Composing Stick

The Process of Printing

Composing Stick
Com­pos­ing Stick

This piece assumes that you have a small hand or treadle-operated clam­shell platen (ie one in which the bed and platen are simply hinged to each other), with a rotat­ing disc for dis­trib­ut­ing the ink and one or two forme-rollers to deliver ink to type. All table-top Adanas, Ajaxes, Mod­els and their Amer­ican equi­val­ents work this way. They are essen­tially Jekyl and Hyde com­prom­ises. Used one impres­sion per stroke of hand or foot, they can pro­duce over 500 legible impres­sions per hour. How­ever at such speeds register and the pos­i­tion of the impres­sion on the paper is unlikely to be con­sist­ent and ink­ing will be sim­il­arly vari­able, mostly under or over-inked, rarely just right. If you are pro­du­cing fly­ers for the jumble sale that may be accept­able, but with a more care­ful, con­sidered approach, these un-assuming machines can pro­duce impec­cable printing.

Before mount­ing the forme, pre­pare your ink and apply some to the disc, fit the press rollers (forme-rollers) and, press the handle or treadle sev­eral times to give them an even coat­ing. Now install the chase with its forme of type and run the rollers over it sev­eral times without fully clos­ing the platen onto the bed. When evenly inked, take a trial impres­sion on the tym­pan pack­ing and, after whatever make-ready adjust­ments have been made, mark the required mar­gins and pos­i­tion the lay-gauges (of any sort) and the friskets or grip­pers, if fit­ted, mak­ing sure they are clear of the type.

Arrange your stack of paper, fanned slightly so that you can eas­ily pick up one sheet at a time, within easy reach of the hand not power­ing the press. Have a clean gal­ley or a shal­low box nearby, to receive the prin­ted sheets and, in case you might slightly over-ink, a pile of sheets of cheap paper (un-printed news­print, or pages torn from last year’s tele­phone dir­ect­ory). These can be used to inter­leave your prin­ted sheets, thus any set-off will mark the inter­leaf rather than spoil the back of your next sheet.

Exam­ine your first prin­ted sheet care­fully for faults and if pos­sible, get someone else to act as proof-reader. When sat­is­fied, start print­ing; keep an eye on the ink level, depend­ing on the bold­ness of the forme. you may have to re-charge the disc with ink every twenty or so impres­sions. Roll your hand-roller back and forth sev­eral times to keep the ink in con­di­tion and aim to apply just enoughto the disc-too much and you’ll waste some of the effort you’ve already put in. Start with a little, you can always add more.

When you’ve fin­ished the run, remove your prin­ted sheets to a safe warm place-gentle heat will help them dry-before clean­ing off the press, type and rollers. Clean type with turps and soft cot­ton rag or tis­sue, fol­lowed by gentle brush­ing, with a brush no harder than a soft tooth-brush, to remove ink from the coun­ters. Take par­tic­u­lar care of rollers and keep them sup­por­ted above any shelf and sep­ar­ated from each other; don’t allow them to become flattened or den­ted. After an hour or so, check that your prin­ted sheets are not stick­ing together as a res­ult of being over-inked. If so, peel them gently apart and re-stack, inter­leaved with clean sheets. Tele­phone dir­ect­ory paper is bet­ter than news­pa­per since the ink is more cer­tain to have fully dried.

This art­icle kindly sup­plied by John R Smith of the Old Forge Press

A UK-centric view of letterpress printing