Arab Parts in Works
Arab Parts in Works

Back at the height of let­ter­press, buy­ing a print­ing machine must have been a joy­ous task for those with the mon­ey and busi­ness to ser­vice a new press.  Machine mak­ers from all over Britain had offices in Lon­don to show­case their wares; and there would be enough print­ers around you to seek advice on the char­ac­ter­is­tics of each press.

No print­ing machines are made in Britain any more, but you might be lucky enough to get hold of a new press from time to time.

Tak­ing con­tem­po­rary advice, here’s a run-down of what to look for and what the ear­ly steps are in com­mis­sion­ing your new press – they are as rel­e­vant to you whether you have a press that has nev­er been used; or a work­horse of a machine that has worked non-stop for the last hun­dred or so years.

  • Foun­da­tions
    These need to be rock-sol­id and lev­el.  If you’re machine is floor-stand­ing you should check the lev­els as you assem­ble it lest the extra parts have cased it to move out of true.  Remem­ber that pack­ing under one cor­ner might not have the desired result at the oth­er cor­ner, so check as you lev­el
  • Clean­ing
    Make sure every­thing is clean.  My expe­ri­ence of the Arab is that there are advan­tages and draw­backs – a machine is much eas­i­er to han­dle, work and care for if it begins clean; and clean­ing is eas­i­er when you can reach each part.  On the down­side, you might expose a reliance on accu­mu­lat­ed grime!  If, per­haps, the bear­ings hold grit and this has caused wear, remov­ing all the dirt might high­light ‘play’ in some of the parts.  It’s much bet­ter to know this now, though, so get it clean.   Pay par­tic­u­lar atten­tion to oil holes; and coat parts in oil as you work
  • Test­ing
    As you progress with instal­la­tion make sure parts turn freely by hand; and repeat this process once assem­bly is com­plete.  If you have time (and ener­gy) run the press with­out any forme for a peri­od (half a day was sug­gest­ed).  Use this test­ing to show that oil is reach­ing the right parts and that the move­ment is smooth. Cau­tion: some machines can only be turned one way – make sure you don’t turn the machine against the nor­mal direc­tion of use
  • Adjust­ments
    There are plen­ty of adjust­ments to a new machine but get this right once and you should not have to wor­ry about these things very often.
  • Rollers
    The gen­er­al prin­ci­ple here is to deliv­er the right amount of ink from the roller to the type.  Rollers too low will slur or wipe ink across the type and the result will be very uneven ink­ing of each char­ac­ter.  Rollers too high will result in too lit­tle ink hit­ting the type; and no amount of fur­ther ink­ing will help.  Either use a roller gauge (looks like a short sol­id cylin­der on a stick); or a large M or H locked up in a forme.  When the roller pass­es over the gauge a strip of ink around 0.25″ should appear – wider strips indi­cate too low; thin­ner strips indi­cate too high.  Using a large M or H, ink­ing the sur­face of the let­ter (the face) plus a tiny amount on the shoul­ders is about right.  Get­ting ink on the shank or with­in the coun­ters indi­cates the rollers are too low.  Remem­ber that rollers might be an uneven shape and you should test along the length of the rollers (ie the right and left-hand sides of the forme).  Know­ing that they are too high or low can be com­pen­sat­ed for in dif­fer­ent ways – on an Adana the roller trucks (lit­tle wheels) can be turned to face two ways and low­er or raise the rollers.  On plat­en press­es the roller bear­ers can be aug­ment­ed – the Arab uses paper or card under the leather strips either side of the forme.  Art plat­en press users can adjust their roller bear­ers with a screw­driv­er.
  • Platens
    Platens can also be adjust­ed but this is noto­ri­ous­ly dif­fi­cult to get right.  Most plat­en machines (includ­ing hand platens) have screws or bolts at the back of the plat­en for adjust­ment.  I would test the machine first with a new tym­pan to see whether any adjust­ment is need­ed.  If you do have to move these bolts around then make a note of the num­ber and direc­tion of turns – tight­en­ing at one cor­ner can have the effect of throw­ing anoth­er cor­ner off kil­ter and plen­ty of prob­lems ensue.
  • Tym­pan
    The tym­pan is the paper-based pack­ing on the back plat­en (where you lay paper on and off).  The make­up of this will depend on your machine – each man­u­fac­tur­er rec­om­mend­ed their own make­up.  Sug­ges­tions range from plac­ing card next to the met­al; then three sheets of nor­mal paper; then two sheets of manil­la; to Adana’s use of per­haps ten sheets of news­pa­per between light card­board and the manil­la top sheet
  • Oil­ing
    When new, the machine will need a good deal of oil; and will need to be oiled per­haps three time a day in nor­mal use

In terms of look­ing after the machine, the biggest task is to keep every­thing clean.  With­out clean­li­ness it’s dif­fi­cult to main­tain the machine; see poten­tial prob­lems or pro­duce good-qual­i­ty work.  If you’re in a high-pro­duc­tion envi­ron­ment set time aside on a reg­u­lar basis to tidy the machine.

Sec­ond­ly, oil is need­ed by print­ing machines.  You’ll need to choose the right oil – tiny 3‑in‑1 cans are good for small parts on lit­tle press­es; larg­er press­es might ben­e­fit from diesel engine oil that’s a lit­tle thick­er.  Your machine might rec­om­mend a par­tic­u­lar type of oil.

Aside from your own con­sid­er­a­tions of space, the work need­ed, funds etc., there are some mechan­i­cal points you should look for.  You should­n’t be tak­en in by a shiny, clean machine sim­ply on that ini­tial view.  Remove some of the guards or shields and see whether dirt is accu­mu­lat­ed in the less obvi­ous places; remove a few nuts or bolts to see if the threads are deep, sharp and clean.  Turn the machine over and see if there’s any rat­tling and that teeth on gears fit snug­ly with each oth­er.  Lis­ten for any vari­able nois­es or grat­ing.  Look at the cast­ings to see if a ham­mer or oth­er inap­pro­pri­ate tool has been used to assem­ble the machine pre­vi­ous­ly.  Final­ly, with the machine braked, pull the platens apart to see of there is play in the machine at all – if there is some slack­ness or loose­ness this will man­i­fest itself in poor qual­i­ty print­ing.