Shop Tips and Tricks

As we’re getting our shop in working order, I was wondering what tips, tricks or techniques you use in your shop to keep things organized, stored, clean etc.
For example, our ink cabinet is organized by color, and we have a corresponding colored piece of paper on each shelf for quick identification.
So, what are your best ideas?

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The best thing I can tell you is take time to keep the shop clean.

Every shop I worked in over the past 40 years ends up as a trash dump.

Everyone is working and getting the work done, but, no one wants to put things away or clean up the work area.

At the end of the day, take a short (5 minute) break, and after the break start putting everything back in the correct place, and remove trash from the area.

That way, the next time you enter the shop, it’s clean and ready for the work ahead.

My ink is stored on shelves by the pms numbers, i keep all the 100’s, 200’s etc. i can keep better track of them that way, the rest of my shop Aaron David described perfectly, a trash dump, maybe not that clean. All week i set my type at the end of the day, then in the morning i make up my forms and lock up my chases, usually 3 or 4 each day, by Friday there can be as many as 25 to 35 chases locked up, so i take a half day on friday and clean my stones and unlock chases, and generally straighten up. Dick G.

Trash dump here too. Its a busy place where we don’t even have the 5 minutes after a job to straighten up. This X 57 years of accumulation and we have a lot of explaining to do when the fire inspector comes through. We also produce about 1000 lbs of scrap a month which we let the sometimes unreliable local Boy Scouts pick up. I think all letterpressmen are also hoarders. I’m open to any organizational ideas - I’ve about had it. Anybody interested in vintage 50 year old stock? We got it.

A cleaner shop is often a safer shop. Get the rags with ink and solvent on them out of the shop or into the fire safety can every day. Clean and sweep the floor. Have a place for everything and putthings back in their proper place rlse you will not find them when you need them. Organize the equipment and other things in a logical order for work flow and a minimum of wasted motion.
I agree that probably most printers are hoarders. I am. My shop is probably described as cluttered. That because I have too much stuff. I know where everything is. My goal is to remove something each day I go to the shop and throw it away. Getting hard to find things to toss and I think I am behind schedule.

There might be a market for a professional printshop organizer. I do work for a lot of other local shops, and the “real” printers all look like they were ransacked during the night. The new quicky shops are all nice and clean with their interns busy catagorizing, shredding and vacuuming.

Thats a good idea to have a goal of throwing something away each day, I’ve got to start chipping away at it.

My shop is always neat and clean although a bit too full of equipment. I have discovered the secret to keeping it that way. Do not, under any circumstances print. You may be tempted to, but, don’t give in. It just leads to what the others(dickg,waldwick) describe. When you print, you start by taking out a lot of really small things like type. leads, slugs and furniture that need to be put away when you’re done. Then you get your ink knife dirty as well as all those parts on the press. Next, you create worthless paper scrap that needs to be thrown away! That garbage can will need emptying you know. Dirty, smelly rags are generated when you have to clean the ink off the press that will also need to be dealt with. That disposal can also eventually gets full and has to be dealt with as well. As you can see, printing is the problem. It just isn’t worth it. That is my trick to keeping a clean shop and my sanity.

Throw out the trash cans and just dump your scrap paper on the floor, you will save hours of time cause your not constantly emptying the trash cans. Another tip, have plenty of ink knives, by rotating them the ink gets a chance to dry, you will not have to wash ink knives all the time, this saves not only time but lots of rags and press wash. Nobody throws away those useless scraps of paper, you never know when you will get a job to print on very small stock. Dick G.

I hear ya, Dick. How many times have I thought, “I just can’t throw those trimmings away. They’re perfect for bookmarks. Someday.”

I’ve found that TV and audiobooks are very helpful in keeping things orderly. I have a small desk set up in the family room for sorting things, so I can do it while watching a movie. Audiobooks are great, too. I will always associate American Gods with Typo Script Extended since it took me many chapters to lay four sizes into one case.


Wow, a treasure trove of useful advice here (eyes rolling).
John - I agree that sometimes it seems like its not worth it, but its strictly for monetary reasons - never the mess.

After opening a ream of paper that is not fully used either close the ream wrap up and put it on the shelf or shrink pack it and mark the end with a sharpie at to what kind of stock it is.
Nothing I hate more than the excuse, “There wasn’t that much left I’ll save it to use as makeready.” With the amount of paper set aside as makeready it’s much better to actually use it for a job and help the bottom line.

When John Hicks - author of “Adventures of a tramp Printer” was asked to stop spitting tobacco on the floor and clean up the shop by a lady owner, he recalled one shop being cleaned with shovels and pickaxes. I am a lead-slinger not some archeologist — replied Hicks with much pride and went about his business setting type and spitting chewed up tobacco.

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Barbara: for me, “American Gods” is forever linked with sorting through a bucket of spacers. “Anansi Boys” scream Century Gothic.

Can someone in the know please add the definition of the word “trucks” to the glossary? Thanks.

I get the impression , that trucks as you statesiders call them are in fact you forme inking roller bearers which contact and indeed run on your platen or bed bearers thus keeping an even rotation and approach to your printing forme ‘That, being your filled and locked up chase !

I was told a story that here in the UK printers used to urinate on the coke that was burned to keep them warm. This was of course in the ‘olden days’.

The logic being they didn’t waste time going to the actual toilet.

I dread to think what would happen if they needed to go for a ‘number 2’.

Trucks are things that will kill you at high speed.

They are also usually found on skateboards. And the best ones are made by Independent.

Also, UK people calling their Heidelberg Platens “Windmills”. It’s a Platen for gods sake!

So if you’re not moving at high speed your saying trucks won’t kill you??? Also i thought windmills were made for printers sake not for Gods sake???

I have worked around the print all my working life, the name windmill was never used to describe a heidelberg platen it was always the heidelberg. It is however a very good description .!

First ran Hiedelberg platen in ‘73 have had a few and still have one. Never heard “windmill” used until recently. Was always a 10 x 15 or small autoplaten or even “the letterpress”. My boys called it Darth Vader go figure.

I fear I have called my Heidelberg Platen a Windmill on occasions, it comes from hanging out with all those nasty Americans on international Letterpress forums who can’t speak proper like what we do.


Nturpin, wait till you’ve run presses for a while, you will call it worse things than a windmill. Dick G.