Saturday, October 31, 2009

Good Vibrations

Many thanks go to David Lukens of the Lauchmen Printing Company in Lansdale, Pa. Dave very generously presented me with this paper jogger, a very nice 7” x 10” size perfect for most work. Dave has been a printer for years and years and is still hard at work doing what local print shops have always done: take care of his community’s basic printing needs. Schools, churches, businesses and individuals all make use of his skills and experience. While no longer doing letterpress work, he does all kinds of single and multi-color offset work (making his own plates), binding, folding, etc. His shop looks like a working print shop with cans of ink, paper of every description, boxes of envelopes, and all the misc. debris and brick-a-brac of printing laying about everywhere. While in some trades this is often considered a sign of sloppiness that is reflected in the work, such is most definitely not the case here. The work Dave produces is crisp and clean and he does this with easy efficiency. The old cry of “don’t clean it up or I won’t be able to find it” rings true here. The focus is on being productive and getting quality work out the door when customers want it and not maintaining a museum or laboratory environment. The proof is in the printing and Dave provides excellent work to happy customers.

A paper jogger is probably not one of the most needful things in a small shop, especially an amateur one like mine. But I do confess there have been times I’ve wished I had a way of more easily getting a nice even stack, especially when making pads. I happened to notice the wood table of the little jogger sticking out from among some debris on a bottom shelf while Dave was showing me around the shop and exclaimed, “Hey, what’s that under there?” Once pulled out it was obviously a jogger that Dave said he used to use but it hadn’t worked in a while. He then placed it in my hands and asked me if I wanted it.


Once home I took it apart, cleaned it out, replaced the cracked and warped table, plugged it in and it was time to give it a workout. It was manufactured by the Syntron Company of Homer City, Pa. and is called the Syntron Paper Jogger, Type PJ4, Style 1763, Serial No. C8PJ65154. It has an on/off switch and a dial control to adjust the amount of vibration. The knob itself is missing and I’ll be picking up a replacement though it’s easy to adjust as it is. Based on the finish, construction and other little things I’m guessing the vintage to be 1930’s or 40’s. Syntron is now owned by FMC Technologies and is still making joggers today. I’m going to write to them to see if they can provide any information about mine from the serial number. But if anyone can narrow the date of my jogger down I’d appreciate it. Well, I’d write more but it’s time for my daily jog.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cinderella, She Seems So Easy; “It Takes One To Know One”, She Smiles.

Not too long ago I was reminded that not all stamps are postage stamps that pay for sending a letter from Point A to Point B. Some are in fact fantasy postage stamps, made up by someone to represent a fictional state, country, or protectorate. Some are made to advertise commercially or for non-profit organizations. Some promote various causes, groups, or anything at all. Some are simply ars gratia artis. In the worlds of art and craft they are commonly know as artistamps. Philatelically speaking such non-postage stamps are called Poster Stamps or Cinderellas.

The first postage stamps in the 19th century were printed in sheets and cut one singly with scissors or a knife. With the invention and marketing of the pin-hole perforator, separating them became much easier. Today postage stamps are self-adhesive and peel off a backer. But as I was reminded that not all stamps must comer from the Post Office and be used for postage, I was struck by the idea of letterpress printing my own stamps and perfing them. This is what I have in fact decided to do. I’ve done a bit of research and the consensus from those who do this kind of work with a printing press as opposed to an inkjet printer (which some do use) is that a cut should be made with anywhere from 4 to 12 images in the standard stamp sheet format. Here's a nice example from Rachel Scott at Fox Paw Press:

All sorts of ideas come to mind and my first effort will be a simple Front Room Press stamp I can apply to envelopes or most anything. It will be a good opportunity to learn how to design something on the computer and have a plate made which I’ve never done. But even more fun will be to actually print and use them. This was a lot of my inspiration to get my perforator restored. Now it’s on to the next step. I’ll keep you posted.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Holy Perforator!

The restoration of the perforator is complete and it actually works. Huzzah! Given the amount of rust and the condition of the punches it was no certain thing. For the most part cleaning was pretty straightforward if involved as described in my previous post. The punches and the holes they go in were the most tedious and troublesome part.

The perforator takes 365 punches about 1/32” diameter and 13/16” long. There are three parts that have holes for the punches: the punch holder, the stripper, and the die. So I had to clean out as best I could 1095 holes. I had soaked the parts repeatedly in WD40 after I finally got the punches out and after cleaning them completely I used one of the punches to scrape out the holes as much as possible. The last step here was pushing the punch through, wiping the WD40 off the far end, push it through again, wipe again, etc. until all of the extraneous WD40 was out. This actually worked pretty well and when I was done the punches all moved freely in the holes. The concern I really had was if they would go through freely when they had to pass through all three parts at once.

When these three parts were manufactured and the holes for the punches were bored they were clamped together in a jig and the holes bored through all three at the same time. The three parts were stamped with the same number so they could always be matched up. This is how alignment was always assured. Of course, a lot had happened to the perforator since it was new so it remained to be seen if this alignment remained.

I had picked up the replacement screws I needed and after the last one was replaced in the die I reassembled the stripper bar and its stiffener, reassembled the head, and then put the head back on the machine. I was almost done but looking at the punches I realized that I really needed to clean them down to bare, shiny metal and not leave them with any corrosion, no matter how minor. I was concerned about leaving them too long in the vinegar and salt bath because the surface of the metal becomes rough, if only mildly, and I wanted the smoothest surface possible to ease passage through the holes. What all this meant is that I would have to clean each punch one at a time. Fun, fun, fun.

Of the 365 punches the machine takes all had been present and I was able to recover 214 that were straight. There are perhaps 50 or so more that are only slightly bent and which I’m confident I can straighten out at some point and install. The complete row of punches is 24” long but even with only the 214 installed there are enough to perforate anything of a size I’m likely to need. I do plan on buying brand new punches in the near future because the ends on the old ones are not in the best shape and new punches will mean cleaner holes. But it punches good enough for any normal work, certainly not something the average person would notice.

Anyway, one by one using sandpaper I cleaned the punches, rolling them around with the tip of one finger on some chipboard while I sanded away with the other hand. I was careful not to sand in such a way to round over the edges on the working end of the punches but of course they weren’t perfect at this point anyway. This operation took episodes of Marcus Welby, Quincy, Kojak, Deal Or No Deal, the local news, two episodes of Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown, and Ghost Whisperer to complete. Whew!

I installed the punches from the center of the head out so the pressure of the punching action would be centered. They went in better than I expected, with a few needing a slight helping hand from the tip of a screwdriver instead of my finger. I put oil on top of the stripper where the punches passed through and then started pumping the pedal. This was to break up remaining “stuff” in the holes and to lubricate things. I put some paper towels in harm’s way and stair-stepped my way to a cleaner, well-oiled perforator. I moved the paper towel with each step and it soaked up the excess “stuff” pretty well. It still leaves a slight residue on the top sheet but there is less each time and it works nice and smooth.

I had taken the tables to work to sand them with a pneumatic random orbit sander. This makes the work go fast and does a great job. The wood is cherry and was originally stained. Even though the tops of both tables had virtually no finish left it was intact on the underside and I found a match for it among some old cans of stain I had. I sanded enough to get rid of the dirt and paper that had been stuck to the wood when it had gotten wet, and to make everything smooth, but not enough to remove the patina. I stained it at home and then applied two coats of orange (amber) shellac, a traditional vintage topcoat. In the end I was surprised that the match was so close. I wasn’t worried about dents, bumps, chips, etc. because these tables have little affect on registration which is accomplished by the fences. Mostly the simply support the sheets.

Next time I’ll explain more about what I plan on doing with it besides the obvious, i.e. making holes. One thing I did realize is that because the holes are so small, this is a nice vintage option for general jobs requiring perfing instead of the more usual slit perf. The paper stays together well but tears very easily. And it won’t tear up the press rollers. Oh, boy!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Stamp Act

I’m in the process of restoring a Rosback treadle-operated round-hole perforator circa 1920. It is 300 pounds of mostly cast iron with a 24” row of hundreds of tiny punches. Philatelically speaking it punches a perforation measurement of 12 which is, or rather was, the standard for U.S. stamps before 1914. Guess what I’ll be printing in the not too distant future? But more on that later.

While in generally good if typically dirty condition, the perforator had one serious problem: at one time it sat someplace where water was allowed to get onto the punch assembly. This assembly consists of three main parts besides said punches: the punch holder, the stripper, and the die. The punches are 13/16” long and a little over 1/32" diameter with a small head on one end like a brad. They drop into holes in the punch holder and down through the stripper bar. When the treadle is depressed the punches are pushed down through the stripper bar and into the die which has corresponding holes. Well, when stored at some point the head which carries the punch assembly was adjusted in such a way that the punches were pushed down below the bottom of the stripper. Add water, time, and neglect and presto! Rusted punches, punch carrier, stripper, and die plate. O joy!

Adding a bit to the sorrow is the fact that at some point someone with more physicality than patience tried to loosen the head and get the punches moving. To do this he inserted some kind of crow bar into the assembly and did what one does with a crow bar. While not loosening the punches it did have the affect of snapping the heads off four of the six screws by which the punch holder is attached to the head. His work apparently done, the perforator was left to get older. On the bright side the tables, while needing refinishing, are in good shape and it has both of its original fences with attachments. Also, it is not rusty to the same degree on all the punches.

Having disassembled and restored any number of antique machines in various degrees of decrepitude, I was reasonably certain that I could get it apart and that it could be cleaned and restored to use. The first step was to somehow get the punch assembly off the head and disassemble it. There was little point in cleaning anything else unless this could be accomplished. I sprayed on a liberal dose of PB Blaster “penetrating catalyst” and let it soak. I was prepared for a long process and this was the first step. Over the next three days I kept adding more Blaster and gently pried and tapped. No crow bar. During that time I was able to remove enough of the punches from both ends to get at the two bolts that hold the stripper bar to the bed. The stripper bar is attached to the bed and normally you can remove the entire head with the punches with the stripper bar remaining behind. But of course the punches were rusted to the bar. So in this case when I was finally able to lift off the head the stripper bar came with it.

Now I had access to the bottom of the stripper bar and after a couple more days of soaking I was able to tap the bottom of some of the punches to loosen them and pull them out. Just like pulling teeth, both descriptively and in terms of it being somewhat difficult. Keep in mind that there are literally hundreds of punches. I haven’t counted all of them yet but have got as far as 238. I got enough out finally to bend the stripper bar slightly and come at the screw heads of the last two screws holding the punch holder to the cast iron head using a right-angle screwdriver. More soaking and more tapping. It took a week but finally the last punch came out. Now all the parts needed to be cleaned down to original paint or bare metal. I don't like repainting unless absolutely necessary but I hate rust. I let the punches and some other parts soak overnight in a solution of vinegar and salt to loosen the rust up. Except for heavy rust this allows you to virtually wipe if off. In the process of removing the punches a number of them were bent or broken but I saved about 230 and I’m hoping they will work once clean. Replacements seem to be available from a couple sources and I’ve been in touch to get particulars. If the price is right I’ll replace them all and keep the old ones as spares.

Four screw heads had been broken off in the head and I had to drill out the remaining parts of the screw. I’ll pick up replacements at the hardware store. Cleaning itself was straight forward using WD-40; sandpaper; 3M green pads; a wire brush on a grinder and drill; and lots of paper towels. I’m not afraid to use sandpaper to get heavy rust off, stopping as soon as I get to bare metal. Then it’s the green pads and finally the wire wheel to make it nice. I used one of the old punches to clean out the inside of the hundreds of holes in the punch holder, stripper bar, and die plate. They weren’t that bad, the punches having provided some protection from direct exposure. But this part of the job was very tedious and cleaning the holes in the three parts took 5 hours. I did this in the evening while watching TV.

The main frame has been cleaned and the die plate reinstalled but for one screw that needs to be replaced. Once I get that screw and the others I need everything can be reassembled. At that point we’ll see if actually works. I hope to refinish the wood tables this week at work. More on that and what exactly I’ll be doing with it will wait for another post.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Once Upon A Time

Old photographs and engravings conjure up feelings of nostalgia, historical interest, and rank curiosity. And they can often be a source of a surprising amount of practical information about the past, information that helps one gain real insight that goes beyond the superficial objects seen in the image. If we looks closely and carefully and where necessary take the time to do a little research to truly understand the snapshot of time that has been immortalized, we can make a tangible connection with those who have gone before us. Such a connection will enlighten our modern experiences and place them within a context in which their true meaning and worth can be grasped. Further, such an interaction with the past will give greater pleasure and satisfaction in those activities in which we take part in the present.

Take the above image as an example. It shows the press room of The Pictorial Drawing Room Companion circa 1858. Let's look at some of the things we can learn from this image that can help us understand better what the printing trade, the workplace, and society in general was like at that time.

First is the obvious. Even at this early date cylinder presses were actively at work. Even more so, the plant was steam-powered. Note the steam engine at the right which powered the presses. This place was very modern and they are making a point of letting people know it. Did you ever notice that pre-twentieth century factory buildings are long and narrow? This image shows why. Whether powered by water, steam, or later even electricity, machinery did not begin to have dedicated motors until the beginning of the twentieth century. Even then it took years for industry to fully change over. The single source of power must be distributed to the individual machines and this was accomplished by the line-shaft system as the image illustrates. The water wheel, steam engine, or whatever was connected to a main shaft that ran the length of the building. Because the machines, often different, had to be run at certain speeds, intermediate shafts with pulleys of different diameters were used to mechanically change the speed of the main shaft and deliver the correct speed to any given machine. The use of the line shaft dictated the architecture of the building. But it did even more.

These shafts were mounted to the ceiling and sometimes to the floor, by cast iron hangers in which were mounted bearings of a composition metal that was soft enough not to mar the steel shafts, hard enough to last many years, and that could be lubricated with oil and so allow the minimum of friction so the shafts could rotate freely. These were, and still are, the famous babbitt bearings, named for the inventor of the metal Isaac Babbitt. These bearings must have a regular supply of oil or friction will cause them to heat up, turn slower and even bind, causing damage and costly repairs.
Have you ever heard of grease monkeys? Ever wonder where that term came from? The means by which these bearings were kept oiled was through the labor of young boys who would climb into the rafters on a daily basis and oil each bearing. While the machines were running. And boys they were, even 9 and 10 year-olds. Why young boys? Their small size was an obvious advantage in tight quarters as was the small wage they could be paid. By the time they reached their early teens of course, they could start operating the machinery itself and start to really learn the trade. They're not seen in this image, but they and the social mores of the times are present nonetheless. Think of your 10 year old son going to work down at the steam-powered printing house every day for at least part of the day, including Saturdays, coming home all dirty like his father does from his own job. He gives you or perhaps his father his small wage every payday, helping meet the household expenses. Think of him climbing around, through, and over the moving shafts, pulleys, and machines, the flapping belts, 15 or 20 feet off the ground as he squirts oil into the small holes of the bearings. Are you getting a better understanding of the people and their lives at the time that image was printed?

Another interesting social aspect is in fact on view. Who do you see feeding the presses? Could it be...yes I think it is...women! This shouldn't really be a surprise, especially to letterpress printers who know even a little about the history of the craft. Women have long been associated with working presses. What makes this example a bit more interesting is that this is not a small family print shop or a forlorn western newspaper. Clearly they are well established working women in a large, for that time, printing operation employing dozens of workers at least. Just another day of work for the ladies of 1858. Eat your heart out, Rosie the Riveter.

There are any number of other things that can be gleaned from the now long forgotten steam-powered press room of the Pictorial Drawing Room Companion. See how many more you can spot for yourself. Get a feel for yesteryear that will help you understand tomorrow. Or today.