Humidity and letterpress

I know humidity is not a friend to the letterpress, but I’m here in southern Mississippi (right on the Gulf) for the next two years so I’m looking for ways to deal with it.

I’d really like advice on any extra precautions to take in view of the humidity, how to best protect the press (C&P Old Style 8x12) while it’s not in use, and how the humidity is likely to affect papers and inks…

My letterpress is in the back corner of our garage – no windows, automatic double door at the opposite end, one ceiling fan (quite near the press but not directly overhead), bare concrete floor. Short of moving it somewhere else (which isn’t an option) what steps can I take to protect the press and improve the printing environment?

Thanks for any advice!

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My favorite corrosion-inhibiting product is Butcher’s Bowling Alley Wax. I like it better than Johnson’s Wax. Works great on any metal surfaces.

My shop is only ~65 miles east of yours…. and I can say with some certainty that any unprotected cast-iron surface will bloom rust rather quickly. It won’t actually harm the press, but it tends to mess up your paper and finished work. I use regular paste wax on my exposed cast iron most of the time…. but every now and then I cheat and use spray wax. It works too.

The ink will not be a problem. Due to the heat, it always dries faster in the summer though, so don’t leave it on your rollers overnight.

As far as paper goes, the only problem you’ll have is buckling. This can be a bear for rotary offset printing, but for letterpress it’s not too big a deal. I let my paper sit out and acclimate for a few days before printing, and never have a serious issue.

Thank you both!

A follow-up question about the wax… do you apply it to the surfaces and then polish it back? Or does it work some other way? Are there particular surfaces where it should *not* be applied?

Winking Cat, what city are you in? I’m in Gulfport, MS and have just been completely unaware of much letterpress being done around these parts… but like I said, I’m new to this.

Last question – when there’s high humidity and the press is not being used, should it be covered or uncovered?

Thanks again, everyone!

(Oh, and great info on the papers and inks)

pepperinapress, I printed in the south for a decade or so,
FL ,GA, & LA to be accurate.Humidity is one of the reasons I left. Composition rollers show there worst
qualities in that enviroment. As winkingcat stated rust blooms, everything else does too, mold will grow on your feed boards, paper, anywhere else it can,spiders will nest,
mice and roaches will eat your rollers.You will drip sweat
on freshly printed pieces.Hope your 2 years goes quickly.
On a positive note get an airconditioner a fridge full of beer
and have fun.james

Yikes! Well, as long as the Air Force wants my husband here I don’t have much choice – we’ll make the best of it. At least our very determined pest control people will ward off the insects and other little beasties… they’ve managed it so far.

Mental note to see if I can rig a/c in the garage somehow!

Any advice on whether to cover or not to cover the press when it’s not being used, James?


As far as the question about covering or uncovering equipment when not in use, I would only state that equipment should NOT be covered with plastic or any other non-breathable material. Old bedsheets and things like that will work to keep equipment clean. The plastic and other non-breathable materials will only trap the moisture under them and when it condensates and drips all over your equipment will cause more harm than having been left uncovered. Dehumidifiers and air conditioning are very useful. I also like the wax idea.

Along the Gulf Coast, humidity is always a factor but is actually quite easy to manage. I’ve never had mold grow on my wood or paper, and don’t worry about condensation. The reason? Air Conditioning. I didn’t mention it earlier because I automatically assumed that your shop would have an AC unit. It’s a pre-requisite for working here. Every printer I know has one in his shop.

Even a small window unit will do the trick. I keep my thermostat at a steady 80 degrees. It does not actually keep the shop cool, but it removes enough moisture to keep things comfortable.

That’s good to know about the AC… I’ll get on to that. See I haven’t done any printing here at all – moved down from Seattle (too much chaos to print), got pregnant (too big and clumsy to print), had the baby (no time to print) so we’re still in the setting-up stages … although getting closer to being able to run the press!

The garage definitely needs an AC unit, right now it would be too hot to even stay in there and work…

I know I’m resurrecting an old topic, but was curious about keeping a press in a basement. It stays pretty cool down there, even in summer, but it’s not the driest of environments. There’s a new sump pump installed so I don’t anticipate any flooding. Perhaps a hygrometer and a small dehumidifier? Or will that not be all that necessary? The press I’m looking into is a Sigwalt Ideal 5 if that makes any difference.

Virgo - Yes, the size of the press does make a difference. I’m glad you added that info.

I’ve resurrected a number of small old presses that sat for years in basements and all I’ve found that was troubling was typically some surface rust. However, that said, please do keep it well off of the floor and coat it with oil or, better yet, butcher block wax. That should keep the rust away. The most sensitive areas are the ink disk, platen, bed and bed rails - basically any unpainted areas.

Typically, these rust when sitting on the floor - or, worse yet, in water. Another problem - which I still deal with to this day in my unheated barn, is condensation. The steel gets cool, we have a hot, humid day, and voila! Little bits of surface rust appear overnight.

Another thing I have noticed is that platens which still had oiled tympan packing on them seem to survive in more or less pristine condition; the uncovered areas rust, the areas under the paper stay like new. But - no newsprint or other soft-fiber paper. Oiled tympan is best. If that’s not available, you might try some butcher wrapping paper.

If you have rollers on the press, there’s one more step to consider. If they are the old style composition rollers, it would help to immerse them in an oil bath and leave them vertical. If they are the more common rubber rollers in use today, wrapping them in an oiled cloth should be sufficient to protect them for a few years - although with any rollers, there are no guarantees. I’ve seen rubber rollers get pretty messy as well.

Of course, if you can put your press in a sturdy box - corrugated’s ok - although wood is better, you will likely protect it from any moisture issues for many years.

Best of luck
- Alan

Thank you Alan.

I’d never leave the press on the floor, and will probably keep it covered with an old bedsheet when not in use. I’ll also likely keep the rollers and all paper stock upstairs and just bring them down when it’s time to work on a project.

I live in Houston Texas, it is 90+ all the time, A/C is the best way to work. Printing with letterpress or offset the humidity will kill you and your equipment.

A/C is the best investment a printer can make living in any area with humidity.