Small Presses: Getting the Most from the Least

Get­ting large-scale res­ults from small-scale presses

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