Newbie needs help :: Restoring a Kelsey 5x8 & 6x10

My husband and I just purchased (found in the Briar Press classifieds) two Kelsey tabletop presses and type. They need some love (IE: lots of work) but they’re beauties. We are just about as new to this as can be. We’re just now learning what all the parts are called.

Obviously they are missing rollers, so we’ll be purchasing some of those, but we’d like to start cleaning them and getting all the parts we need to replace this weekend. We plan to fully clean, paint, etc.

We own a stationery boutique and plan to use these presses to learn the artform and eventually invest in a larger C&P press. One particular interest I have is to use these (and the type we also purchased) for blind pressing. We have the metal type, but aren’t sure how to put it all together (no wooden blocks?) to use it properly. We’ve heard of Boxcar Press and would like to use their plates for our regular wedding invitation orders. Again, that’s all new too. I hear we need a specific base to do that? Oh wow, this is overwhelming :)

If any experienced Letterpress friend out there might have any suggestions you can give us based on my photos below, that’d be great. I can take/post more photos if you’d like also. And feel free to contact me directly also. Thank you, in advance, for your help! We’re looking to take a class or two as well (located in Tampa) if anyone has any suggestions.

Emily & Bryan

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try sal zampino, he is in tampa i think, he is in the yellow pages on this site. good luck dick g.

Take a look at, they have Kelsey parts as well as do restoration. There is also a link to Lou’s restoration in Rhode Island and you can see lots of pictures of what he has restored. Check out for engravings. Lots of information and lots of fun!!

Good Luck!


Try reading through this.

Emily -

The first thing I see in these photos is that your presses appear to be complete; you probably only need to purchase rollers and clean off the rust - particularly the ink table, chase and chase beds - and the roller assemblies.

(& Grippers & springs - see below)

It should be sufficient to simply disassemble and clean the major parts - which takes a few hours but can seem pretty complex the first time you do it without any guidance.

I recommend against painting these presses unless you are *really* in to a lot of work. Leave that for the pros like Lou in Rhode Island -

I don’t recommend a complete tear-down and repainting unless you’re really into total disassembly and sandblasting of the parts prior to painting. Unless you sandblast the parts prior to painting, your paint will likely flake off before long.

Besides, the original patina of an old press is quite appealing; painting is a complex effort which I do NOT recommend to the amateur. Getting a good result requires skill, facilities and experience.

But look at how Tina & Ed’s press came out - just cleaning, no painting. Butcher’s wax is sufficient to make a clean press shine. Please don’t paint your press unless you can do a complete tear-down and sandblasting of the parts.

You will also want to soak both ink tables - and the roller hooks & springs, the chases & beds - overnight in a bath of 1 part lime juice and 2-4 parts white vinegar. It does a great job and is safe to work with and for the environment. However, as soon as you remove these treated parts from the bath, wipe them down and soak them with WD-40. Believe me, these items can begin rusting within MINUTES of being removed from the bath. Wipe them down and oil them immediately.

A more complete ‘clean-up’ restoration procedure is too complex to cover in this forum, but is not rocket science, either.

To see how I did this while restoring (without repainting) a 5x8 last summer, take a look at

Your 5x8 roller hooks look to be straight and usable - but must be cleaned. Remove the nuts, slide off the springs , soak them in the bath overnight and then polish them thoroughly with WD-40 and scotch brite pads. Be sure to also clean inside of the holes they pass through. Making sure that the hooks move smoothly through the holes is critical to proper roller action.

Soak the hooks, springs and nuts in the lime-juice bath.
You can also do a good job of cleaning the springs using a bench-mounted wire wheel. These springs look pretty good and probably do not need to be replaced - although proper adjustment of the springs will make a difference when you mount rollers on them.

Too much pressure and the rollers will hang-up while rolling up onto the ink table; too little and your rollers will not properly lay down the ink. You may want to tape the roller trucks (not the rails) to adjust roller height when you are done cleaning the presses.

Your 6x10 is quite different. It employs the old “Cooks Victor” roller carriage, which is pretty rare . This is identical to the one used on the older style, original “Victor” press designed by Mr. Cook. Kelsey bought the company and used their roller assembly design for a while.
You may want to find replacement springs for this one - these springs do tend to get weak after nearly 100 years in place.

You will probably also have to address issues with the paper gripper fingers, shaft and springs. This can be more complicated. The long ‘spring’ (12” long thin rod) on the 5x8 must be replaced. It got rusty and was bent. Changing this spring is sort of tricky. I can’t see the gripper assy or spring on the 6x10, but it’s likely to have suffered the same fate.

You don’t actually need the grippers to use the press, but they sure are handy to pull the sheets back from the form when printing a heavily-inked sheet. In addition, the grippers are *very* helpful when you want to make a frisket to keep your printed stock clean - particularly if you choose to print from engravings or photo-polymer plates like Boxcar Press makes.

If this all makes your head swim, I’d recommend finding a local printing or book arts center where you might find someone who can explain all of this to you in person and teach you the basics of platen press printing.

If you can make it to New Jersey, I could teach you more than you want to know and can help you do all of this in my shop - but not until after March.

An alternative source of information on actually using this press (and setting type) can be found in the Kelsey Printer’s Guide. Don Black has part of this manual on his web site at And the Scan Wizard sells an excellent reprint on eBay. You may also want to study my Kelsey page - for links to Don Blacks’ site and other resources.

Well, that should be enough for now. I’d offer to help more, but my plate is pretty full these days, and all I can offer at the moment is this little bit of advice.

I do have both of these presses in my collection and can make any new parts you may need - but not immediately. I will soon be showing new rollers hooks and gripper assemblies and springs on my web site - but not until they are actually ready to ship, which could be a few weeks from now.

So. just get rid of the rust on all bare metal surfaces, get a new set of rollers, some tympan, some ink and something to print. (a “Starter Kit” - If you can wait a few weeks, I can help with all of this, but I’m sorry to say I simply have too many other issues vying for my attention right now and I won’t be able to ship any new starter kits for a few weeks.

If you can’t wait for me to “get a round tuit”, John Barret, Sal Zampino, Don Black or Fritz Klinke may be able to supply you with what you need

Best of luck,

Alan, thank you SO much for your message. My husband and I have been pouring over your site lately (even before you wrote here!) and just love the work you’re doing. Your presses are AMAZING. We’re going to give these our best shot and will update on the forum frequently. The help we’ve received here and from a few others we know is so valuable. We cant thank you all enough for taking the time to write your notes here and share your expertise!! All the best, Emily

Alan, why do you recommend taping just the trucks but not the tracks? [” You may want to tape the roller trucks (not the rails) to adjust roller height “] In my experience, the trucks must be adjusted to suit the rollers, but the tracks must also be adjusted relative to type height. Getting either low guarantees inking defects such as roller slur/wipe or inking of the sides. Maybe Kelsey tracks don’t have the same kind of wear that C&Ps do, but the few I have seen all had tracks below type height (and as it happens, new trucks and rollers of pretty much equal diameter and needing no tape, just setscrews). The heavier settings suitable to metal type, recommended in the old manuals, just don’t work when using photopolymer. More awareness and greater precision is needed when a Kelsey owner tries to copy Heidelberg results.

Parallel Impression -

Good points. You’re right. The rollers must cross the form at the correct height and pressure to properly ink the form. In fact, that’s exactly the reason why I suggest taping the trucks instead of the rails.

First of all, on Kelsey presses, the rail heights vary. This isn’t from wear; it’s just variations in the machining over more than 80 years of production using ‘pretty good’ tolerances. For that reason, it’s impossible for any roller maker to supply a set of rollers and trucks that will fit every press perfectly.

You must be prepared to adjust your roller height. If your rollers install to the correct height automatically, you are simply very lucky.

It’s the combination of rail height and roller truck (aka “trunnion” historically or “runner” if you’re in the U.K.) that makes for proper roller height. That’s why taping the rails works in some cases, and using roller bearers - which will force any rollers up to type height - works in nearly all cases.

But taping the rails can’t be relied upon to work in every case. Besides, taping 5/16” wide rails can be a bit tricky. The tape can’t overlap the edges because clearance is needed on the inside for the chase and on the outside for the roller hooks. If the tape falls off the rails, it makes a mess and can be quite annoying.

But when the rails are left alone and the rollers are taped instead, we get two important advantages -

1. The chance to make sure that each truck is just the right diameter for the roller and rails it rides on.
(I’ve had presses through here that came in with trucks of different diameters. Not often, but it has happened.)

2. The vinyl tape we use to wrap trucks creates a rubber ‘tire’ much like the rubber on the Morgan Expansion Trucks that have been used on big presses for a hundred years. In fact, it was knowing how well the Morgan Trucks worked on my larger C&Ps that inspired this now proven solution for the little presses.

3. Besides, if, for some reason, your trucks are not of the same diameter - say, for example that one or two were lost over the years and replaced by trucks of a different size, the only way to assure proper truck diameter is to control that diameter yourself. Vinyl Electrician’s tape lets you do just that.

BTW - After I tape the trucks to the correct diameter, I remove them from the rollers, lay them on their sides and use a single-edge razor blade to trim them around the edge so that there is no tape extending beyond the width of the truck itself. It must completely wrap the truck, but should not stick out over the edge when the truck is in use. Besides, trimming makes for a better looking truck.

My students are impressed with the results every time… ;)

- Alan

Thought i was the only one who tapes his trucks, guess not. Dick G.

As for “using roller bearers - which will force any rollers up to type height”, roller height will only be raised by bearers if the compressability of the saddle springs is weaker than the compressability of the roller. That might possibly be the case on a Kelsey, but not an anything stronger. Roller bearers will help correct roller slur though, and would be pretty necessary on Kelseys with unkeyed trucks (also once known as gudjeons).
The roller-to-bearer relationship would also be affected by width of bearer; the steel or aluminum angle bearers sold by Kelsey and others were about type-height in width, and in lock-up were hung over the sides of the chase. Locking up rule or furniture as bearers will lose some image and guide area, and if bearers ink the topsheet, that’s another complication for feeding.

Thanks for the mention Dennis. Our website can be found here: Thanks!