Press indoors?

Hi all…I’m close to buying a press (Vandercook SP-15, or no. 3) and I have a few options for its placement. The easier option is to put it in my open-plan living/dining/kitchen area that has concrete floors. I’m worried about any fumes or smell from inks or solvents. Because I’m fairly new to letterpress, should this be an issue? I can try to contain the mess too…any opinions about this? The other option is to place a few more concrete supports/pillars under a raised shed we have built in the back yard (it has an air conditioner, and it’s carpeted though).

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I know at least one printer who has made it work. I can’t comment on the fumes, but I am guessing Barbara Hauser could tell you more if you get in touch with her directly.

Hi Karen,

My press is in our living quarters, and I too was concerned about the fumes especially since I use mineral spirits (“odorless”) to clean the press. It’s worked out fine, though, since the room is large with lots of windows and doors for ventilation. Also, as I clean the press, I take the dirty rags immediately outdoors and hang them to dry. When they’re completely dry I put them in a covered metal can for disposal.

Be sure to invest in safety cans for all your solvents. They’re expensive, but well worth it. I keep my big cans of solvents in the shed and refill the safety cans as needed.

As for ink fumes, even the oil-based inks that I use are nowhere near as volatile as solvents so I don’t find them at all bothersome. Maybe I shouldn’t admit this in public, but I actually like the smell. I invariably sniff ink on my way from the ink slab to the press. I’ve always buried my nose into new books, too. I’m probably some kind of ink junkie, but at my age I’m losing brain cells by the minute anyway and have come to terms with it.

The other thing to consider is exposing the press and your other equipment to the elements. Your shed sounds much more elegant than our shed, but if it gets damp out there you could have a rust problem. Even with my press in the living room, I have to be careful to protect things from our marine environment. My furniture is aluminum so that’s not a problem, but I do need to keep things well oiled and I store quoins and composing sticks in an airtight box. I’m also switching over from steel galleys to brass galleys, since after even a week rust patterns form around my stored forms.

There are many advantages to having the press in the living quarters. I find myself printing or thinking about printing all day long, which I know I wouldn’t do if the press were out in the shed. Also, though I’m trying to get away from multitasking, it’s great to be able to bake cookies and print at the same time. I also like being with the family as I work. Our son is almost 18, however. If he were 8, it could be a problem.

Another thing that has turned out to be a big advantage is that the living room is fascinating to guests. You end up giving letterpress presentations to everyone who walks in the door. For entertaining, it turns out to be way more engaging than the Better-Homes-and-Gardens look.

Good luck with your new press — keep us posted!


Thanks so much Barbara for the detailed advice. I understand about loving that ink smell as I used to work at an offset print shop and really enjoyed the atmosphere. I agree with being constantly inspired living amongst the press and it being a centerpiece to our big room. The only issue I have is that I have a toddler, as opposed to your 18 year old baby. :) I can teach her to stay away from the press (mostly!) and its contents, but I do worry about lingering smells from ink or solvents. Hmm. I’ll have to keep thinking about this…

Well, you could do a trial run of your prospective setup. You could get a few safety cans of solvent and put them in the livingroom for a while to see if fumes build up. You also could simulate cleaning the press by wetting a rag with some solvent and, for about 20 minutes, leaving it where you plan to put the press. Also, you could simulate printing by smearing some ink on something and leaving it out for a few hours. You could do these things with various scenarios of open and closed windows. One scenario you should include would be to close up the room, leave for a few hours, and then come back and see if you smell anything the moment you walk back in.

There are a few other safety considerations with a toddler in the house. Lead in the mouth would be a major concern, and industrial machinery rotating within reach of small fingers would be another. I’d worry about these more than solvent fumes.


You have some great ideas to which I might experiment with. Thank you. But, more important, you bring up a good point about having a toddler around an industrial machine. While I would not be printing when she’s in the room, it still poses a hazard being there if she were to get curious or when she gets a little older. I’m reconsidering now putting this press in our shed.