Monday, January 26, 2009

Ecce Homo

Meet Stanley Grossman. From the end of the 1950's through the 1960's Mr. Grossman was an Industrial Arts teacher at a high school in New Jersey. Among other crafts he taught printing. He taught my good friend Alan Runfeld of the Excelsior Press who has been a printer since even before high school. He went on to oversee the vocational technical education of several generations of students.

I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know Mr. Grossman a few months ago when I went with my friend Alan to haul several presses and other equipment out of Mr. Grossman's basement print shop where he had printed for local businesses, organizations and individuals for many years. At 80 years old, he doesn't do much printing anymore and wanted to see the equipment continue its useful life in other hands. I was very fortunate in getting his C&P 10x15 press as I've described in previous posts.

I wanted to take the opportunity to thank him publicly and introduce him to you, part of our shared printing heritage. He's a kind and gracious man with a quick and subtle wit that I especially appreciate. As you can imagine, he's very knowledgeable and I learned quite a lot just from the several visits I made to his house. I wish you could all have the opportunity to meet him.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Keep On Truckin'

As some of you may know, I haven't done as much printing as I want to do because my old 8x12 press had two problems: I only had Morgan Expansion trucks with worn-out tires and I had rubber rollers that were not only slit badly in some places from perf rule but slightly concave in the center and slightly hard from age. I could print with them but mostly only small forms and even then they had some problems. I couldn't afford to replace either tires or rollers so did the best I could on a limited basis and spent a lot of time organizing and setting up the shop in general knowing that would pay off later.

I posted here how I recently traded in the 8x12 Old Style for a 10x15 Old Style that I restored. In this case I had steel trucks but the rollers were all bad and again, I couldn't afford to buy new ones. Fortunately my friend Alan recently loaned me three rollers from one of his presses, two of which I have and the other I mistakenly left in his shop. I had adjusted the platen for a standard packing as I've described in an earlier post and all that remained was to compensate for the fact that on this press, as on many older presses, the rails were manufactured less than type high. In the case of Chandler and Price, 1/16" less. This weekend I was determined to get the press printing so I could begin some of the projects that I've been wanting to do.

The steel trucks I got with the press were 1/16" oversize from the standard that came with the press when new, meaning that they were 1 3/4" diameter. They are actually stamped "oversize" on the sides. C&P offered oversized and undersized trucks as options according to their early catalogs. The rollers that came with my press when I got it were therefore 1 5/8" diameter so they would be type high. My friend Alan has a 10x15 New Style the rails of which were also 1/16" below type high. He had been using the rollers he gave me on that press which are 1 3/4" diameter and, since the steel trucks he was using were the the normal diameter trucks C&P supplied with the press, 1 5/8" diameter, he had taped both the trucks and the rails to bring them to type high. So in order for me to use his rollers with my trucks I would only need to increase their height by 1/16". I decided to do this by taping the rails.

I know there is special tape sold to do this but of course that costs money. I thought long and hard about what kind of tape I wanted to use. My friend had used duct tape with good results but I decided to try something different. I bought some metal tape at the hardware store, the kind used to tape the joints of metal ducting; basically metal duct tape instead of cloth duct tape. The metal is very thin and easily cut. I decided to use this because I thought it would provide a firm, smooth surface that could be more finely adjusted because the tape is so thin.

I measured the length of the rails and then cut the tape into 24" lengths, slightly longer than needed. The roll of tape is about 2" wide so I cut these lengths to the rail width of 5/8" on my 26" paper cutter. The knife went through like butter and because of the thinness of the metal and the buffer between each layer the adhesive and backer provided I don't think it affected the edge much. In any case, the knife is almost due to be changed anyway.

One by one I laid the strips on the rails. I started with 10 layers per rail and then started checking the height with a straight edge laid across both rails and a type high gauge as I added more strips one by one. When I got it just about right with the gauge I put the rollers on the press and used them with the type high gauge for the final adjustments. I stopped when I could feel a bit of pressure on the gauge from the rollers. In the end it turned out that the left side required one more strip than the right. As I was making the final checks, I ran the press for a bit to press the tape down well and avoid movement through compression later. I was pleased with the end result. Since the tape is metal it doesn't stand out like a sore thumb; it's smooth and hard; and should I need to make adjustments later it will be easy to do so. It was also inexpensive: the roll cost about $3 and I have enough left for at least two more presses.

Of course, the proof is in the pressing. Today I locked up my business card form and inked up the press and pulled some proofs. I was very, very happy with the results. The photos below will show the reason. I used my standard packing only with no makeready. Now a small form should probably need little to no makeready anyway but the fact that it inked and printed so well right off the bat was very encouraging to me. This is especially true after my experiences up to this point with the limitations of my old trucks and rollers. I was also pleased that my platen adjustment seemed to be just right. Naturally when I print a larger form problems may show up but I'm certainly satisfied at this point.

The top photo shows a proof pulled on a lightweight bond paper. I used Strathmore 100 percent cotton laid paper for the proof in the middle photo. I had difficulty with that paper before with my old press so wanted to try it again now. Needless to say, it looks really good. There is a speck of something on the R in my name from the scanner. I decided to try something larger so locked up the cut shown in the bottom photo which is about 3 1/2" x 6". Again, there was no makeready and I thought it came out pretty good, a nice even print at least. The cut is damaged on one corner so there is a break in the border at that point. I'm also afraid the scanner added some bands of color to the photo: oh, well. These photos may not show the details sufficiently so I'll probably post them to Flickr where they can be enlarged.

Now I need to pick up that third roller and then start on my projects.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sing, O Muse!

Inspiration comes in obscure and not always immediate ways. I dug up this artifact from my past the other day and thought I would post it. I've always been interested in history, which I get from both my parents. Growing up in the 60's and 70's, family vacations consisted in driving to the Adironadacks, southeastern Penna., and New England where we spent much of our time touring places like Forts George and Ticonderoga, Gettysburg, Sharpsburg and Harper's Ferry, Plymouth Plantation and Old Sturbridge Village. Local places nearer home were not neglected and I've always been an avid reader. You get the idea.

After getting out of the army in 1983 after 7 years, which included 3 years in Germany, I returned home to upstate New York near Buffalo. A couple years later my Mom and I paid a visit to the Genesee Country Village, a restored village of the early 19th century much like Old Sturbridge Village in Mass. I've always had an interest in the printed word and had seen a number of restored print shops at many of the places we visited. Always having been interested in crafts (I built models and cobbled together various things as a boy), in a basic and mostly untrained way (I had some experience printing in 7th grade in shop class) I was always intrigued by the process of printing. History; crafts; printing. You can see where this will ultimately lead.

While at the village that day we of course visited the print shop. They had a Washington hand press and the printer was in the process of turning out handbills for visitors, one of which I received "hot off the press". I really paid attention to the process and was fascinated as I held the freshly printed work in my hands. I took it home and hung it on the wall of my woodworking shop. While nothing happened regarding moving my interests actively towards printing, this visit stayed with me and the paper followed me round as I moved here and there over the years. It took a long time but two years ago the seed firmly planted that day and that had lain dormant began to grow. So for me this old piece of paper is something of a touchstone with regard to my current pursuit of the printer's craft. I also have one of the business cards we printed in 7th grade and the rubber stamp we made from that form, and I treasure them, but they didn't have the impact the trip to the village and this handbill did.

Interestingly, while the staining and holes are the result of the passage of more than 20 years of handling and storage they also make it look like an original document. Except of course for the unfortunate choice of at least one typeface.

I still have a dream of owning a Washington or other type of hand press...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Paper Chase

Rule One: Never turn down free paper.

Rule Two: Keep your eyes open for free paper.

Rule Three: Different kinds of printing, type, cuts, and ink require or at least work better with different kinds of paper. See rules One and Two above.

Rule Four: The fact that the paper is free will not improve your printing, but it doesn't hurt.

As you can see from the photos, I've been following the above rules. In fact, I had to recently build the upper shelves on the left of the first photo to make room for more. The large sheets of paper (and metal shelves) to the lower left in the first photo came from the garage print shop where I got my first press at the time I was just starting out two years ago. More came from various sources usually in conjunction with picking up something else where it was thrown in to get rid of it. There is everything from Kromcote to mimeograph; ledger to bond; book to chipboard; diecut cards to tag. I even came across stacks of pre-printed colored-border award certificates in different sizes. Did I mention some boxes of envelopes too?

I've experimented with a lot of it and can recommend that it is good to have different kinds of paper around. E.g. Cuts that don't print well on one kind will print perfectly on another. I suppose this seems like a no-brainer but I've noticed that there are many printers who seem to use one or two kinds of paper exclusively, usually the ubiquitous Lettra.

The issue of free comes up for a number of reasons. First, I am poor and by rights perhaps should not have printing as a hobby at all when one looks at the prices a lot of printing equipment, especially for letterpress, seems to go for. But where there's a will, there's a way and usually a lot of generous people to help. At least that's been my experience and I'm grateful to all of them. Second, there's a lot of good quality old paper laying around and it seems like a good idea to recycle it this way instead of having it go to a recycling center where it can be made into a lot of modern poor quality paper. Third, it's just plain fun.

Say, anyone in the central New Jersey area have any paper to get rid of...?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Pedal Power

Those of you who noticed that the photo of my new press in my last post showed the motor speed control pedal just sitting on the floor, and you know who you are, can rest easy in the knowledge that a base as shown by the photo below has been installed. The wood is the same as the runners: hickory. You may recall that I made my composing bank out of hickory that we had laying around at work and the same is true here. It's overkill for this application but it was available and is certainly strong and good-looking. You'll notice I ran a cove moulding around the top edge of the runners to add a bit of detail.