Big Jump Press

Diagnostic Adventures at the London Print Studio

SP20I’ve been popping in and out of the London Print Studio lately to see what their letterpress situation is. They’ve got a Vandercook SP-20, a beautiful and enormous Boxcar base, but no type or press furniture of any kind. There is some potential for polymer platemaking, relief printing from linoleum blocks or wood cuts, and pressure printing. I am hoping to run a course of some kind there soon, and so I visited last Wednesday to try printing in the shop for the first time. I had big plans to make some plates and work on a first print for the Figures project that I’m producing with Dave Allen. But instead, I bumped into some technical problems.

This is not unusual.

When you spend all of your time using equipment that was manufactured more than 50 years ago, you are bound to bump into some technical issues. The likelihood of encountering problems increases exponentially if you are running around using a number of different presses in different shops. Every letterpress printer must, to a certain extent, also be a diagnostician. When things started to go wrong with the press on Wednesday, I had to run through a checklist of possible problems and do my best to eliminate them one by one in hopes of eventually identifying the issue and, if all went well and I had access to what I needed, fixing the stupid thing.

The problem: When I cranked the cylinder, the oscillating roller and the front rubber roller did not engage and turn.
What’s the big deal: If the rollers aren’t turning, they will not put ink on your printing surface in the right way. The rollers will drag across rather than turn over the type or lino block etc and the ink will be laid down unevenly. Additionally, because the oscillating roller isn’t engaging with the front roller, the ink will not be distributed and replenished after depositing ink on the surface. Basically, what you are printing will look awful, and you will be judged and cast out of polite printing circles.

So I tried a dozen different things, adjusting roller height, tightening screws, removing things to see what would happen, peering intently at different parts while crouched uncomfortably at strange angles, and (the old stand by) scowling at the press. Eventually I had eliminated all but one possibility. The rollers were obviously very old, this was clear due to their glossy texture and the fact that the press itself had stood in the studio for years but barely been used. My hunch was that the two rubber rollers, designed to be the same, had different circumferences. Specifically,  the front roller must have  a larger circumference than the back, gear driven roller. To test this theory, I measured each roller in several different places with a bit of scrap paper.

I shall measure the rollers.front roller first, and then . . .

Wait, these are narrower. WTF.DAMN STRAIGHT. The back roller, the one attached to the gear that drives all of the rollers as they move down the bed of the press, was TOTALLY SMALLER than the roller at the front. It was not engaging with the oscillating roller because the larger, front roller was getting in the way. This was good news for me because I had further proof that I am a genius,* but bad news for my plans for printing that day because you can’t print if the rollers don’t roll. Sometimes, though, if you are lucky, there is a solution hiding right nearby.

BRAND NEWLIKE A TOTALLY FRESH SET OF ROLLERS hidden in the cabinet under the press for god knows how many years. Based on the unbroken label, I could see that these rollers had been cast for a completely different shop before the London Print Studio had acquired this press. And there they had sat, untouched by time, dormant and unused, waiting for a frustrated printer to dig them out and return them to their rightful place. So that is what I did.

First I took the bits off of the old, black, glossy, front roller:

bits come off.And then I put those bits onto the fresh, beautiful, old, new, orange roller.

bits go onNow it’s time for the back roller. Look how old and glossy it is! I removed the gear:

more bits come offand slapped it onto this dusty, ancient, new roller.

bits go on some more.Isn’t it nice when everything fits perfectly, just the way it should?

old and bad, new and good Once all of the bits and pieces were exchanged, it was time to get them on the press and start up again. And do you know what happened? TOTAL PRINTING VICTORY.


Time to print

and to work!A print is well on its way. Blammo.

*to all of you who could have figured this all out immediately without an hour of scowling and tinkering (I’m looking at you, Paul Moxon) I am begging you not to tell me about it. For any of you who, like most of us, need a little help puzzling out what is going wrong, the troubleshooting section of Paul’s Vanderblog is a great place to start.

10 comments on “Diagnostic Adventures at the London Print Studio

  1. Eileen
    February 25, 2013

    You are a genius, I believe I have said that before! If not, I’m saying it now!

    • Big Jump Press
      February 25, 2013

      Ha! Thanks, Eileen! I think you are a genius, too. Wanna hang out?

      • Eileen
        February 26, 2013

        Why, yes, I would love to hand out with you any time! I love reading all of your posts and I share them regularly with my students. Thank you for all the helpful and humorous information!

      • Eileen
        February 26, 2013

        HANG out not hand out. Geez…there goes my genius status.

      • Big Jump Press
        February 26, 2013

        GREAT! Now we just have to conquer a slight USA/UK geographical problem, But I am sure that we are bound to be in the same place at the same time eventually. It’s a small book world. (Any chance at all that you might go to PBI, by the way?)

        Thanks for sharing the posts with your students! That makes me feel nice.

  2. velma
    February 25, 2013

    sarah, i have a teesny kelsy tabletop, for which i replaced the rollers (or rather my press-fixing son did) and one summer day i noticed that those lovely new unused (sigh) rollers had melted onto the table under the press. i’m told by letterpress types (!) that this is *normal*. nothing about presses would surprise me now. good luck!

    • Big Jump Press
      February 26, 2013

      Velma! that is so sad! And gives me a whole new thing to be paranoid about!

  3. Laura.
    February 26, 2013

    you ARE a genius! also glad i’m not the only one who makes jokes about being one. . . .

  4. Laurie Jo Wright
    May 9, 2013

    And informative, with humour. It makes it almost inticing to get in there with the letterpress – but I am still waiting for the course, first.

    • Big Jump Press
      May 9, 2013

      Hi Laurie! It will happen! I have just been so busy with prior commitments that it has been difficult to find time to schedule something. I promise to keep you posted, though!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on February 25, 2013 by in Letterpress, Visits and tagged , , , .
%d bloggers like this: