Small Presses: Getting the Most from the Least

Adana H/S1
Adana H/S1

The heavier professional machines, designed to print formes involving bold type and blocks generally have a set of rollers dedicated to distributing and preparing or ‘milling’ the ink and another set, the forme rollers, which apply that ink to the type. The lighter treadle or powered ‘jobbing’ platens and the table-top hand platens make do with just one set of, usually only two, rollers to perform both functions. The sheer simplicity of table-top platens such as Adanas and those small treadle or powered platens with an ‘impression throw-off’ allows one to fool their basic mechanisms into behaving as though they have at least twice as many rollers which results in a better ink film and, thus better printing. By running a thinner film of well-loosened ink and rolling the forme twice or more for each impression your little press will produce far better work.

The builders of larger platen presses spent a lot of money on mechanisms to simulate what old hand-press printers using Albions, etc. called a ‘sinking pull’. This allows the forme to dwell in contact with the paper rather than jump straight on and off and again the result is a better printed sheet. This is easily achieved with a hand-press, whether Albion or Adana and well worth the little extra time involved.

Adanas, in particular, compromise inking to allow one to print on paper larger than the platen. To keep the roller tracks below the platen the metal or plastic runners at the ends of the rollers are of larger diameter than the actual roller. The surface speed of the roller over the type is thus different from that of the runner which results in the roller skidding slightly across the type which causes ‘ink slur’ rather than an even coating. If printing paper sufficiently smaller than the inner width of the chase, one can overcome this by fitting a fairly thick piece of wood rule, to act as a ‘type-high bearer’ for the rollers, at each end of the chase. This will also necessitate removing the ‘patent head-lay’ fitted to most Adanas (since its ends would crush the rule), and using traditional front or head and side-lays. These can be either quads glued to the tympan, slips of folded card attached with masking tape, or if you are lucky enough to find some, metal gauge pins, some of which are adjustable, which are pushed into suitably placed holes pricked or slit into the top sheet of the tympan.

Adana’s head-lay and frisket gripper fingers are infamous for crushing the type of the unwary — converting to card lays attached after taking a proof impression is part of the answer. The 8 x 5 has two frisket fingers which are best replaced by stretching the sort of rubber band the postman drops on your front path between the frisket arms. This will not damage the type of the absent-minded, but will still lift the printed sheet clear of the type forme.

This guide kindly contributed by John R Smith of the Old Forge Press. Originally appeared in the newsletter of the Oxford Guild of Printers