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5 November 2016

How to build a printing press in 460 easy steps

It's time I told you about my latest project. It sort of appeared out of nowhere borne out of my latest passion for lino-printing. I've been busy building a printing press! I haven't finished yet, but I'm so close, I've just got to talk to somebody about it!

WARNING! This post is a monster. Grab a cup of tea before proceeding any further.

What do I mean by printing press? Actually, I've made more of a nipping type of press of the sort used in book-binding. The #fingerart above is kind of the picture I had in my mind when I set out, only mine would be made of wood rather than cast iron.

I don't know if this will work, but I want to see if I can use it to print linocuts, That's my main reason for building this contraption but I'll admit that I'm also building it for the sake of building it. I'm exploring the Art of the Possible! :-)

When I looked on-line to see if I could pick up an old secondhand nipping press I found them to be in short supply, in the region of about £100-200. I'm not the first person to think of making one. Newly made wooden versions are even more expensive. I've seen some very basic "homemade" presses selling upwards of £300. Surely I could knock one together for a fraction of the cost? You betcha!

It's been a while since I posted anything about my favourite Progressive Metal band. I'm still waiting for them to finish their first bloody album! It's going to be a doozy I reckon! Their recent visit to Ireland looks to have been a lot of fun. I'd love to see the guys live. One day!

Anyway. I found Thomas Cochran's soundcloud empire the other day and discovered this mix of Facing Creation with added trumpets! I know! I'll leave it here. It will get you in the mood for reading my post...

Here's the design I came up with when I was first dreaming of what I'd need to do. I spent ages imagining how I would make the bolt; researching the types of wood to use; types of joints and basic designs. There are a few basic design challenges to overcome and I had great fun pondering the possibilities.

Taking the bolt in isolation: I started by toying with the idea of fashioning a wooden screw but soon gave up on that idea when I reaslised that I stood very little chance of making one strong and true enough. Eventually I decided I'd buy one, coming across the perfect solution - one that many press-builders before me had already discovered - the shoulder vice.

I bought a Veritas shoulder vice from Axminster Tools and it's turned out to even better than I thought it might have been.

The sticker on the box is written in American, but I think you'll be able to figure it out ;-)
Shoulder-vise Screw: For a traditional Scandinavian-style "L" Shaped Shoulder Vise. (Part no 70G01.51)
  • 13" overall length with clamping capacity of 7 ¼" less thickness of wood
  • 1 ⅛" diameter single-lead Acme screw
  • Mounting screws included
*See your Veritas dealer for optional handle (05G12.03) and other bench accessories.
I see that it made in the Czech Republic and distributed in Canada. This vice has literally been around the world and I love it!

As always I had a lot of fun trying to figure out what wood to use in this project. The top and sides are Cherry which is a new wood to me and I must say it's become my favourite. I love it. It is such an easy wood to shape. I did a lot of chiselling, making joints, and this wood is a dream to work with. If you haven't tried it yourself then I recommend you do.

Here's a shot of me making the top and sides. The top is a chunky 5cm thick block and the sides 3cm thick. I chose to use big mortise and tenon joints to hold the top together for strength.

This is the first time I've tried something like this and it turned out pretty well. I trimmed the tenon (on the top block in the photo) using my table saw. There was no real magic there.

The mortise (the hole part) was drilled initially for depth and then finished off with a chisel. I had to do this for both legs.

The only gotcha here is the potential to split the wood surrounding the mortise whilst chiseling. I almost did once and then realised the error of my ways. The clamp is fitted to add a little strength, but really, all I needed to do was to be a little more careful in my chiseling. I'd already figured out that I need to make sure that there was enough wood surrounding the mortise for strength. From memory I think I made this 1cm thick.

I was amazed when I first got my first three blocks together. It was a pretty good fit... sturdy and strong.

See the bamboo placemat inside the legs. This will give you a feel for the overall size. My aim is to allow me to do A4 prints. Whilst I don't need it to be anywhere as tall as I've made it, I figured that I'd try and squeeze every last bit of height out of the bolt so that I can do other things with the press in the future should I feel the need.

I have no idea whether presses like this are any good for lino-printing, but they are good for book binding and I've also seen them used for veneer-work. I'm sure I can think of other things to try too given enough time ;-)

While I waited for the wood to arrive to allow my to finish the bottom and press, I set to fitting the nut of the shoulder vice. You wouldn't believe how much thought went into how I would fit this. As you can see, I took the most difficult route, of fitting the bolt backwards and inlaying it into the top for extra difficulty bonus points. 

If I thought that hole for the vice-bolt was some sort of wormhole of deceit then I was horribly mistaken...

This is a wormhole of deceit :-)

(Do you see what I did there?)

These were the choices I had for fitting the bolt.

If you do a quick google for homemade printing presses you'll find a number made from the Veritas shoulder vice all with slightly different approaches to the bolt arrangement. As far as I can tell, no one has fitted theirs the way I have. I am either a fool or a genius... I'll let you decide ;-)

Option 1:
You'll find a lot fitted like the top left illustration: resting on top of the wood. I don't like this position as closing the press will put the screws holding the bolt under pressure. Who knows... maybe over time they'll loosen and pop out?

Option 2:
A popular alternative is to place the bolt under the top wood, which then allows the top wood beam to take all the pressure as the vice is closed. But I don't like this either; When you stick the bolt in this position, you're actually reducing the clearance of the bolt. This means that you're limited in how far back the bolt can be when you open it. Why is this important? It isn't important, unless like me you want to keep your options open for what you might want to use the press for. I figure that the bigger the vice clearance, the better!

Option 3:
My solution has been to inlay the bolt as in the bottom illustration. It gives me about 4cm extra bolt clearance over option 2 without placing the screws under strain as in option 1.


Ooh... I almost forgot to mention that I finally got to use my homemade mallet! I made this on my tablesaw in the Summer from a bit of wood I found whilst walking the dog. It's not pretty... but it does the job well! BOOM!

I was a bit miffed at the time I made this that I couldn't get it completely circular without compromising on the size. You can see in the photo that I decided that big and heavy was more important in the end than being round. Actually, being slightly square is a real benefit... It stopsthe mallet from rolling away when I put it down.

Ha ha. I think I would choose to make it this way if I ever made another one!

There's still time to change your mind on the fool/genius question. ;-)

Don't rush your decision.

I'm not the first person to realise that there are benefits to your tools not rolling away when you put them down. Check the photo below out which talks about how to hold a gouge. The "flat part" in the handle is there exactly for this reason... that and to keep the blade away from the surface.

This is what the fitted bolt looks like from the top.

Unfortunately I don't have a drill bit big enough to cut this hole so I ended up drilling several and filing it to size.

Bloody hell, it was tricky, but I got there in the end. 

My original plan was to make the base and press block with oak. My thinking was that these need to be strong and flat and Oak fits this description.

Unfortunately the timber I've bought has never turned up so I went out last Sunday to get some more down at B&Q. They do rough planks for making rustic shelves and cutting boards. It's a bit of pot luck as to what they've got in and how good it is. I wasn't impressed with the oak, but I was very taken with some beech I saw. Beech is another new wood to me to work with. I like it!

You can't really tell from this picture, but I decided to fit the base to the legs using a rabbet and dado joint which is basically like a mortise and tenon only the mortise is a groove from end to end.

As you can see in the photo, the press fits and holds together without the need for glue or screws.

If you've been following me on Google+, you might recall a picture I posted of a new device I made to help me line up the paper for my linocut prints. See here my first ever print done this way... A trial print of my Large Prodigious Whale print. I hand pressed it with a baren for this trial run, but the plan is to try this in my new press.

I'm hoping that the combination of this base and  a top plate (not pictured) to rest over the paper will allow me to use my new press. We shall have to wait and see whether it works. Isn't this exciting!

The registration is done by lining up the paper with the two sides. The three small circles actually have magnets embedded in them. It was an idea I thought of  for holding the paper in place, but having fitted them, I don't think I'll ever use them. Ah well.

Finally, see that I started making a bar to turn the vice. This is maple and turned on my table saw. It's rough and tapered. At the moment it only fits so far into the hole. I kind of like it as it is, but I'll no doubt work it a little more.

I have scraped and sanded most of the body here, but there is more to do. Read on... 

While I'm onto it. I bought these scrapers at the beginning of the year having read a lot of great things about them. Scraping is just another way of finishing wood... a great alternative or supplement to sanding.

I've never tried it until now and I can report back that I am a convert. If you look back through the photos in this post you'll see all sorts of wood dinks and scratches that I managed to deal with using a scraper. Previously I would have filed and sanded. This got me to where I wanted to be, quicker and I'd say with a better end result.

The future is bright... the future is scraper!

I've only tried these PAX scrapers, but I'd recommend them. They're made in England you know...

This video has just been created. I glued and waxed the press today, and here it is going up and down... up and down. I just couldn't resist having a go with it tonight...

 I experimented with different papers and pressure. It was a bit of a mixed bag I'm afraid. I think that there is more to learn here about technique.

Here's probably the best of the lot. It's almost the right amount of ink, printed on crappy printer paper. I like the grain, but it's a shame that I'm getting blotches here and there. I guess it adds to the vintage feel. I'll be back!

Right - that's the end! Promise!

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