Adjusting The New Press

Before I tell the story, I want to give a little of the background reality… I’m snowed in. The last time I could get my van out was New Year’s Eve, six days ago. Since I’m renting a space in “downtown” Wolf Creek for the letterpress studio and storefront, I need to hike two miles in the snow to get there. The short days and my reluctance to hike on the ice and snow in the dark make for extremely truncated working hours. This pressroom setup is taking way longer than I expected as a result. C’est la vie! It’s still happening at a blinding speed.

Finally, the last part arrived in the mail to allow me to get started printing – freshly covered rollers!
[New rollers on the original antique cores]
The rollers are a critical part of the printing process. They will be adjusted to pick up ink from the big disk and just barely touch the surface of the printing form. (the type and image blocks) One pass across the form and back should evenly coat it with just enough ink for the next impression.
[New rollers and new Delrin trucks on the press]
(Note, I let the rollers sit on the disk like this for about 10 seconds while I took this picture. I don’t need flat spots.)
I got these installed and went on to adjust the platen before I inked up the disk. This is one of those things that needs to be done very rarely, and thank goodness. It is incredibly difficult to get all four corners at the correct height. Each adjustment to one corner affects the other three. You just have to nudge every bolt, closer and closer, until they’re all in the right place. For the last hour of it, I’m literally tweaking the bolts by the tiniest amount to move the platen up and down by 1/1000 of an inch or less.
[Measuring the platen distance, near and far]
There are a few ways to measure the distance from the press bed to the platen. I use a platen height gauge from John Falstrom. ( When the platen is at the right height, the gauge will just barely slide between the press bed and the platen. No wiggling, no pinching.
[Original platen wrench, original grime]
Once the platen was adjusted, I set some type and locked up the form so that it would be ready to go once the roller heights were adjusted. This is my first time trying to evoke a particular look and feel from the cases and cases of type at my fingertips. It will take a long time before I have enough experience with the metal type to quickly choose the right fonts for the task at hand.

 [Metal type from my collection: Stymie and Figaro]
[Linoleum image and type locked up in the chase]
Notice how I have a square frame around the type? The theory here is that I can rotate that square for landscape or portrait cards without having to redesign the rest of the lockup. Once I had the image and type locked up in the right relationship to each other, it was time to test the roller height and make any corrections.
[Height gauge says the rollers are low]
“The Lollipop” is a slick tool that lives on the other end of the Falstrom gauge. It slides under the rollers and tells me if they need to be raised or lowered to ink the form with the correct amount of coverage. In this photo, the ink stripe is about 9/32″ wide. It should be 3/32″ wide, which means I need to raise the rollers up from the rails. Thank goodness all three rollers were the same so I didn’t have to adjust the rollers separately. I added height to the rails with specially made adhesive tape in thicknesses of .005″ and .010″. At the end, I covered the plastic tape with black electrical tape. It provides better grip to prevent the rollers from sliding and the black blends in with the black paint.
[Taped up rail and a closeup of the layers]
It did the trick! Eventually all three rollers were measuring the right height at the top and the bottom of the press bed.
It was finally time to ink up and pull some proofs…
[First proofs are a bit grey]
The first impressions of this card give the appearance of being too light, but that’s not the whole story…
[The type is fine]
The image might look light, but the type is printing perfectly.
[OK, but needs makeready.]
And, on closer inspection, there are parts of the image that are printing correctly. I’ll go into more detail in the next blog post, but do you see how the tips of the branches above the roof and the chimney are printing darker? This means that I need to raise up the paper everywhere BUT in those areas. More on that later…
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