* Soda blasting a very dirty press

I have just gotten myself a C&P OS press, and have found it dirtier and gunkier (?) than I anticipated. I have tried cleaning it with scotchbrite pads and a variety of grease cutters, however, while it removes most of the gunk, there remains a layer of gunk that can still be removed by scratching it with my finger nail (I didn’t want to take a metal blade to it).

So I thought that perhaps getting it professionally soda blasted would work.

I would love to have the press clean enough to repaint.

Is this a wise course of action? It seems that I will have to pay about $500 to have it blasted. Are there other less expensive options?

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It’s probably not worth it unless you’re just interested in the press being pristine. If the parts that touch the paper are clean that’s all that really matters. You never know…. some of that gunk may be allowing the press to still operate smoothly after 100 years.

I just got in a press that was quite rusty and gross last week. After searching around on here I was able to find a post suggesting vinegar and lime juice. I got a large rubbermaid tub, 2 gallons of vinegar and 32oz. of lemon juice. After letting all my parts soak for abot 2 hours I was able to take them out and literally wipe most of it off. I couldnt beleive how well it worked other than the terrible smell…

I restored an OS last year. It takes a long time and a lot of elbow grease. The Purple cleaner from the Auto Parts store works the best. But also takes off the paint. I used the purple cleaner, wire brushes and a stiff metal putty knife. Be sure to clean out all the oil holes with a drill bit then use WD40 until you can see it comming out of the joints. Once you clean a section you will need to put a light coating of WD40 on it to keep it from rusting until you can repaint. I did it in my garage and made quite a mess. If you can I think it would be quicker to blast the thing outside with the purple cleaner and a high pressure hose. then grease the heck out of it quickly. I have heard of someone taking one to the car was…
Good Luck.

Hmmmm. interesting. So how much did you folks have to dis-assemble the press? what parts did you take off?

The other thought was that perhaps I should just go to the Home Depot or Rona and get a sand blasting set myself. Thoughts?

I do not know much about soda blasting, but if you are going to sand blast you must completely disassemble the machine.
There is no way to get the sand out of the assembled joints after sand blasting and the residue sand left in the joints will cause the machine to wear out very quickly.
The machine can be blasted with walnut shells as the shells are softer than the iron and will not wear the joints.

I took off all of the smaller parts. Ink Disk, Name plate, Chase holder, Platen and the Feed boards. I did not want to mess with the flywheel.

I completely disassembled my tabletop Craftsmen. I used paint stripper and a wire brush. Be very careful taking apart old cast iron. It only takes a little mistake, and you have a costly repair. (Ask me how I know)

I painted my press with tractor paint from the local farm supply store. It has a leveling agent in it so it won’t show brush strokes.

I think I’m going to go with the pressure washer & lye cleaner (like oven cleaner) idea this weekend.


If you are gonna repaint, don’t use WD-40 to stop rust, there is some stuff called PB-Blaster that works better, or at least something that’s not silicone based…

WD-40 is awesome for lubrication and about everything else, but it bonds too well to porous metal surfaces. When you go to repaint the piece, the microfilm of WD-40 will keep the paint from forming a strong mechanical bond with the metal surface, and your paint will begin to flake off after a few years.

I’ve been restoring woodworking hand tools for a while and what I’ve found the best for preventing rust(and the cheapest) is to hit the freshly cleaned parts with a Brass wire wheel(either in an angle grinder or a benchtop grinder), The Brass is softer than the steel so it wont wear away at the metal.

If you have any rusted parts to deal with use a electrolytic derusting process, its very easy and actually reverses existing rust. Basically you get car battery charger and a plastic tub large enough for your parts and fill it with water, and mix in baking soda for the electrolyte(about 1tbs to a gallon). Then hook up the negative lead on the charger to the part you are wanting to clean, and connect the positive lead to a piece of scrap steel. Submerge both it the solution and make sure they don’t touch. let it run for a few hours and you’ll be able to wipe the rust with a rag afterwords.

Not meaning to hit hard, but WD-40 is not a good lubricant. It will provide some lubrication, but it is not a good lubricant.
WD-40 is good to free up parts that stick when they should move freely. Used liberally it will flush out grunk.
Once the parts move, lubricate them with oil, the true lubricant.

See if there is someone that does dry ice blasting in your area. We use that on most of our presses. The dry ice pellets blast off the crud which falls on the ground. Of course the dry ice just evaporates. The crud does not get wet in any way, so it can be vacuumed or swept up.

An update: I’ve used oven cleaner and let it sit. Then I have blasted it with a pressure washer. Then I’ve scrubbed it with a toothbrush. However, there is still a layer (much smaller layer) of crud on the press. So, I think I’ll try another blast of oven cleaner, and get a wire brush. You can see in the picture how I’ve put up vapour barrier to ensure that my garage doesn’t get dirty.

As a bonus, I’ve located the serial number, which is 25317, which I think means this was built in the latter part of 1888.

image: Press being cleaned

Press being cleaned

The wire brush didn’t do so well. No damage to the press, just the brass brush wore down very quickly. I’m going to have the soda blaster man come in. He says that soda, unlike sand, doesn’t harm seals and machinery parts. So, I’m hopeful that after a good cleaning, I’ll wash it down again with the pressure washer and I’ll be able to paint it.

As an aside, I think the paint below the grease is blue…would that have been an original colour?

I personally wouldn’t risk soda blasting. If you can’t get some testimonials from people who have done it, and found that their presses are still OK years afterward, I wouldn’t do it.

I believe that the soda used in the blasting process is basically baking soda, and that it is very abrasive, which is why it works well. It might not harm machinery parts in general, but do you know for sure that it doesn’t harm bearing surfaces (which you have a lot of)? Your press has lasted for 121 years, and if you make a mistake, you could change it from a wonderful working artifact, to at best a static display. You are the caretaker of that artifact, and I believe you should do everything you can to preserve it for future letterpress printers who come after you.

If you still feel you have to soda blast it, one good thing is that baking soda is water soluble. After blasting, if you afterward get water to all of the residual soda, then you can dissolve it away. But, to be perfectly safe, you have to be sure that you get all of it. That means flooding the bearings with water and working them, and repeating that procedure several times, to be sure the soda is completely dissolved away. Then you have to get all of the water out and get oil in, or the bearings will rust.

That press has lasted all that time without being blasted. Is it really that important to blast it now? It sounds like you have done a great job of getting the vast majority of the dirt off. I’m sure there is a less drastic way of getting enough of the rest off so that you can paint it if you want to. If the last bit of old paint, ink, or even dirt are stuck on that hard, paint over it. Don’t look at it as defeat, but rather as a more gentle way of treating a grand old machine that deserves it.



DTP - you have an absolutely GORGEOUS press.

And thanks to all, I’ll try again with the brass brushes and the oven cleaner.



that is just stunning,

excellent work

just curious where did you find the press… I would love to take on one of those old platen presses as a project, just wondering where would be a good place to start looking..(other than here and craig’s list)


DTP: interesting story. I quite agree with you. In fact, on one hand, I almost wish I didn’t have such a burning desire to print with the machine, so that I could spent more time preserving it. No sarcasm…

Thanks for the advice DTP.. I kind of ran into the same thing when I started restoring antique hand woodworking tools(much smaller and easier, and mostly cheaper projects than a bed and platen press) Some people told me it was a disgrace to strip off the old paint or fill rust pits with lead( yes I know its dangerous, …but it works, and I wear proper protection).

But the way I see it these tools are were made to be used, that is their purpose, and to stick them on a shelf as an unusable display piece would be denying them their purpose. If it was a Mayan artifact that was “one of a kind” I would understand not changing it, But these items were mass produced to a certain extent. And if you can make a tool, whether it be an old letterpress or a foot operated wood lathe, ascetically pleasing to you while you make it usable again, and it brings you joy when you see your completed project, I see nothing wrong with that. (given that you stay as historically accurate as possible along the way.)

I’ve gotten the press cleaner. As you can see, it has definitely been painted blue in the past. It doesn’t look like a blue that would’ve been used over 100 years ago, but I’m open to the opinions of others.

I’m going to try a paint stripper today. Not because I care to remove the existing paint (I’ll just paint over it), but because I want to get rid of the last of the crud.

The soda blaster guy wouldn’t do the blasting: he said that from my garage attached to my house the soda would infiltrate the house no matter how well we sealed it off, he said that the cloud of soda arising from the front of the garage would damage the vegetation in front of my neighbour’s house, he said the noise would be too much for the neighbourhood. Some of those reasons sound valid, and some don’t. In any event, I think I’m stuck with more elbow grease…..

image: Cleaner press

Cleaner press

Just an update to everyone, and a big thanks to all who offered support. I’ve gotten the press to as best a shape as I can. I’m sure others might’ve been able to do better, but with my skills and equipment, this was a fair shake. Check out the pictures at: http://courtjesterpress.blogspot.com


The press looks great, good job. What type of paint did you use to re paint (brand), I have an old letterpress that I am trying to clean up and re paint, but overall you have a great looking press…

I used the Sherwin-Williams Kem Kromic primer (fantastic stuff - I highly recommend it), and then a Sherwin-Williams top coat. I used a gloss black.
Thanks for the feed back!!!