Vandercook Proving 219 Maintenance

Hello! I have a Vandercook 219 proving press and I have no idea how to maintain such a machine. I used a similar press in college, but I was only responsible for cleaning the type and rollers after each use. So, now that I have my own press, I’m clueless as to how to keep it protected. The press is in a warehouse, no heat or air-conditioning, and in the Chicago area. I’m not sure what parts need to be oiled. I did purchase Butcher’s Bowling Alley Wax to protect the unpainted areas from rust (however, I still have to wipe the thick grease off that was put on for transportation). I’m hoping for suggestions on what I can do, especially when dealing with Midwest climate, and what to use. Thanks! -KC

image: Vandercook 219

Vandercook 219

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There are a number of oiling points you will need to search out; I hope they haven’t been painted over. Some will be easy to find, like the oil caps on the big wheels at each corner of the cylinder carriage (unless the caps are missing of course). Other oil holes will be found where ever metal moves against metal, as where there is a pivoting, rotating or sliding motion. Many are on the far side of the press so do not place that side against a wall. And open the doors to oil the motor (unless a modern sealed bearing motor has been installed).
Often over looked are the oiling points in the roller frames, and as a result many 219s show wear there resulting in inking problems. In the top roller frame, there are oil hols at each end of the small rider rollers (they mat be filled in with crud). And the large oscillating roller should have its worm and crescent lubricated with vaseline. The post of the crescent should get graphite grease. To disassemble, look for a small allen screw at the end of the oscillating roller and loosen it. Then you can unscrew the crescent holder, which has a slotted screw head on the surface of the oscillator, often caked with ink. Unscrew that, with the oscillator positioned to cover the worm gear. Then you can slide the oscillator back to expose the worm, with the crescent post fitting through a slot in the end of the oscillator. Clean everything, put graphite grease in the cavity of the post holder and vaseline in the worm gear, and reassemble. Do not screw in the post holder so tight that the crescent will not pivot.
There are two styles of upper frame, the older style with aluminum side pieces (kind of M-shaped) and the newer style with rectangular steel side pieces with bronze bushings where the rider rollers spin. In this, the bushings can be replaced when worn.
The lower frame, with form rollers, may have bronze roller bearing blocks, or steel bearing blocks; nyliners are used with the steel bearing blocks, eight Nyliners in all. On the outer side of the bearing blocks, directly above the roller shaft, are oil holes. The bearing blocks may be misassembled so the oil holes are inside and inaccessible. There are usually numbers stamped into the halves of the bearing blocks; when reassembling the numbers should be matched and at the same end. Where Nyliners are used, there will be a U-shaped retainer that fits over the ears of the Nyliners on the non-gear end; they are held in place by the bolts that also hold the two halves of the blocks together. Without the retainer, the Nyliners will fall out on the outer side of the block.
Printing in a cold warehouse will be a serious challenge to ink distribution. Maybe a small electric heater can be placed inside the base of the press to warm it up to printing temperature.

To start out you might like to find yourself a climate controlled space. I don’t think you or the machine are going to enjoy the situation you’ve described. Now that it is cold the ink isn’t going to behave well at all.

I’d leave that protective grease on the press until you can take it somewhere more suitable.

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

Thanks for all the information! I would absolutely love to bring this upstairs into my studio where there is climate control. Unfortunately, I don’t think the floor can handle the weight.

any machinery left in an unheated area will soon start to rust, i keep my stuff in a 60 degree garage, when i work on it i run a electric heater to bring ir up to about 70. good luck dick g.

I guess there are some heaters in the wall that keep the space at least 40 degrees. I’m wondering if there is a way I can section off the area with the letterpress and heat it even more… the warehouse is too large to try to heat the entire space.

As a new Vandercook owner, you should connect with

you will find a ton a great info and you can add yourself to the census, if your press is not already on there.

Maybe you could have an engineer check out whether the floor of your studio can handle the press. Would you have a way to get it up there if it could? It will change your printing experience drastically and will also prolong the life of your press.


if your studio is on the first floor you could lay a sheet of plywood under the press to help distribute the weight, also if you have a cellar you could brace under the press. my shop is in a 4 car garage, before i had a furnace installed i blocked off a small section and heated it with electric heat, it can be done. good luck dick g.

My studio is on the second floor of a warehouse built in 2001. The floor was only made to handle 150 lbs. a square foot. I’m thinking it can be done if I position it above an iron beam. Also, I’m hoping I can take it apart and use the warehouse crane to bring up the largest pieces. Sound possible?

Your press is the most basic version of the 219 Old Style. It has no frisket tower, extra paper shelves, or drive motor. It should weigh in right near 2000 lbs.

Unlike the Universal and SP series presses the early 219 has a base that doesn’t have legs at both ends. The load has much better distribution to the floor.

Measure the square footage of the base of the press. I would guess it is close to 14 sq ft. If that is the case (and if my weight estimate is correct) then you are looking at a load of 143 lbs per square foot.

If you intend to stay there for a long time it might be worthwhile to consider having a rigger move it into your workspace. I have a feeling you will do a lot more printing if you do.


unless you really know what you’re doing i would try not to take it apart, if you have access to a crane, that’s the way to go. make sure it is rated for that much weight. personally dan has the best idea, riggers know what they are doing, most of the time you’re better off letting them move the heavy stuff. good luck dick g.