Kelsey 5x8 Letterpress - seeking general info

Hi all.

I just purchased my first letterpress - a Kelsey 5x8 machine. I’m planning on using polymer plates to render my own artwork, probably through Boxcar Press.

I’m wondering if anyone has experience/thoughts/advice about this particular machine. I’d also be interested in hearing thoughts about polymer plates.

I am new to the world of letterpress, and welcome all information. Thanks in advance.

Log in to reply   15 replies so far

If you do a search of this site for “Kelsey 5x8” and “photopolymer” or “polymer” you’ll find enough information to keep you busy for weeks. There’s lots to learn and a lot of it has already been discussed on this site and others. If you have specific questions I (and others, I’m sure) would be happy to help.

Good luck!

Katy…. your 5x8 is a great machine, and will do a fine job on post-card sized art. I would recommend however, that you expand your horizons beyond Photopolymer Plates.

Don’t get me wrong…. PP plates work just fine, but they are very limiting as far as one’s Artistic Learning goes. If you are an artist, then why not learn a variety of techniques such as hand-carving blocks, handset type, or wood type? Such things will expand your capabilities in ways that PP cannot do.

Thanks for the comments so far!

Hi Katy, I started out with exactly the same press, and have used predominately photopolymer plates. The nice thing about them, is that you can gang multiple illustrations onto one plate, and then cut them apart and try them out. They are really versatile, easy to move around, and there isn’t a huge cost commitment when you add up how many illustrations you can put onto a letter sized plate. You can also do the same illustration in several line weights to see what prints best for you as well.

I have been collecting blocks along the way, and I really like printing from them as well. I am just at a point that I am going to order a few magnesium blocks of my illustrations to see how they turn out. Good luck.

I am so thankful for this community, and the time people take to post helpful comments. It’s really easing my beginner’s anxiety - thanks again!

Follow up to my original question, and the comment from Winking Cat Press: any suggestions re: handset type for my press? Is there type that is better suited for my Kelsey 5x8, or does it matter? And any suggestions where I can get furniture, quoins, and tympan?

Nope. Type-high is type-high. It’s just easier to print a whole paragraph on a Kelsey with 10 or 12 point whatever than 36 point whatever.

With hand-set type a composing stick is a necessity; so is an imposing surface.

You don’t say where you are, but Don Black in Toronto, Dave Churchman in Indianapolis and John Barrett in Chicopee, MA can find you lots of used stuff including type. New tympan can be had from NA Graphics. Check the Yellow Pages here on Briar Press for more details.

Thanks Arie. I’m located in Brooklyn, NY, but will definitely check out Dave Churchman - I was born and raised in Indianapolis, and visit regularly.

I’m going to get the tympan from NA graphics. Any recommendations for the rest of the packing material, or is tympan enough to start with?

Thanks again.


You’re practically in John Barret’s backyard. You should go visit him on a Saturday when he is open. You’ll find him very helpful and he has a lot of what you need. Dave Churchman’s Boutique de Junque is a delight not to be missed (also open Saturdays, but call ahead to make sure he’ll be there; Dave is also a very helpful and knowledgeable guy) but John’s place is much more organized. Before heading out to Churchman’s bring a good strong flashlight with fresh batteries and an empty bladder. It’s kinda dark back in the corners where the good stuff seems to hide and the bathroom is filled with chases. Dress to get dirty. Steel toed shoes wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Packing board can also be purchased from NA Graphics, but I generally used tympan and sheets of bond paper with a Mylar sheet as the top of the packing. when I had a Kelsey. I had access to an endless supply of old microfiche cards (3x5 or so and about the useful printing area of a Kelsey 5x8). Xray film or negatives from offset press plate making are also something I’ve heard used to provide a hard packing. Or you can simply go out an buy Mylar sheets.

I’ve successfully substituted plastic bags from the grocery store for makeready tissue. Its a bit hard to cut smoothly, but it is thin and very uniformly so.

With the Kelsey makeready is probably less important than control of the impression screws. Mine wouldn’t stay put, so I ended up readjusting them frequently in the middle of a run. Mine were also centered on the sides of the platen and even the slightest amount of slip of any of the impression screws led to a rocking platen and a lousy impression. The Kelsey is capable of really nice work, but it will make you work for it more than other, more precision-built presses. I now use a C&P OS 8x12, a Vandercook #1 and a Golding Official #2. All are much nicer than the Kelsey. I sold that a long time ago.

Thanks for the help Arie. I appreciate it.

HI Katy how are you doing with your press? I just got a 5x8 kelsey myself after taking an intro class here in NYC. I used an automated vandercook so I’m lost with how to use this table top. I’m not even sure if I have a chase or not… I have furniture and type set that all came with it… do you think I can drop by your studio when you are printing and watch you work it? or do you have any suggestions? thanks madison

Hi Madison

I’m just now starting to print on it - right now I’m working on the packing/gauge pin riddle. I’m printing mostly with polymer plates, and purchased a base through boxcar press. My advice right now - as an extremely green printer - would be to read up on Boxcar Press and here. I’d also recommend “Letterpress Printing” by Paul Maravelas (our little press is featured in it), and looking up “scanwizard” on ebay. Scanwizard is a man in California who copies the original manuals for old presses, and sells them. You can find the original press manual for a Kelsey 5x8 there. It’s about $12 bucks. N/A Graphics (store online) has tympan cut for our machine too.

You definitely have a chase, which uses screws extending through the side rather than quoins.

After reading up I think the important thing is to start printing, and troubleshoot from there. That’s where I am now.

You’re welcome to stop by and check it out, but I won’t have time until July. My studio’s in Gowanus, Brooklyn. I work in public schools, so summer’s my time to be in the studio.

Good luck. It’s a cool machine.

Hi Katydid

I’m very new to the letterpress world (after doing some in college, but not retaining much of the information) and just bought a 5x8 Kelsey to stat figuring it out again. I think I bought it from the Madison you were responding to in your last post. :(

The press I bought from Madison came with a lot of type and new rollers and some other stuff that doesn’t make any sense to me yet, but I’m hoping to figure it all out. Your links will help - thanks very much!

I haven’t seen any follow-up posts so I was just wondering how it all worked out for you and if you have been making awesome prints with your Kelsey.


Do you mind sharing what you paid for the Kelsey 5 x 8?

Hi Cashmere&Khaki

This is such an old post, I’m not sure if she will even see it. I bought mine from Madison, who is the girl three posts above mine here. I bought it from her for around $1000, with lots of equipment (NOS tympan paper, quins, loads of furniture, leads and slugs, two pairs of brand new rollers, two chases and five full trays of fonts). The press itself was probably worth about $350-400 without the rollers. The rollers are worth about $150/pair. It was in perfect working condition, and I was printing a few days later, but not restored or anything like that.

Hope this helps.