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