Metal Type: Home | Library | Forum | Free Ads | Store

inexpensive letterpress

Started by ABE, September 16, 2011, 07:08:01 AM

Previous topic - Next topic

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Printle: A Printing Word Game from Metal Type


I build affordable bookbinding equipment.    I'm looking for a way to expand my line of equipment, and provide those who want to learn the art of letterpress an opportunity to do so without morgaging their homes.  So, I am researching building an inexpensive letterpress. 
In searching the internet, I have found nothing but a cheapy plastic thing but nothing that would really do letterpress the way it should be done. 
So I have some questions:
When designing this, what are the most important criteria and in what order of importance:
   ease of registration
   size that it will press
   ease of use
One of the designs I have seen is using a 2 ton hydraulic jack and making a simple press with it.  It would seem to me that  using this high a pressure, it would deform the type.  How high a pressure is needed to imboss the paper?  Is the 2 tons spread out over the size of the plate enough, too much, not enough?  How much pressure per square inch would be adequate?
What would be the general size you would like to see?  11x14?  8-1/2 x 11? 
I have seen several different ways to register the paper: 
   Put the paper on the printing plate and place the whole thing in the press.
   have the printing plate on the bottom with the paper on the top and press together.
   Have the paper on the bottom with the printing plate on the top.
Which would you prefer?

I realize that most of you probably run large presses and aren't maybe interested in a home model but since you would know first hand what it takes to make a good image on the paper, I could use your expertise. 
I am familiar somewhat with the process but have never done it so any help you can give would be greatly appreicated, not only by me but those who end up starting the art of letterpress by buying one of the ones I build.  Thanks!

Jeff Zilles [jeffo]

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Many many times over a long and colorful [we also print in RED!] connection [aka marriage] with the printing press and its associated equipment have I been asked whether I knew of a cheap way to build a workable printing device for the amateur printer -- be that so, one of my regular diversions was to seek for a clue which could lead to such an object.

Beware Pilgrims - even though you may inherit, purchase, steal, borrow or fabricate with your own hands a magical contrivance to print from a relief master source - this indeed is merely the tip of the iceberg of which ninety per cent remains hidden below to freeze your rocks off.

The craft of printing has been recognised as one of the most necessesarily over capitalised of industries - often returning as little as three to five per cent on a considerable investment and that reckoned acceptable.

So much for the doom and gloom.

I have long been a student of Popular Mechanics - the earliest copy still existant on my shelves that I actually bought new myself [for one shilling and three pence] dated 1944 - and had noted in some later issues and also included in the 25 volume PM Encyclopedia of DIY, the details for two entirely separate designs of relativly simple machines - one a platen and the other a cylinder, both the brain-children of PM Guru Manly Bannister and now readily electronically accessed by virtue of the Archived Issues of PM being currently added to Google Books as Public Domain.

The links to these pages  - the Cylinder from 1966 ---


and the platen from 1961

The chief drawback inherent in both these designs from a working printer's point of view is the absence of a built-in inking mechanism which could well be a point in their favor should cost be a major consideration

I had intended to build both of these machines with local modifications - some of the timbers recommended may be a bit exotic for rural Oz - the cylinder particularly for its ability, with little modification, to handle engravings and lithographs - therby to verify their promise as useful additions to a small craft printing shop before generally introducing them to non-PM Graduates*.

The answers to Jim's questions will vary from person to person and I may expound my own preferences later when I have thought more about the matter.

Before I go to feed the beast within  - the two ton auto jack solution is usually a slow and inaccurate method of print making and I will venture to say that two tons is inconsequential when it comes to real printing.

From memory, and I could be in error, both the 10" X 15" Heidelberg and British Thompson Platens were cited as having fifty plus tons of impressional strength and the shear collar built into back of each was designed to give way at sixty-five tons to prevent damage to the machine


*To have become a PM Graduate means that you have the requsite skill and adaptabilty to make anything from "old auto junk and pipe bends" and you may also have at some time subscribed to the belief that William Randolph Hearst was God.



This will not be a productive type press as in "production".  It is for the hobby market, making prints one at a time the hard way.  I think that one reason I am successful in what I sell is that people don't want to mess with or have the skills for cleaning up/fixing  an existing machine, they just want to print.  Anyone could print a picture of  what I sell on ebay and take it to a local cabinet maker and have one made.  There is nothing special about my equipment other than it's simple and affordable.  It amazes me that someone would buy a book press fro $57 and pay $80 to have it shipped to Belgium but that has happened. 
So those who are really into letterpress as a total experience would want the gears and oil and cast iron.  I would do that myself if I wanted to pursue this as a hobby!  There was a commercial printer next door with some windmills and they are fascinating!  I love that stuff!  But it also took a mechanic to keep them running.   We may take that for granted but most folks have no clue about mechanics and fixing things.  So they are willing to pay extra for one already working.  My design is simple, hobby, totally non-production, and set up to print, with no fuss, no muss, no mechanical components to repair or keep up.  And I have found that people are willing to pay for that.

It amazes me what people pay for their hobbies. I looking at what's available in the used market, the table top models print small sizes and the larger ones would cost a fortune to ship, after one paid $2500 for the press, or you have to go and get it.  Add to that the price of new ink rollers.   The table top models I saw for sale were 3x5  to 6 x 10 and were either pickup only or major shipping.  I will offer 10 x 16 in a table top model.  I haven't seen a table top that will print that size.

So I guess we are coming at this from different directions.   When I was bookbinding, I joined a binding  forum and it seemed that the concensus of those guys was either do it "right" or not at all.  I think there are alternatives to "right" and I think my online business proves that out.  So far I have sold $7000 of my hand made equipment this year, just as a side business.  Yes, there are fancy pieces of binding equipment out there but they are 3-5 times the cost to do the same thing.  Me equipment doesn't look "traditional", but they give the hobbyist the opportunity to pursue a craft without breaking the bank.  I have also sold to several universities, colleges,  binding associations and binding teachers, one of which required her whole class to buy one of my sewing frames.  So I have found a nitch in that market mainly because there is no one else doing what I do.  From reading about those who are  spending a  money and lots of time time to build their own letterpresses with less than satisfactory results, I think there may be a market there too.   Time will tell.   

Affordable Binding Equipment
Heritage Crafted Interiors

Quick Reply

Please leave this box empty:
Type the letters shown in the picture
Listen to the letters / Request another image

Type the letters shown in the picture:

Shortcuts: ALT+S post or ALT+P preview

Printers' Tales - Over 30 stories from the pre-digital age. Buy now on Amazon/Apple Books

☛ Don't miss our illustrated newsletters. Click here to see examples and subscribe. ☚