Power Inking for an SP-15

This past winter, we took a three-day letterpress course from Frank Brannon at Bookworks in Asheville, NC. The letterpress bug bit and we bought an SP-15 at auction from Boggs Graphics in Ohio. The press was very clean and in excellent shape, but it had manual inking. After some tries to use the press without power printing, we contacted Fritz Klinke at NA Graphics to see if we could buy the parts to add power inking to our SP-15. Fritz had some of the parts and had some fabricated. It took a while, but Fritz shipped us the parts and blue prints of the assembly.
To install the assembled inking system, I removed the solid cover that is to the left of the press cylinder assembly, the back panel from the press frame, and a small decorative panel from the front. With those out of the way, the assembly is installed from underneath and bolted into place. The decorative plate that we removed from the front had to be shortened because the inking tray prevented re-installing without modification. The back panel re-installed without a hitch. The cover plate no longer fits because of the inking drum. It needs to be shortened. We are yet to have it modified, but when that is done, the power inking modification to our SP-15 will be complete. In the meantime, it’s useable now without the cover.
Many thanks to Fritz who made this possible. He’s a true treasure for the letterpress community. Also, thanks to Frank Brannon for lighting the fire, to Jack Boggs for being easy to deal with when bought the press, and to Paul Moxon of Vandercookpress.info, who helped with some of the technical questions when we were unsure what to do. The folks at Penland School in NC let us inspect and take pictures of the inside of their SP-15. It really helped to see how the inking assembly should look when installed. Thanks to Penland as well.

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Lovely story, now we want photos! =)



I hate to have to tell you this after all you went through but the SP-15 without the motor was considered the more precise press. You have far more control over the inking.

The primary advocates of the Vandercook way back when, Claire Van Vliet and Walter Hamady, to whom we owe everything, both purchased the non-powered press for their work. Some of the early practitioners actually pulled the power unit. The renown printers Lewis Allen and Harry Duncan were none too fond of it. But they were primarily practitioners on the iron hand press and thought ill of the Vandercook anyway.

Vandercook eventually switched to the power model as the primary offering and the manual became a secondary offering, because, well, power sold better. Who gives a crap about precise control over inking anyway when the press will do all the work? Probably not as good but, well, good, that’s just old school thinking. Forward.

I actually learned on a manually operated roller system and I am grateful that I did.


Don’t remind me! I’ve been plagued with this nagging thought about somehow adding a hand-inking option to my No. 4. Aside from the greater control, we get routine power outages in my neighborhood because of antiquated utility equipment. There are some weeks when we don’t even put the candles away. We’ve got a little generator, but it sure would be easier to switch to cranking.



Well, it’s just a matter of finding a roller handle from a No. 3 and probably the form core for the roller, not sure. You will have to pull the power driven cylinder, or somehow disengage it. Couldn’t hurt in anyway to be prepared.

Costco sells an incredible lantern that can be re-generated through cranking, solar power, normal electrical outlets, even from your computer. We bought one for our earthquake kit but use it all the time.


Hand inking has romantic overtones of the past, a simplier life, and how things used to be, but in the spring, I developed arthritis in my hands and can no longer turn the crank without a lot of pain. Electricity to my rescue.

For those who yearn for the past, it should be relatively easy to convert an SP-15 to hand inking. You will need to “adjust” the ink drum so that it doesn’t engage the rear roller and you will need to add a crank handle. Thats it. You should be able to find a handle at your local industrial supply store or online somewhere. I would look at Grizzly.com. They carry a lot of supplies and parts for machinery. I am sure there are others.

Retrofitting a power SP-15 to manual inking is not as simple as finding a crank handle. The manual version has an extra roller above the common inking rollers, and that top roller is what gets cranked, similar to a No. 3. The power versions do not have that top roller, so no place to put a crank handle.
Swapping the ink drum for a smaller diameter distributor would mean a reduction in coverage. If you want the control of hand-inking, use bearers and a brayer.

I believe the hand cranked SP-15 does not have an additional roller- the crank is mounted directly to the forward roller core.

As far as I can tell, this configuration, without the ink drum, does have less surface area in the inking system than a power driven press with ink drum.

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

image: SP15-handwheel.jpeg

My SP-15 does not have an extra roller. Mine is just like the posted picture by The Arm NYC. The crank is attached to the front roller. To get the crank out of the way, I switched it to be back side of the press, but still attached to the front roller.

Maybe there is a different versions of the SP-15 with an extra roller.

There was no other swapping of parts.

Thanks for the correction to yet another lapse of memory, I guess it is just the No. 3 that has the extra distributor. And so, moving to manual inking on a SP-15 loses something like a quarter of your inking coverage.
This just cannot be an improvement.
I’m lucky to have a manual-inking 325, whose large inkplate coverage is equal to an ink drum. If I had the room to install the auxiliary inkplate and fountain, that would more than double the inking capacity. Not that flooding is necessary, but the ideal coverage for ordinary work is continual feed of a small amount of ink.


I agree that a fountain is nice for longer runs. I had never used the one on our Universal III until this year. Now that I have, I will never do a long run or one with heavy ink coverage without it again. I was amazed at how precise of control I could get with the fountain adjustments.