Cleaning ink on Heidelberg Windmill

Hello, having searched the forums I would like to start a discussion on how you tackle cleaning your windmill after print.

We find that its quite a long process for us to get the press squeaky clean and ready for the next ink colour so would love to start a platform to share any tips or tricks, or processes other letterpress shops use to speed up the dreaded clean.

We find that if we are only using the main two rollers (for a small job) the self clean up is a quick and easy process, and most of the ink is gone within a minute or two.

However if we are doing a bigger print run and have used all the rear rollers, the clean up process seems to really drag. The self clean really doesn’t seem to do much to the rear rollers before we remove for a big rub down.

We use Varn Environmental Wash on our press.

Any tips, tricks or solutions people have discovered over the years?

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we use California wash for an initial cleaning then use Böttcher Febo Claen 2000, run it for a bit to condition and deep clean the rollers and then a quick clean with some cal wash. That usually gets out the even more stubborn colors and helps from switching from red/black to white or any other lighter color.

When your applying your wash to the press, do you only apply to the main two rollers and cylinder? Or do you apply to several locations throughout all the rollers?

We only apply a little to the two main rollers, however all the other rollers seem to stall and stop spinning once we have the wash on the press?

i stopped using the washup tray years ago, it’s just as easy to wash the rollers by hand, you just use the press wash on the top distributor roller and only a little at a time while holding the washup tray against the rollers (can’t remember if you hold the handle up or down) if you get too much wash on the rollers they will stop turning. when the blade in the washup tray wears the rollers will not come very clean, plus now you have something else to clean if you use too much cleaner it can get inside the press. i keep 3 sets of rollers for my windmill, one for black , one for light colors and one for red ink, i do lots of numbering in red ink, a man i know that numbers also told me he used pms 165 (orange) for his red ink numbering, i’ve used this on offset presses and it is a very orange like a pumpkin, i thought he was full of it but decided to try it, that’s all i use now for my red numbering, i still can’t believe it would come out so red on the letterpress, i have a customer that always asks for the bright red numbers, 165 orange. Good Luck Dick G.

I actually apply to the distributor rollers in the back and not the cylinder/main rollers. Also, a new wash up blade makes a world of difference. Make sure that it is tightened evenly in the tray!

A new blade is always a help. Another is to only put solvent on one side at a time so that the ink will provide friction to keep the rollers turning. I generally will clean the fountain, drop it back and then leave the fountain ball engaged (at 8) so that it washes up with rest of the press. I do start by leaving the impression rollers cut out, then when almost done, drop them down and finish. One thing that works good is to use a water miscible wash at the end, as it’s pretty impressive what it will pull off of rollers than have been cleaned with mineral spirits or Stoddard solvent (one shop’s notion).

Thankyou all! Great tips. Have also noticed that only applying wash to one side of the rollers helps keep them spinning.

Will try and apply the wash to the distributor roller and see how that goes. Also have never tried leaving the impression rollers up until the end. Will defiantly give that a try.

Have noticed that the blade on our wash up unit is a little worn in only one area. Are they difficult to find and replace?

Also do find that we need to push up the wash tray quite tightly against the cylinder - is that a sign that we might need a new one? One old print master once told me that you didn’t need to push it at all. Seemed to me like it wouldn’t work unless you did?

We have been doing some testing on our Windmill and testing out different cleaning processes.

So far the above ideas haven’t really made much of a difference to the time it takes us to clean.

We use Van Son Rubber Based ink - anyone else use this ink - how do you find your clean up process?

First step is to raise the form rollers off of the cylinder.

Clean the cylinder and the roller train first, then drop the inky rollers back down onto a clean main drum and run the ink off that way - yup - let them re-ink the drum that is so easy to clean using the washup blade.

Don’t apply solvent or anything with the form rollers in the down position. It just makes the whole process take quite a bit longer to complete, and sprays dirty solvent onto your tympan.

And - to Bespoke - no, you do not need to apply much pressure IF your washup blade is fresh and straight and has sharp edges. If you need to apply much pressure, it’s time to replace your blade.

But, since this old dog is willing to learn new tricks, my technique has changed in recent years. Now, thanks to the influence of a young printer woman who initially shocked me with the process she used - (until I tried it myself…) , I sometimes use regular kitchen Crisco shortening as a first step if the ink is drying or tacky. A small amount will do - on both my Windmill and the Vandercook. It only take a few seconds to soften ink throughout the system. Plus, you need use less solvent this way.

But I second Mike from Montana - be sure to keep one side of the rollers dry to begin with to maintain traction among the idler rollers.

Step two is to drip some of the solvent of your choice - (I use Mineral Spirits these days) onto one side at a time as I apply pressure to the washup blade - and yes, indeed nothing’s better than having a good blade in there.

And, again - lift the form rollers up as you clean. Just drop them down to run the ink off of them until you are just about done with the process. At that point, a little solvent will do not harm.

If the blade begins to squeal while rubbing across the dry cylinder, just drop the wet form rollers down for a second or drip some solvent onto the dry area to quell that annoying sound.

My old buddy Dick can get his hands as dirty as he’d like - as my friend Jimmy did for 25 years, himself. But I like my washup blade and at $30 for a new one, it’s well worth changing every few years.

If I have used the fountain, I turn it off (set the ratchet to zero) and clean it separately using an ink knife wrapped with a red shop towel soaked in solvent.

And, if I’m going from a dark to a light color, I do a ‘color washup’ that for me means re-inking with opaque white, letting it run in for a few minutes, then washing up again, repeating the process until the white stays pretty white - light gray will be okay - but the white pulls the darker pigment out of the rollers as you clean and will let your lighter color print as it should without getting darker as it pulls dark pigment out of your rollers.

And, once the roller train is clean, there’s no harm at all in stopping the press to wipe down the form rollers with a clean, but well-moistened shop towel.

This is a good time to also clean your roller trucks and rails. Keep them clean and dry for best performance.

And be sure to clean the washup blade and tray now and then. We used to stuff a shop towel in there to absorb solvent, but when I saw one get sucked out and wrap around the rollers, I stopped doing that…

I learned to run a Windmill in high school in 1964, finally got my own - which I still use - in 1979. And now that I’m an old printer, I get a student about once a month who comes by to learn the ins and outs of running and maintaining one of my favorite presses of all time.

OK. That’s my two cents. I hope it was worth the time it took to read it…

- Alan

Alan, that was more than two cents, try a dollar and a half. By the way they make gloves so you don’t get ink on your hands. Good to see you posting again, always enjoy reading your two cents, even though you call me old. your friend, Dick G.

Hello, thanks for all the information, Some great tricks in there that I am eager to try!

A few questions on crisco - this is not a product that is stocked in Australia, and our shortening equivalent - copha is apparently nothing like crisco on appearance, so im not game to put it on the press! I have found this Australian website which sells american food goods :

Is this the right product? Do you apply straight out of the tub? I imagine you would only need the tinniest little bit? Does it help thin out the ink on the press? We are using Rubber based, any issues here?

We do seem to go through a fair bit of press wash when washing down the press - so if we can eliminate using so much we would be happy little printers, and hopefully if it speeds up our cleaning process we would be even happier little printers indeed.

Bespoke - ah, Crisco’s just a brand name. It’s a white cooking grease used to lubricated baking tins. I’m sure you have an equivalent product in Oz. Try anything that is inexpensive and will soften the ink.

Corn oil, olive oil.. Maybe Marmelite has additional properties we Yanks don’t quite appreciate.. ;)