Disassembly for cleaning?

There have recently been several posts about people getting old presses and requesting information about disassembly for cleaning and painting before setting them up for use.

I have never been one to take apart something which is in working order just to spiff it up. Most of what can be seen on a press is available to be wiped off or cleaned up. When I get a “new” piece of old equipment, My first impulse is not to take it apart, but to use it and see if it is worth the effort of cleaning and adjusting. I have never dismantled a printing press, for instance, in order to paint it.

I suppose if my printing shop were my living room, I might be a little more likely to want a press with a new set of clothes, but I like to think that my presses have all their well-earned battle scars and are happy as they are.

My recommendation would be to learn how your press works and you will learn how the press parts work together. No need for a manual to tell you how to take it apart and put it back together. Clean up the dust and rust you see, give it a drop or two of new oil & grease, and start printing.

Am I off-base on this?

John Henry
Cedar Creek Press

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No John, for me, you’re not off-base at all. When I read an earlier post about taking an Adana apart, I thought - once again - what is this all about. Printing or running a museum? I’ve got some nice machines and gave them a wipe and with a brush removed most of the dust, poked out the oil holes, cleaned it as well as I could and that’s fine. The nice old patina, with the faded gold striping on a German 19th century press is fantastic.



I’d agree. Presses can get disabled through disassembly.

On the other hand, there are folks who are much more into restoration than they are printing.


i like when people strip down presses to restore them. most of my spare windmill parts came from one of these, i never saw anyone strip down a windmill that far, well lucky for me i guess.

The reason I wanted to disassemble my Adana was because the previous owner didn’t seem to spend much time taking care of it, for instance there was dried ink on the rollers, and it appeared that it had not been oiled for some time. I wanted to disassemble it to asses any damage that might have been done by failure to upkeep a regular maintenance schedule. Also, it is impossible to clean it effectively without taking it apart.

I understand the danger of taking apart any machine, but having spent most of my life tinkering I am fairly skilled at not breaking things when disassembling them (I have a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, and I’ve spent a bit of time in a machine shop). Thus when I encountered the little hinge problem I posted my question about it, rather than risk damaging it with my ignorance.

I stand by my query, in order to use any machine effectively you should know it inside and out.
That includes how to take it apart and put it back together. Why do you think they teach new recruits how to take apart their weapons? You can learn quite a bit about the way a machine works (not to mention its designers intent) by seeing it in parts.


The tenor here seems to be suggesting that those who restore don’t print, which may go along with the old standard that those who teach…

As one who has recently posted here requesting manuals / parts lists for the purpose of restoration, I’d like to suggest an alternative motive to counter the implication that folks who take things apart are missing the point.

I’ve recently had a 1912 14.5 x 22” C&P fall in my lap, and while everything turns, the ink disk, bed and platen are completely rusted (as is much of the rest of the press). Thus, it actually does require a good amount of work in order to get it to a working state.

In the meantime, I have two Vandercooks in the shop that get a very good workout. While I teach full time during the academic year, and thus stick to small print projects during that time, summer is my book production season, setting, printing and dissing from 8 til 3, and again most evenings. By the end of the week, I like a break from the shop, and so was thrilled when the C&P came along. The yard’s looking pretty good these days, so the new press gives me, on the weekend, something to relax into and temporarily away from ink and paper.

It is, for me, a thoroughly enjoyable Sunday, as today was, to take a few pieces off the press and bring them back to life; to spend a few hours getting to know the machine, slowly, and to draw from the rusted hulk something that will run smoothly and look great. But the point isn’t the result on these Sundays, it’s the process. It’s a true pleasure to work with these machines, both during the week, and on the weekends, and I can only assume that folks seemingly suspicious of or condescending to those of us that like to work with wrenches and paint brushes are simply not particularly mechanically drawn.

Like printing, restoration is a pleasure, a meditative activity that requires attention, focus, discipline and creativity. I see no reason to dismiss such activity as somehow beside the point or fruitless.


Jason et al

If these followup posts are in regard to mine, I hope you realize I was not castigating folks who are into restoration. But I also think that folks who do not have mechanical experience should not be given an unthinking green light to tear apart presses. That is just destruction, “one press at a time.” And I can bear witness to this.

If all one needs to do is fix something, well you need to fix it. If all you want to do is print, well fix it when it is broke. If you are into restoration and know what you are doing, god bless.


Good point Gerald; I forget sometimes that some folks use wrenches to wreck things, rather than fix them, both by accident and on purpose…

I’m with John Henry on this one, but, as Mark Twain said, “Difference of opinion makes horse races.” Lots of working antique cars, antique guns, and antique printing presses have been disabled by people taking them apart and not knowing how to put them back together again. If it works, I say, oil it up and use it. If it’s truly broken, that’s a different matter. I see no reason at all to dismantle a printing press (a floor model, anyway) to get it clean. The oil ports are made to allow the oil to flow through; they will clean themselves if you oil it before each job. I have had my C & P 8 X 12 since 1975 and it has never been taken apart. I am quite sure it hasn’t been taken apart since it left the factory in 1906.

“Lots of working antique cars, antique guns, and antique printing presses have been disabled by people taking them apart and not knowing how to put them back together again.”

I’ll agree with you that there are many, many fools in the world who take a cavalier approach toward deconstruction.

Apparently my post prompted yours at least in part. So I guess everyone is in agreement that I should not disassemble my press in order to restore it.

Now I HAVE to do it. Thanks for the additional motivation :)


When I was in the Twin Cities there was this very large supplier of metal type and letterpress materials that always had Vandercooks tucked away here and there. I picked up an as new SP-15 from them for $200 and even passed on two similar condition Universal IIIs that they wanted $500 a piece for.

An acquaintance of mine somehow convinced them to give him a Universal I and he rounded up a bunch of us to help with the move. When we arrived we were told we had to wait for this mechanic the fellow knew. So, he walks in, slams his tools on the bed of the press and declared, “The doctor is in.” He then proceeded to take the press apart.

There was no systematic approach to this, no marking of parts, just a strip down approach. It became obvious the fellow had never done this before. Eventually the cylinder was taken off and dragged across the cement floor (on its bearings).

There was not enough time to finish the “deconstruction.” So we left. I don’t know whatever happened to that perfectly good press but I do know it was never installed.


Once the mechanic showed up and slammed his tools on the bed, might it not have been a good idea to stop him at that point, thank him kindly for coming in, and send him on his way?

Yeah, if it were up to me, but it was not my call, and I was still a bit wet behind the ears at that point. I did pass on those two Universal IIIs :—)

At any rate, I learned a lot that day. And that has probably saved more than a few presses in subsequent years.


I suppose that when I paint my tabletop press purely because it’s a hideous green and I prefer black, I shall find the “Print Police” at my door, demanding that I hand over my composing sticks.

FYI: You won’t get ‘em! So there!!!

I’m now in possession of three presses. A tabletop Honer, an Golding Jobber and an ATF Cylinder.

The Honer was not used much since new and the most it needed was a dusting and oiling, so that’s all it got.

The Golding, while being fully functional and still printing wonderfully, is covered with 50 or more years of oil, grease, offset powder and dust. You can’t touch, or dare I say even look at the thing without getting dirty. There’s also spots where the paint and primer have worn completely down to the cast iron, though you’d not have known from the layer of grime over it. It truly needs to be cleaned well. Since I’m going to go through the effort I want as many parts free of one another so I can get in all the nooks and crannies with cleaner and brushes as well as to be able to get fresh paint on every inch I can. Thus it’s going to be disassembled down to the frame, gears and two main shafts. Lots of photos, notes and advise from those who’ve done this before and this press will be back to something someone wouldn’t feel the need to wear a hazmat suit to run.

The ATF has it’s fair amount of oily gook in the drip pan and on some visible spots. I’m sure most of it is pretty nasty to be honest, but since this press has case covers those are all that will get cleaned and if needed repainted along with cleaning up anything that looks nasty that is visible. No need to mess with what most won’t see or touch though.

While those running commercial shops see these old presses as little more than a means to an end, I think those with hobby shops or studios are as concerned about the appearance of their equipment as they are about the work they do. Each to their own I say. Just be very careful as replacement parts or repairs and not easy to come by and near impossible on some machines.

Hi, I am so new to all this, wanted to say thank you for all the great information I am getting here. I just had a question after reading several threads about restoration:
What kind of oil do you use to lubricate old presses?
What kind of oil do you use for sealing the bare parts like the ink plate?

Thanks so much!

Parts like the ink plate don’t get “sealed”. If they’re very rusty they need to be sanded down until they have a shine to the steel again. Be very careful on things like the ink disk, bed or platen of a press as it needs to remain perfectly flat and true. Once they are free of rust use a light machine oil to prevent them from rusting again. On an ink disk use it very sparingly as the oil will interact with the ink and cause problems. Actually the oil in press wash or the ink itself may be all that’s needed to keep it free of rust.
For platen presses with just drip oil holes I use Gear Lube. For machines with central lubrication systems I use Mobil Extra Heavy oil.

Thanks! very helpful. :)