Maintaining Letterpress Machines

Arab Advert (c. 1940)
Arab Advert (c. 1940)

The key points in maintaining all printing equipment are to keep it well-lubricated and to keep your equipment clean.  As Jack Deller notes: the cleanliness of the overall printing works and machinery is seen as a good indication of efficiency.

Ensure that your presses and other machines are well-lubricated regularly and that the right points are greased.  Remember that there may be some oiling points beyond eye level or towards the bottom of the machine.

Your presses should be periodically cleaned with an oily rag.  Where corrosion is found on the bed of the press it can be removed with fine carbonium paper soaked in paraffin.

In terms of moving, servicing and cleaning machines thoroughly here are some hints —

  • Cast iron is brittle: treat it as if it were glass and use either non-metal hammers (like rubber, plastic or wood) or one of these materials between the cast iron and the hammer
  • When removing parts, replace nuts and bolts in their vacant holes.  Where this is not possible, keep a small tin for these
  • For complex machinery consider using steel punches with letters to show which parts go where; or where gears should meet each other.  Record the position of the machine when you begin to take it apart
  • Avoid crossing threads when undoing bolts, don’t use too much force
  • Remember that tommy pins and keys can be stuck on dirt, so clean first before trying to force them out

In terms of equipment, a recommendation is that ‘an old suitcase’ or other bag be found to contain the following items to help with low-level printers’ engineering

  • Deep tray to soak parts in paraffin to clean them
  • Pipe cleaners to clear out oiling holes
  • Emery paper to remove dried ink
  • Paint brush to clean gears
  • Small tin to hold duct keys and other small parts
  • Insulating tape to shore up air tubes
  • Tweezers to remove oiling wicks
  • Torch
  • Brass, Rubber or Hide hammer
  • Screwdrivers
  • Spanners
  • Oiling can
  • Tommy bar
  • Rags
  • Centre punch
  • Small chisel
  • Oil and grease
  • Rags