Just bought a press…now what?

Good fortune helped me find a tabletop press in great condition a couple of weeks ago—within 24 hours of responding to the classified ad, I was lugging it up the stairs into my apartment (with help, of course).

But, since I wasn’t expecting to acquire a press anytime soon, I don’t really have a workspace for it yet. I’m also a printing purist, so I tend to go the handset type route instead of with photopolymer plates—so I’m finding that my limited collection of type, leads, slugs, furniture, and other staples is…well, limited.

Has anyone else had the I-just-bought-a-press-now-what blues? Or can anyone offer words of wisdom or advice for someone who’s starting from scratch?

I’m excited about the long-term project I just created for myself, but I’m also excited to get printing. At this point, I feel so far away from the latter! Please tell me I’m not alone…

Log in to reply   7 replies so far

You’re not alone. I felt that way after I bought my first press 5 years ago. I’m going to feel the same way with the two coming next month!

I personally have no problem with photopolymer, but if old-school is how you want to do it, then definitely get yourself a small cache of furniture, spacers, etc. You can find some of this stuff on eBay, especially type, but you should also try Alan Runfeldt at Excelsior Press. I believe he sells startup kits for tabletops that come with all the trimmings to get started.

I like to start out with giving the press a good cleaning and inspecting all the parts. You may find some more work that needs to be done now before you’re ready to print, and it’s the best way to understand your new press.

Also, start stocking up on manuals and textbooks asap! Then study and bide your time until you can expand your capabilities…

Well, welcome to the world of printing, and having the exceptional taste to work with metal type : < )). Not sure what press you have (do share) but the nice thing is that the press really doesn’t take much room and the composing area doesn’t need much either.

I started out with a 5 x 8 Kelsey on my kitchen table. I had a stack of type cases in the garage and a pretty minimal amount of leading to work with. I would suggest finding some sort of folding easel that you can put on top of a table of cabinet to place type cases while you set. Leading can be kept in a quarter case nearby, and a small galley (6” x 10”) for holding you finish setting. A small marble cutting board, or even a piece of laminate countertop can serve as an imposing surface. Are any of these things perfect? No, of course not, but the idea is to get started, not find excuses to never get going.

The nice thing about tabletops (which I didn’t realize) is that you can just take the ink disk and rollers off the press and elsewhere (those plastic grocery bags are dandy for this) and take them outside to clean so you don’t stink up the house with whatever you choose to clean rollers with (I recommend mineral spirits).

What you need to do right now is print something. Anything! The idea is to just get used to what you have. Even if the results are not “perfect”, you will have done something and will know much more of what to do the next time. The other important point is to try to be deliberate in what you do, so that if it comes out wrong, you will remember what variables to change to improve your work. I am assuming that you may have taken a class somewhere. If not, look around the archives, and all the other Internet resources to polish up imposition, inking and makeready. Getting one of the classic texts is also good to have as a reference if you get stuck.

Have fun, ask questions, and don’t get the blues. Don’t worry about perfection, as that will come with experience. Get inky and have a fun!

This is fantastic advice—thank you, thank you, thank you!

I just purchased a 6.5 x 10 Craftsmen tabletop. It’s currently sitting on my living room floor, next to the couch. I’ve got an extra bedroom but it’s a little overrun with boxes right now; clearing it out is going to be a project in and of itself, but I imagine I’ll find a place for the press in there.

I’ve taken a number of classes at the San Francisco Center for the Book, so I’ve got my basics down (I think!). I’ve also been renting press time at the Center, so I’ve been spoiled to have so many materials at my fingertips. That’s probably part of the reason why I’m starting to freak out a little.

I didn’t realize Excelsior had starter kits…wow, I think that just changed my life!

image: craftsmen_tabletop.jpg


Since it’s not too far south from you, you might want to get in touch with the San Jose Printers’ Guild. The folks I’ve met from it/there have all been exceptionally nice (and helpful, knowledgeable, etc.)


David M. MacMillan
(far now from San Jose)

Welcome to the club!

I just got my first press just under two months ago. I wasn’t in the market either (as I’m moving from the Massachusetts to Georgia in August), but I just couldn’t say no!

Looks like a great little press. I have a superior as well and love it. Maybe you should start by printing some Prop cards or business cards. I like to make linocuts so I think that is a perfect way to start using your press as well. Even though your resources are limited, you could still print a sample of each font you own. Start telling all of your friends that you have a press. Two things may result. You will likely acquire a few little projects. And, you might end up with some donated type or ink. I recieved a few hundred pounds of each in the last year by just letting people know that I would use it.
Here is a link to the brochure that would have ce with your press.