Dream Letterpress Shop

Hi Everyone,

If you could have your dream letterpress shop, regardless of equipment cost or availability, what equipment would you include and why?

I’d love to hear everyone’s responses.


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Hello ATKOgirl,

My letterpress dream is to use what I have to its best advantage. In other words, my goal is to develop my skills to the point where I feel worthy of the things I’ve managed to acquire so far.



Great question. I have 3 Vandercooks, a Windmill, 8 cabinets of type, Hammond saw, C&P cutter, and a A2 AV Platemaker. My dream would be to have larger studio space with a storefront with reasonable rent to give workshop to people that are inquisitive about letterpress. Currently my 2 1/2 car garage works fine for workshops, however, giving people the opportunity to learn in a larger space, with what we all have grown to love would be my dream.

I don’t want to say I have everything yet, although, with more space come with more space to fill. I’m good for now.

Casey McGarr
Inky Lips Letterpress
McKinney, TX

The one in my basement and garage: 8x12 C&P OS with a treadle, Golding Official 4x6, Vandercook #1 and Poco #0 presses. Runs of Garamond, Trafton Script, Glamour, and Gravure plus a smattering of Kaufman, Wedding Text, and a few others I almost never use. Also Paper cutter, corner rounder, Rosback perforator, and Hammond saw. Couldn’t fit in much more and haven’t had time to fully explore what I have.

*Maybe* I’d add a Thompson or Bruce caster to cast my own type. Doubt it though.

Unlike most of the letterpress folks that I know, my goal is no longer to have more equipment, but rather to have less…. and to concentrate on perfection rather than on business / economic considerations. I already have all of the equipment that I need. What I dream of is the day when I can print what I WANT to print, not what will earn me the most money.

Earning money is not a bad thing, not at all. I actually like earning money. Unfortunately though, running a business can seriously detract from one’s free time and thus impact one’s artistic growth. In the next few years, if all goes according to plan, all of the production machinery will go away.

Soooo…. what to keep? I think my dream shop will have one table-top press….. a Pilot perhaps, or maybe my Sigwalt….. and one flatbed. That will either be my Hand-press or a proof press. Then of course I’ll need a cutter. My newly refurbished Par-A-Gon will serve nicely.

Since I’ll not be doing work for others, there will be no need for PP plate making, Lazer cutting blocks, or anything digital. To be honest, I always feel like those things are sort of “cheating” anyway…. so they’ll go away, as will the computer itself. In their place, I’ll keep my metal type, the pantograph router, and my hand-engraving tools.

Then lastly, I’ll keep the book-binding equipment. Hand-binding books is one of the great Zen things of life.


You have American Uncial? Gggrrrrr you lucky dog.


I’ll second that, Devil’s Tail. That’s one of the things I was referring to when I said that someday I hope to be worthy of the things I’ve managed to acquire. I have some of Theo’s American Uncial, too, and I just want to be able to do it justice.



“It is some of the most impeccable printing I have ever seen.”

It indeed is.

Now, I can resolve the next 1,000 questions here by just telling everyone to seek out what the Hammer’s used for ink, solvents, paper.

I did.



Devil’s Tail

My information is that Victor made his own ink. Don’t know if that followed down the trail, but the Hammer stuff I have, even post Victor, is quite stellar. I have the Faust book that was done posthumous, and the presswork is unbelievable, literally to die for.

You probably want to keep those inks under lock and key. I have some of the inks that Lewis Allen used and I won’t even touch them. Anyway, you know the old saying, ink is like men, they just get better with age. :—) Oh oh!




I agree with you almost completely…. but would add one person to that list: Jan Tichischold, the great book designer. His book “The Form of The Book” is a “must read” text on layout, legibility, taste and style. I’d recommend it for anyone who is serious about fine books.


Since the “Tail” mentioned Harry Duncan, I can tell you that Duncan was partial to the Janecke-Schneemann Black. I recall him talking about how it was thixotropic (reduced viscosity when it was well rolled out and the particles were moving around). I don’t know if his use was through experimentation or by reference from someone else who used it.

Most letterpress or lithographic inks are thixotropic, or so we were taught in school, so J-S black is ordinary in that particular regard.
In the can, long chain molecules form over time, so you need to work the ink on the slab with an ink knife to get the ink back to printing consistancy.
Unfortunately, lots of new printers don’t know this, because some are being taught instead to run the Vandercook for 10 or 15 minutes to work the ink. No kidding.


That is funny about the Hatch Show Print comment.

I once found a book that had been printed with Hammer’s Samson Uncial cast by Middleton, so I called him up regarding the matrices. He said, “Son, I’m too old to remember that.” So I called up Carolyn Hammer. She had the mats and agreed to lend them to me. We had them cast on a Thompson. They were returned along with some of the type that was cast. She later sent them back to me when I was at the USC Fine Arts Press along with some French foundry American Uncial mats and the “lost” Pindar punches. We later donated all that to Wells College.

Small world, huh?

Donit know anything about Jacob Hammer other than the printing of the Faust. I have the Caxton Club edition.

Nice talking to you.



Though I do work the ink out well on the slab, I do also let it run for a bit on the press itself before beginning work. It may be a bit superstitious but seems things need to get a bit acclimated.

Hamady used to say, that when the ink is put on the slab it still thinks its in the can. So you work it out. When it is first put on the rollers it still thinks its on the slab. So you let it run a bit. Perhaps a bit medieval in the approach, but, that’s where it all started, isn’t it now. Just bringing it all back home.

There is a YouTube instructional video where the guy is just slinging the ink at the roller mechanism while the press is running. I’m like, wow.


I wish more of the seasoned printers would offset the bad YouTube lessons with good ones.


Gerald, of course, some ink distribution is necessary on press, and you are obviously attentive to your presses. But I am troubled when I see people dabbing rubber base ink straight out of the can onto a Vandercook and letting the press do the rest, while multi-tasking the paper-cutting and plate-making, cell phone, etc. It becomes an ingrained habit to just leave the press running while doing other things. The warning right on the press is never noticed:
“Always lift ink rollers when press is not in operation. If rollers are left turning on ink drum the ink will dry faster and the rollers will be subjected to needless wear.”
Add to that, leaving the lubrication to others, and you may understand why I keep carping about shortened press lifespans.


The medium is more conducive to entertainment than instruction. The kind of detailed and careful information that needs to be conveyed would not likely be capable of sustaining interest to any but the very serious.


Barb and Gerald… the bad instructions on YouTube are not a lot different than some of the “advice” we used to get during “on the job training.” Anyone who has been doing this for any length of time has surely seen their share of “printers” who teach all manner of bad habits. They have been around since time began, I think.

I actually had one guy tell me, a long time ago, that there was nothing to worry about with adjusting register on a platen press…. while the press was running! “You know…. you just wait until the press opens… and then real quick-like, you nudge your gauge pin a little….” He also smoked while cleaning his press with gasoline, and ate sammiches while setting lead type. I have no idea if he is still alive, but somehow I doubt it.

The only difference nowadays is that such people can now spread their stupidity to a far larger audience.

I would like to see a video of you printing

Hello wildmh2000,

While Gerald pointed out that the “kind of detailed and careful information that needs to be conveyed would not likely be capable of sustaining interest to any but the very serious,” for those few the information would be extremely valuable and would help perpetuate good printing practices for the future. I’m still very much in the learning stage. Though I am an inveterate documenter, it is my learning experiences that I document, including the do-it-yourself methods that I am sometimes forced to invent for lack of available training.

So many new printers work in isolation. Those who are lucky enough to have taken some classes or workshops still have had only a tiny portion of the instruction provided to apprentices of bygone days. I’d venture to say that for many, the internet is the primary source for learning how to print letterpress. Yes, there are some very good books (including, of course, Gerald’s), but there are some things that are best taught “in person.” It’s one thing to describe in words the correct consistency of printers’ ink, but another to see exactly how a thread of properly worked ink falls from the knife and settles itself onto the slab.

While the instructional videos on YouTube do tend to cover tasks like tying a Windsor knot or making an origami bunny, that’s not to say that the site couldn’t be used to teach more complex skills. Letterpress subjects could include locking up the form, oiling the press, changing the packing, adjusting the rollers, and so forth. I do hope that more of the experienced printers will consider sharing their expertise on YouTube or perhaps on a DVD that people could buy.



As you are well aware, as a former student of mine, I teach, I write (in print, and hassle the crap out of folks on the web), and do have apprentices. Virtual reality is no replacement for physical experience. Visual media cannot provide the depth of information that print media can. Hands on instruction/experience simply cannot be conveyed by video clips.

I think the correct term here is epiphany, which is a sensual/mental/physical experience that cannot be duplicated by visual media. How much crap did we all watch on TV and how much of it can we remember? Does a documentary on Greece equal going to Greece? Can you learn skin diving by watching Jacque Cousteau? Could you learn the finer points of printing or typography by watching a YouTube short?

Don’t worry about the folks who work in isolation. You are supposed to work in isolation. If folks want to find the way, it is clearly marked (there is a term for this, bibliographic mapping, and printing history is all about that), all one has to do is look for it.


Back to the “ideal” print shop … hand presses are historic and interesting to look at, but are they really preferable to, say, a Vandercook or some other large-format proof press? I have neither, so I’m curious.

“Preferable” is impossible to define. The aesthetic values, and pleasure of useage of an antique handpress are so great that it is the prefered machine for many, many printers. I love handpresses.

At the same time, proof presses will put down a lot more presure, and some of them have superior registration capabilities, so a lot of printers prefer them for their work. I like big proof presses, too.

And while the two presses listed above are fine machines, they are slower than power-platen presses…. and so production oriented folks tend to prefer their Windmills and C&P’s.

So I guess “preferable” depends on what you personally like, and what type of work you are doing.

My first press was a 3x5” Kelsey. I “graduated” to a 7x11” Pearl when I was in the ninth grade (my dad’s basement was never the same after that.) After college, I taught presswork at a technical school for a few years, and rescued some type and other stuff when the school shut down it’s letterpress program.
So, after collecting gear for 30 years, I promised myself that someday I’d build my dream shop….. I just finished it, and soon realized (after I bought the red ball Windmill) that I was already out of space. I’ve managed to shoe-horn in a Vandercook No. 4 I salvaged from a chicken coop in Iowa, my beloved Pearl, and an 1887 Gordon platen, as well as a cutter and 100+ cases of type in 4 banks, plus a stone. So….and I pause to wonder…what my wife’s gonna say when I fire up the Windmill….in her parking space in the garage.
Anyway, I’m finally in operation, and between sorting pied type (relics from that tech school) and de-rusting 50+ year-old presses, and setting rollers, and bed pressures, and dampening paper, and tipping inks, I often wonder who’s going to pass on this stuff, and what the craft will look like in another 30 years? I’ve had the pleasure of taking workshops at the Minnesota Book Arts facility (marbeling, and a couple of Paul Moxon’s wonderful Vandercook maintenance classes) but there just doesn’t seem to be many technical classes offered today, outside of Gerald B’s classes and the book arts programs. I’d offer to teach, but I’m in the middle of nowhere, in my dream shop.
This letterpress stuff does foster addictions, and I really enjoy reading these discussion postings. Thanks!

Maybe it’s just me but I find it funny that the question asked was “What’s your ideal shop regardless of money or availability” and while I only skimmed over most the posts, every one seems to have said what they are trying to accomplish or what they are getting rid of and not what they would put together for this new ideal shop.

Myself, I’m torn on the sort of building I’d choose to house my ideal shop. I love the quaintness of an english style cottage nestled in some lush grove in the forest. I also would love to have a glass front building with lots of pedestrian traffic out front to show off the presses running and all that we do.

For type, I honestly wouldn’t want thousands and thousands of cases. I want only those faces that are unique or exotic. Ones you couldn’t get in Linotype or Ludlow mats. Which I would also want at least one of each. One of each because I was taught, wether true or not, that the Lino was for smaller faces, and the Ludlow for larger ones. I would use the Lino for body copy, the Ludlow for headings and the hand set for title pages and book plates. Also a nice assortment of brass type for book covers. The last bit would be either a photopolymer plate system, or maybe the new laser engraving folks are talking about for making custom art plates. I’d only use them for halftones and art as all the type would be either hand set or hot metal.

For presses I’d start with 4-6 identical lever presses to teach beginner or introduction classes with. For platens I’d want a matched pair of 12 x18s with Kluge feeders. One for printing mostly text the other for foil, embossing and die cutting. I’d also have a third, maybe a Golding 21 for short run work that’s not worth the time to set up the feeders. I’d then want the larger Heidelberg cylinder. This would let me do large poster work, nice halftones or tight registration multi color jobs.

I don’t know enough about hand binding to say what I’d want yet, but certainly I’d want what’s needed to produce quality, sewn hard cover books. The only modern item I’d want is an electric folder. Hand folding thousands of pages with a bone may be about the most tedious task there is IMO.

After thinking about this topic and reading the comments, I think the book binding materials would be great addition to my dream shop. I have been told there is quite a bit of skill involved and some time for proper learning.

I’m a firm believer printing from type, linocuts, cuts on wood, and photopolymer will expand my own education in personal work, not just printing with type. I would feel my hands tied if type was the only medium to print from.

Gutenberg worked his tail off to invent a better way to print using moveable type, one that the Chinese could not perfect because of the number of characters involved that were both symbols and letters. I’m a huge fan of photopolymer, what I can’t carve in linoleum I’ll have a plate made. The number of possibilities are really endless in what we can print using halftones, overlaying of colors, type, images, shapes etc… However, a bit experimental but okay. A friend said if he can get it type high he’ll use it to make his art. But to say that type is the only way to fulfill ones own art is to disregard all that can be used to experiment and see where something might take us that we haven’t thought of yet.

I’m a graphic designer, the creative process is wide open and cannot be contained in a fence or a box. Out of the box thinking leads us to new areas if only we untie our minds. So my dream shop is where anyone can come experiement with type and images. Look at the work by like Waxman, Tschichold, Marc Chagall, El Lissitzky, and many others that were using letterpress.

Casey McGarr
Inky Lips Letterpress



My ideal shop is the one in my basement (as I said and described above). I’ve spent 30 years building to it’s current state and while there’s lots of neat equipment I don’t have, I don’t really want much more.

I did recently add a Poco #0 press, but that’s only because it fell into my hands and was headed to the scrap yard if I didn’t take it.

I’ve bought into a friends belief that much of the fun to be derived from a printshop is doing your best within the limitations of press, type, paper, ink and the skill of the operator.

This has been so fun to read for a newbie like myself! I just want to get my press home…


You shared this advice in another post, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it. Thanks for the reminder…

My apologies. I meant to say “most responses” not “every response”. I re wrote that post maybe 3 times, as such I’m not surprised I messed some portion of it up.

I’m glad you’ve accomplished what you set out with your shop. I can only hope to one day have all I desire. For now I’m most lacking in space as I really need a lot with a good size barn to accommodate it all. Currently I’m regulated to about 500 sqft of basement space. Not exactly accommodating to a Heidelburg KSBA or Linotype.