to make it shine like new - better than new, in fact!

Temperature in Paint BoothSo most of the parts have had the primer and any surface rust or imperfection removed, and are about ready to paint.

But today, it is too cold in the shop. 5 degrees outside, barely 50 in the shop. Too cold to paint. Temps should rise in a few days and then we can get the paint cabinet up to a more appropriate 70 degrees. The device shown in the lower right of the photo above is our laser temperature sensor, which can tell us - within a few degrees - when the cast iron parts are warm enough to accept paint for a perfect wearever bond. Right now, it's just too cold...


New Stainless Stell shaftsNew Stainless Stell shaftsWe have cut new stainless steel shafts and turned them on the lathe to a perfect finish, as opposed to the originals which were simply rough cut of common steel bar and driven into the chassis, with one end nicked or mushroomed to hold them in place. That usually worked pretty well, but certainly not always. The shafts we will use will be held in place using spring steel clips. Our next lathe chore will be cutting the channels for the clips. These new shafts are cut from 1/2" stainless steel rod so not only will they last a lifetime, but, since stainless steel is not as hard as cast iron, any eventual wear (say, 100 years from now) will show on the shafts, which will be easily replaceable, and will preserve the precisely milled shaft holes of the casting for hundreds of years into the future.

Next: Continued paint prep, cutting slots for the clips, casting a nice set of rollers. And, while the rollers are curing, we'll be cutting new delrin trucks for them and fabricating a new gripper shaft and spring and a set of nice grippers.

Then we'll go into the wood shop and make a nice 12x18" base of finished cabinet-grade plywood and, after the finishing has dried, we'll install the reassembled press on its new new base.

Once it's on its base, it will be time to begin set up - platen leveling, ink roller adjustment, some light lubrications and some test printing to make sure it's 100% perfect.

A lot goes into a proper restoration... "it ain't just paint!"


Parts ready to paint2/4/19:

74 degreesBut, speaking of paint... temps rose to 60 outside today, so warming the paint booth and the parts to a better temperature for painting - 70-80 degrees - was pretty easy, especially with the new electric heating pad in the paint cabinet. The parts shown to the right are about to be painted...

Radiused Chase CornerAnd speaking parts about to be painted, here's something special about the chase. Note the inner corners of the chase in the photo to the left. The have been radiused - not by Kelsey Co. in 1941, but by us in 2018. The reason we have done this is to actually strengthen the chase.

It might sound odd - to remove material to strengthen the chase. But it works - and here's the story... While working with the folks at The National Museum of Industrial History last year, I was exposed to quite a few retired engineers who volunteer at the museum. They loved stopping by the printing exhibit to admire our old presses and the working Linotype.

One afternoon, while three of them were visiting "The Printery", we were comparing a 5x8 Kelsey chase with the chase from a 10x15 Chandler & Price. The C&P chase was radiused on the inside of each of the corners. The Kelsey chase was not. The engineers all laughed and explained to me that the inner corner radius was there to disperse the energy and that radiusing the inner corner actually strengthens the corner. Apparently, this is something well known to engineers, but not to printers - or the Kelsey Company in 1941.

I once broke a Kelsey chase while locking up a form - and I have seen quite a few that were welded or brazed to repair such a corner break, so I know that they can fail. As a result of gaining this new knowledge, we have radiused the corners of this chase to prevent such a sad occurance any time during the estimated 100-200 years (or more) of its future.


Painted PartsAnd now the painting begins...

To the left are the main chassis, the chase latch, the doglegs, the platen holder and the chase - nicely painted a medium semi-gloss black. The Excelsior Model O

The mounting holes on the bottom of the base have also been "rounded" a bit - to make for a better fit of the 1/4x20 bolts that will fasten the press to its new base. Kelsey never did this, and the result is that most presses have slots that are uneven and not round, making it difficult to properly mount the press on a board. By rounding the holes, we will have a more secure mount on its new 12x18" maple mounting board.

OK. There are still more parts to be prepped and painted, so it's back to the work shop for now....

2/22/19 - Friday

OK. After a too-long delay, we are back to work on this press.

Last Part to PaintToday, we painted all but one of the remaining pieces. We use a rotating table to make sure we apply paint from every angle. And, to protect the bearing surface inside of any holes in the castings, we fill them to keep paint out. For all large holes, we stuff them with rolled-up paper towels. For the 1/4" holes, we use wooden dowels.

Wooden dowels in 1/4" holes


Hioles stuffed with paper towel


AND, one more trick taken from our friends at Chandler & Price... On their large presses, they cut a slot into the mounting piece for the ink disk. This slot is to encourage and enable regular oiling of the ink disk shaft. Since we have encountered many Kelsey presses with stuck or slow-moving ink disks, it appears that these shafts are not being oiled as they should be.

Ink Disk Oil HoleWell, with our new feature, (see the small nick on the bracket in the photo on the right) this problem may be an issue of the past. We have cut a small channel into the back of the disk mount to indicate where a drop of oil should be placed. This little channel will also assure that the ink goes to the place where it is needed most - directly to the shaft.

We'll be adding these features to all future restorations.



The Cluttered Workshop...and now - the last photo from today is of the cluttered work shop itself - complete with my assistant, Mr. Bo Jangles - a rescued Sharpei who joined our family a few years ago. Bo spends a lot of time in the shop - and in the yard - and in the woods, and he always has a tail ready to wag and a gentle bark used to greet anyone who wanders onto his land...

Next, we'll paint that last part, then begin reassembly of the press, cast new ink rollers for it, and prepare a nice maple base to mount it on...


2/25/19 - Monday

Press Chassis on BaseStill a lot to do, but it's coming together. The painting is all done. The base is made, corners rounded, marked and drilled for the mounting bolts. t-nutIn fact, the main chassis of the press is bolted to it, using counter-sunk t-nuts that will never come loose like screws might as this press is carried from place to place during the traveling exhibit. 

mounting boltWe'll remove the chassis later to do a final sanding and staining and varnishing of the maple base, and will install handles front and back, but this is how it will go together.

The extra work put into rounding the insides of the mounting tabs made positioning and mounting the bolts much easier than dealing with the rough castings as we did in the past.



Main Parts ready to assembleAnd now, with the main parts waiting to be assembled onto the chassis, it's actually beginning to look like a printing press! Next, we'll be casting the rollers & making the roller trucks. While the rubber rollers are curing, we'll cut grooves into the shafts and begin assembly. We'll remove the press, sand and finish the base, then make the new gripper bar and spring, add the roller hooks, mount the rollers, set the platen level and roller height and begin some printing!




Rounding the corners of the maple base
Rounding Jig on Shop Smithbase on jigRound Corners
We devised what we feel is a pretty clever little jig for rounding the corners of the base. Rather than pull out the router or cut radiuses on the band saw, with this attachment to the Shop Smith, we can simply mount the board and rotate it to get a perfect 1 3/8" radius on all four corners. No measuring, no cutting. No muss, no fuss... Just nice, smooth round corners, quickly, easily and consistently. We're so proud of this process that we've posted a video of it on our Youtube channel.

We got some really spiffy - simple, but classy - steel rod handles to install on the front and back of the base.This press will be portable. Handles will help, and these are both strong and attractive (see finished base below)


Due to considerations of temperature (19 degrees outside tonight), we are pre-warming the roller casting tubes and roller shafts so that they will be at 70 degrees when casting begins.

3/15/18 - Fri
day

[photo of Delrin Locking Truck]  Locking Roller Truck for 5x8 Kelsey ExcelsiorThe ink roller shafts have been cut, turned and drilled to accept pins that will lock the trucks into place on the shaft and prevent the trucks from moving too close to the rubber as the rollers go up and down.

The new Delrin trucks have been turned and drilled and reamed to fit the roller shafts perfectly. A channel has been broached on the inside of each truck to allow them to slide over the locking the pins, then lock into place on the shaft like on the big presses.

Big platen presses generally had shafts that had been "pinched" to raise a bit of steel which their trucks would lock onto. We can't pinch the steel, but we can drill holes and insert spring-steel roll pins that serve exactly the same purpose.

Kelsey chose not to lock their trucks to the shaft like it is done on larger platen presses. Like most table top press manufacturers, they allowed the trucks to roll free - independent of the roller. It's easier - and cheaper and faster - to do it that way - and it may not really make a lot of difference on a small table top press, but we think that this way is better. The problem with free-wheeling trucks is that it's contact with the form that drives the rollers, and when those inky rollers make first contact with the top edge of the form - whether an engraving, photo-polymer plate or a piece of type - it can smear the ink on the leading edge. This is a problem known as slurring - and is usually overcome by use of roller bearers - to drive the rotation of the rollers using a thick solid line on the side of the form to make the rollers... roll.

With locked trucks, roller bearers - and the complications they introduce to small press work - are less often needed - as long as the rails are kept clean and dry and the roller spring tension is just right. The spring tension of the roller hooks can be  difficult to achieve on a basic Kelsey design style press. The knurled nuts make it easy to tighten or loosen the springs to adjust the pressure.


As has been done with cast rollers for well over a hundred years, the roller shafts have been wrapped with cord, which is glued in place to Roller Shafts for 5x8 Kelsey Excelsiorgive the liquid rubber a bonding surface as it cures so that the rubber will never slip on the roller shafts. Roller Shafts for 5x8 Kelsey Excelsior

For this press, we are casting a set of 20-Durometer Polyurethane rubber ink rollers - Two cups of liquid rubber was mixed, 3 drops each of red, blue and black dye were added to the mixture to give our rollers their distinctive "20-durometer" color and it was poured into the prepared molding tubes this afternoon. Tomorrow, we will remove and inspect the rollers. We'll let them cure for another day or two and then, when the rest of the press is assembled, we'll put them on, ink them up and begin printing!

I can hardly wait....


3/20/19 - Wednesday

Locking Roller Truck for 5x8 Kelsey ExcelsiorWell, no more waiting. The rollers cast well and they have cured for a few days. The excess rubber has been trimmed off in the lathe. These rollers are ready to mount onto the press.
Roller Hoosk  for 5x8 Kelsey Excelsior
The roller hooks are ready to install as well - with their spiffy new thumb screws for adjusting ink roller pressure. Two of the four are shown here.

5x8 Kelsey ExcelsiorAnd now, with the main parts fitted together using wooden dowels, it's beginning to look like a working printing press.

Next step will be to replace the wooden dowels with the stainless steel shafts that will be grooved to accept snap rings to hold them in place for the next 100 years or so...

The photos below show the way we polish the bearing surfaces and install the stainless steel shaft, locked in place with a snap ring.



Poliahing Shaft Bearing Surface Polishing Shaft Bearing Surface Installed Shaft
Before we install the shafts, we thoroughly polish the inside bearing surface of all shaft holes using a power hand drill and wire brush.
Although we had masked off these holes prior to painting, a final high-speed brass-brush polishing makes for a very smooth bearing surface for the shafts. And, the first shaft is installed - and locked into place with a snap ring.

Once all of the shafts are installed, we'll make a new gripper arm shaft and install it and the new gripper arm spring. We'll install the grippers themselves during set-up and adjustment for test printing.


3/21/19 - Thursday

Staining Maple Base Press partsWell, before we replace the wooden dowels with the machined stainless steel shafts, we have to prepare the base, so today was a day dedicated to the Maple base that this press will be mounted on. The press was disassembled and the parts set aside. Maple stain was applied to the maple wood. Note how the color deepens...

Since this press will be mobile, we found some really stylish handles and mounted them to the base for easy handling. We positioned the handles and drilled and counter-sunk mounting holes. The handle to the rear of the press will be raised to allow clearance of fingers beneath it and above the press base. press on base with handles

After two applications of maple stain and three applications of polyurethane protective varnish, the base is ready to spend the night in the warm, dry paint booth.Finished Base Bottom In the morning, we'll go over it one more time with steel wool, then wipe it down and finish with some oil. Then we will mount the press chassis and begin the final assembly with the new shafts.

We have also oiled some of the bare steel as well as some of the painted press parts using mineral oil. The mineral oil will protect the bare steel and make the painted surfaces really shine.
Restored 2019
And, in case anyone was wondering if we are proud of our work on this restoration... I had wanted to get an engraved metal plaque, but I think this label printed on our computerized P-Touch Label Printer will do. I just hope that laying varnish over top of the already plastic-coated printed label will protect it and keep it on the base. We'll see how it holds up to a lot of handling...

Now we're ready to finish the shafts and put it all together and get ready to print.

3/22/19 - Friday

Base with HandlesToday, we finished the base and installed the front and rear handles. We made some spacers on the lathe and installed them to raise up the rear handle to give some extra clearance.

The base sat in the warm paint booth overnight to dry thoroughly. With 2 coats of maple stain & 3 coats of polyurethane varnish, it should be easy to clean when ink drips onto it... So, a final steel-wool rubdown, then the ink cleaning test...

Ink Test 1
Ink Test 1 Ink Test 1 Ink Test 1 Ink Test 1
A spot of red ink
Wipe off with
Mineral Spirits

Wipe Clean
Clean
Can't even see
that ink was there!

Looks like this base will be easy to keep clean...

Shaft Numbers
After the ink clean-up test, we reassembled the press on the finished base and began replacing the wooden dowels with machined shafts. The shafts we had initially cut are a bit short to allow for the ring clips, so we're making a new set... that will fit perfectly. This photo shows the numbered wooden dowels. Each shaft is a slighly different length, and there are seven of them, so numbering makes it easier to keep track of them and document the precise lengths needed.

As soon as the new shafts are installed and clipped into place, we'll adjust the platen to level, add the rollers & adjust them for perfect inking height, add ink, mount some tympan paper, insert a form, set the gauge pins... and begin printing.

- ...and that may be tomorrow!




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Special features of this restored/remanufactured press:

n.b.: We know these presses pretty well, have over fifty years' experience doing letterpress printing, and have been restoring Kelseys for well over ten years now, so we are constantly thinking about ways to make them work better - more like the big presses that I know so well. (I replaced my Kelsey 3x5 with an 8x12 Chandler & Price when I was 14 years old...) As we come up with new ideas, we incorporate them into our restorations. Here are some of the things we are doing to this press to make an old Kelsey press "better than new"...


  1. Lathe-turned and finished shafts, complete with grooves to accept mounting clips.
  2. Radiused chase corners - to strengthen the chase and prevent breaking during quoin lock-up.
  3. Oil slot in ink disk mount - to encourage and simplify proper oiling of the ink disk - and it spinning easily as it should - a common problem on many presses.
  4. Rounding the main frame mounting holes - to make a better and more stable mount - and to eliminate a major annoyance when mounting a press to its base.
  5. Locking trucks on the ink rollers - to lock the trucks to the shaft for better ink application control - just like on the bigger presses. Kelsey's trucks were free-wheeling, could "wander" and allowed for slippage and ink slurring.
  6. 20 durometer polyurethane rubber ink rollers. - The softness and tack of old-time composition rollers (no longer available) with the longevity and stability of modern rubber ink rollers. We had been using 30-durometer rollers cast of this rubber for more than ten years, and they do not show their age. They are in perfect condition after ten year's use.
  7. Additional sanding/grinding of castings to minimize rough casting artifacts 
  8. A new, denser, stronger paint that pretty much eliminates chipping caused by thick coats of primer plus traditional paint. Kelsey's painting was professional and lasted a long time. Careless re-painting by amateurs has made a mess of many presses.
  9. A Maple-stained cabinet-grade maple plywood base - with handles for easy lifting. 
  10. ???
 

page last updated  January, 2019 ~ February, 2019 ~ March, 2019


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