Friday, January 16, 2009

Oh, bother

It was bad enough that I smashed three gauge pins on the very first turn of the flywheel. It was worse that I was turning the wheel by hand, and should have felt the resistance... but didn't. It was much, much worse when I opened what I thought was a box of gauge pins and found only replacement tongues. No pins. No pins for me until some new ones can be shipped down from Colorado. That, of course, means no printing for me until next week. My business cards and packaging inserts will have to wait a little longer.

Silver linings to this cloud:
1) at least I discovered I've run out of pins now, and not in the middle of an important print run
2) instead of these spring tongue pins, I'll be getting the very snazzy Kort Adjustable Quad Guides... the Rolls Royce of gauge pins.

There will be No More Smashing.

(You're saying to yourself, is the time stamp on this post correct? Why would she be awake at 3.50am? Indeed, Kickbaby... why are we awake at 3.50am? And why were we awake at 2.50, 1.50, 12.50...)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Triumphantly merry and bright!

My first Christmas cards on the letterpress! Now that everyone has theirs, I won't be spoiling any surprises by showing them here.

I printed these on my trusty Chandler & Price Old Style letterpress using polymer plates I designed myself.

The midnight blue and the silver are printed on separate print runs (and separate days, as it turned out) with a complete press clean-up and oiling in between.

Nothing like some silver ink on the press to get things feeling festive...

Special care has to be taken with two-colour jobs, to make sure the registration is right. A little misalignment will have the elements of the design printing in the wrong places, and that's never a happy thing.

But these worked really well! After a bit of fiddling round with the gauge pins to get the registration spot on, we were away.

Last step: print the press name and web site on the back (being careful, again, to keep the weight of the impression from showing through on the other side).

And ta-da! A whole stack of shiny letterpress happiness!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Halfway there

Letterpress printing is always slow, but sometimes it's really slow. Especially when you create the design yourself, from scratch. I've been working on this project since early October, and I still only have one of the two colours printed.

These berries were pretty enough to be inspiring, so I made several sketches of them one sunny afternoon.

Berry helped by bringing out her crayons and working alongside me. "You drawing a plant, mum-mum? That pretty."

Several weeks passed while I refined the sketches, scanned them, created the final design in Illustrator, and sent the separations away to have plates made.

I needed the berries again to mix the right shade of ink. I got it, even though it looks orange on the press!

Each colour has to be printed separately on the press, with a complete cleaning in between runs. I've only printed the red berries so far, and I'm still looking for enough time to print the leaves – so I can't show you anything!

I promise when they're finished, I'll share.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I don't think my mother-in-law follows this blog, so hopefully it's safe to show you these... they're part of her Hanukkah present.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

New life in the old press

The press is complete.

For the first time in... well, who knows how long... there are no pieces missing.

Thanks to Briar Press (where I found the parts) and Nathan's Dad (who fitted said parts), my 1902 Chandler & Price Old Style now runs like a dream.

The dramatically and dangerously worn lower roller saddles are gone, replaced with intact – and original – saddles and springs (below).

The lower bail, missing since long before I owned the press, has been replaced with an original bail from a parts press.

The 14-inch pulley, which previously had the press running at an alarming 18 impressions per minute, has been replaced with a 7-inch pulley plus a new A-belt. The press now gives a perfect 10 impressions per minute – much safer for my fingers and my jumpy nerves.

I actually sat down and did maths to figure out what size pulley we'd need to reduce the press speed enough to produce the desired number of impressions per minute. I mention this to illustrate my abiding devotion to this letterpress – mathematics and I are deeply suspicious of each other, and prefer not to mingle.

A final and wonderful touch: a really pretty hardwood platform for me to stand on while I'm working. My press is mounted on a platform seven inches high, which makes it very (well, comparatively) easy to move around using a pallet jack, but too high for me to operate. For a six-foot-two man it would be perfect. For five-foot-six me, the hardwood platform makes it perfect. Believe it or not, Dad didn't custom-build it for me. He built it as an absurdly attractive base for a dryer, but it didn't work out. When he brought it down from Dallas and put it next to the press, it was an exact fit. I can't believe my luck.

Of course, now that everything's peachy with the press, I've had no time to print. My very first photopolymer plate arrived today to great fanfare (from me), and even that is going to have to wait.

But when I find myself with three baby-free hours, believe me – I'm ready.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

At last...

A vintage cut of a 1960 Cadillac, some blue and orange stock, a tiny bit of flame-red ink – and we're away! I was so happy to finally print my first "proper" notes on the Chandler and Price, I wanted to jump around.

Unlike last time, I made sure I actually had a good amount of baby-free time up my sleeve to do everything the right way. I even locked up the chase and oiled the press in advance. A note: you can't oil the press too far in advance or the oil will drip out before you get printing – and then you will have climb around the press to painstakingly drip oil into every one of the 30-something obscurely placed oil holes, all over again. You will call yourself bad names.

Here's what the press looks like in action, inking up the plate before the chase is inserted. Why is it a blur? Well, at this stage it was running 18 impressions per minute – too fast! Too fast! I've since fixed the speed issue ... but more on that later.

A first impression on the tympan (above), to help with alignment and placing the gauge pins. You rub that image back with solvent after this impression, otherwise it'll give you a (not-so-) nice reverse image on the back of your lovely cards. And you will cry.

I was completely precise and methodical in my placement of the gauge pins – again, unlike last time – and it made the world of difference. Imagine!

These first cards have gone to Nathan's Dad in Dallas and my Dad in Australia, in gratitude for the untold hours they've both spent working on the Chandler & Price (I owe them so much more, but this is symbolic!) and to Pauline, who's been cheering me on all the way from South Carolina.

Now we're rolling...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Roller crisis averted!

When I bought my C&P, the lower saddles (which hold the third roller) were stuffed with cotton. The inside surfaces of the saddles were dramatically worn, and I guessed the cotton was a makeshift way of keeping the rollers in place and preventing further wear.

The left saddle (pictured above) was bad, but this one was even worse...

When I posted the photos on Briar Press as a kind of "uh oh... what do I do now?" I got some pretty alarming responses from the experts, including:

"The saddle on the one side seems so thin the end looks like it’s about ready to break off. If that happens when the press is running and the roller get smashed between the platen and the bed it could destroy the press."


"That one looks mighty shaky to me and I’d be worried about it breaking and the roller coming loose. The roller springs are pretty strong and exert a lot of force pulling the rollers down. If one end breaks while the press is running I can imagine the roller flying toward the operator or dropping into a closing press. Neither is very desirable. I’d look into finding replacement roller saddles or having a machinist repair the existing ones by welding or brazing in some new metal."

Since I definitely didn't want a roller-flinging, head-injury-inducing, press-destroying disaster on my hands, I decided to deal with the saddles straight away.

Suggestions for having a machinist repair the roller saddles or simply removing the lower roller and printing on just two rollers for a time (which is possible on a Chandler & Price) were fine, but I really wanted to be done with the problem sooner rather than later. I'm ready to have this press in perfect shape. So I posted a Want Ad on Briar Press (bless Briar Press!) and after just one week I'm the proud almost-owner of these good-as-new single roller saddles and springs.

And – bonus! Paul, who's selling me the saddles, is also selling me a bail! You can see the edge of it at the top left of the photo. My press came without a lower bail... whoever used it last had been improvising by fixing the tympan to the underside of the platen with lots of tape. We removed oh-so-many layers of tape. The replacement we had fabricated at a machine shop doesn't fit tight enough in the right places, causing the tympan and packing to bulge and shift – not good!

So it looks like we're solving the very last of the problems. Exciting times...