Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Cleaning a letterpress

I was told that to clean an old letterpress, you need fine-grade steel wool, drill bits of various sizes, a bristle brush, 3-in-1, WD-40, kerosene, 30-weight oil and old rags.

I've discovered the other things you need: a whole lot of time, and a Dad.

I took a good stab at the first stages, although getting around the machine can be a bit tricky now I'm most of the way through my second trimester.

First I brushed at least a decade's worth of dirt and grit off the machine with a pan brush. Then I did it again. It was particularly stubborn dirt because it was "glued" in place with all the oil that's required to run the press and keep it from rusting.

Next: the air compressor. When Nathan and his dad bought that noisy monster I thought there was no way I'd ever need it. I was wrong. It's fabulous for blasting dirt and grime out of places that can't be reached with a brush. I went over the press a couple of times with that and was pretty pleased.

Then I started hunting out the oil holes. Letterpresses have more oil holes than you can poke a stick at, and before you can run one that's been idle for a while, you have to find all the holes (many of which are in mysterious and inaccessible places), clean them out with a drill bit and a Q-tip, and then put in a couple of drops of 3-in-1. It's a long process.

I was partway through the oil-hole mission when Mum and Dad arrived from Australia. If I'd known what a letterpress-restoring powerhouse my Dad could be, I might've been tempted to let him handle the whole job.

Actually, he did. We made a couple of runs to Home Depot and Lowes to get extra supplies Dad knew we'd need, and then he went to work.

I wouldn't let just anyone take a stab at fixing the letterpress. It's more than a century old, huge, heavy and dangerous – and despite its bulk it can be ruined. But Dad's spent the best part of his life restoring vintage cars to their former glory. He really knows his way around expensive and complicated old machines.

Well, Dad took over the letterpress corner and was basically unstoppable. One day when I have more time and memory-power, I'll try to make a list of the countless things he did. For now, I'll just go with the old picture's-worth- a-thousand-words... when Dad arrived, the letterpress looked like that (see picture above). Even before he was finished with it, it looked like this (below).

And it worked.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Love and Letterpress

Usually when I tell someone I've bought a letterpress they'll say, "Awesome!" and then, "...what is a letterpress, exactly?"

If you click here, you'll see the mini-documentary on letterpress that still gives me chills. The first 10 seconds tipped me from "I'd like to have a letterpress" to "I must have a letterpress or I'll surely die".

The documentary is type-focused and doesn't show the actual machine that I own (a Chandler & Price Old Style), but it's wonderful, and fascinating, and well worth watching. I promise there are no diagrams.

Right. I'm off to clean more "historical grime" off my press.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Letterpress Saga: Part Four

It wasn't as hair-raising this time.

On New Year's Day, Nathan suddenly decided it was time to get my century-old Chandler & Price Old Style platen press out of storage, where it's been snoozing in climate-controlled comfort since our move from Seattle, and into our garage.

He called a few tow-truck/wrecker companies before he found a guy willing to tackle the job. We learned from bitter (and terrifying) experience that you need a forklift or a tow truck to get this monster from one level to another. We've also learned not to tackle it alone.

This time Nathan and John-the-tow-truck-guy used a pallet jack to get it on the back of the truck and used ratchet straps to tie it ten ways to the bed. Then we held our breath all the way from D'Iberville to our house, with Nathan saying helpful things like "It's gonna come off this corner for sure" and "There it goes".

At home, they strapped the press base to the pallet jack, raised the bed and used the winch to inch the press down to the garage. I was holding my breath, but not having conniptions like last time.

It's now safe and sound in my soon-to-be letterpress workshop in the back half of our garage, ready for its grand makeover. There's a lot of work ahead involving drill bits, oil holes, 3-in-1, fine-grade steel wool and WD-40, and no doubt some silent swearing.

It'll be worth it though. I've dreamed of this forever.