Making a C&P Safer

Hello all you wonderful printers.

I’m buying an 11x17 oldstyle C&P with a variable speed motor and no treadle. Although I’ve been printing for a few years and apprenticed with two printers, I’m pretty new to using a platen press. I printed pretty much exclusively on hand operated cylinder presses or table top models.

I’ve been getting mentorship from a few people and understand with grave clarity how dangerous these machines are. I know not to chase misfed sheets, to never lean forward, and to work slowly. I know these presses can crush, disfigure, and possibly kill the operator (though I imagine that’s very rare - maybe a blood clot from a crush injury or getting an arm caught in the fly wheel for some stupid reason). Dramatic maybe, but better overly cautious than missing some fingers.

What I’m curious about is if there are some ways I could retrofit my press to make it safer. I know Reliance platen guards used to around but I don’t think I’ll be able to find one.

The press does have a metal guard over the cam with the arm on it (not sure of the name - not the fly wheel - opposite side). It doesn’t however have a treadle, hand guard, or a brake. Is it possible I could retrofit it with some sort of foot brake (even with the belt on it?) or simple guard to keep my hands safe? I have short arms (I’m short all over) so I hope standing very straight and keeping the feedboard between me and the press will keep me too far away to even reach between the jaws.

In general, I’m interested in ways I could make my press safer for myself (we all make mistakes or instinctively grab at something when we shouldn’t). Pictures of guards you’ve added, or safety measures would be helpful so I can copy designs. General safety or dangerous springs/parts to be aware of is always appreciated too.

I understand it is not OSHA compliant. I will be the only operator, and have serious respect for this machine. I wear my hair up, never wear loose clothes when printing, and do my best not to rush. I’m mostly worried about my hands because I make a living as an illustrator/designer. If they get crushed I’m not just disfigured, I could lose my entire livelihood. (I’m right handed btw if that matters)

Thanks! I’m so full of questions lately, I guess I’m just excited.

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i don’t think you can make the c&p safer, they have been around a long time like they are, it’s you that needs to be safer. You sound like you know what you need to do, never reaching for a mis fed sheet, standing erect, locking your form a little higher in the chase will help keep you from reaching too far into the press, covering the flywheel with something like cardboard will help keep you from getting caught in there.

Along with the things you and Dick have mentioned, control of the speed of the press is very important. Make certain you have a motor and control which will allow you to adjust the speed of the press to accomodate your comfort of feeding. You will find that certain items can be safely fed faster than others, and should be able to adjust the press speed to accomodate that. The $$$ spent in getting a reliable speed controlled motor will be repaid in many ways.

PanteraP…. we’ve discussed this at length here at Briar Press. You should do a search, and read all of the various opinions.

I tend to agree with Dickg and JHenry on this. The C&P is what it is, and cannot readily be retrofitted to make it “safe”. To operate one safely, it is YOUR TECHNIQUE that is of importance. Read the various posts, and follow what they advise. Some of these guys are very smart.

The hazards of a C&P are indeed very real, and you are wise to inquire about them. It is due to these hazards that I NEVER recommend such a press to a newbie.

Thanks all. I have been searching for it on Briar Press, but I always have trouble finding these discussions with the search feature - even though i’m sure this has been covered ad nauseam. Sometimes google works better.

I don’t think safety can be brought up too often when it comes to these things and so I figured I’d re-open it for discussion with my specific press to see if anyone had a gem of wisdom that applied to my model specifically.

I’m certainly seeking some professional guidance on the matter and have a friend coming down who can likely go over it with me in person. I’ll keep going through the discussions and getting whatever instruction I can.

I wonder if some sort of adjustable baffle can be put between the operator and the feed board to keep a person at a safe distance… Maybe those x straps (used to keep people standing straight and treat back pain) would serve as a physical reminder to not lean forward. I’m sure there is no fail proof safety measure, but I’m equally sure there must be tools and techniques that can help one develop good habits.

I bet an electronics person could make a short range motion sensor that killed the power or signaled a braking system - honestly though who the heck would take the time to do that? Maybe some college student somewhere haha.

I’ll be on the lookout for creative solutions. Thanks all.

Why not they make safety’s for the big handfeed presses?
We have cages around our kluges. Just pull the operator side open and it stops on a dime, but those are for automatic feed presses.
try that link

I would suggest that you disconnect the motor, buy a treadle from Hern Ironworks and run the press manually until you are very comfortable with operating and feeding. You would at least have a little more control over stopping the press.

Girl with kludge,

Yeah I recently read that whole post. I don’t for a second think the seller is liable for any of my negligence in operating the press. Though I do think we as printers should thoroughly warn our buyers.

I don’t know if there is really a difference between me and that operator who badly crushed his hand, but I’d like to think my three years as an apprentice and my two caring for and repairing printing equipment in a university printshop prepared me to be a bit more careful and to go about things in the proper way.

I am interested in getting a treadle for it but I almost wonder if that will be more distracting and cause me to be more likely to make a mistake? I have read though that with a treadle you can stop the press pretty quickly by extending your leg with full force. That feature may make the sore leg muscles worth it at least for the first 6 months of operating it.

I think a motor that can be adjusted to a slow drive, and a foot brake (while these were made commercially, they can be improvised out of 2x4s and bolts) are the best additions you can make to a handfed Gordon platen for safety. If you are relying on an external force to push your hand away from being crushed, you aren’t focussed or paying sufficient attention. Sometimes I see people plugged into iPods or just chatting away in the studio while printing instead of focussing on the actual work. For novices especially, this is asking for disaster.
I don’t see how a treadle can increase your focus on the work at hand (emphasis on your hand, the thing you might lose). It is additional mental and physical attention besides the printing itelf. Maybe after a while you can get a “Zen and the Art of Platen Feeding” experience, but that is not something you can rely on as you learn. There is a reason the whole printing industry left treadles behind, and it isn’t because of safety.

One thing that might be worth a comment: Not all people are meant to operate hand fed platens. If you have a hard time concentrating on a task, or are easily distracted, then running a handfed machine is probably not a good choice. It may be that a proof press or a press with an automatic feeder may be the better and safer fit.

If you find that you feel you cannot safely run a platen, then get something else. It’s that simple—don’t let the romanticism of “hand fed” put you in a pickle.

Another way to build safety around a platen is to run the press without a form and with the impression thrown off. Start by running the press and with your feed hand, just touch a particular spot on the platen. After a while you can then use your delivery hand to touch that same spot just before your feed hand gets there (as if you’re pulling a sheet).

If you’re comfortable with this so far, set some gauge pins and try feeding paper, first putting a sheet in in one cycle, then removing in the next cycle. Keep going until you can deliver and feed a sheet in one press cycle. If you have to feed on one and deliver on a another, then so be it, you’ll only be double inking the form. Continue with this practice with the impression on (but no chase yet). Once you are happy with that, then proceed to running a form with ink.

Gaining proficiency with hand feeding takes a while. One should also expect that your proficiency will be poorer at the start of a run than at the end. Only by having a constant and thorough awareness of the machine and your place in it can you operate a platen safely, otherwise the odds will stack up against you.

Whatever you do, be careful and be safe.

On top of the many great pieces of advice already offered, I would like to also suggest practicing with someone next to you, watching you like a hawk to make sure you don’t accidentally do something stupid. DO NOT hold a conversation with this person. They need to stand there, not distract you, and be ready to yell at you to stop you from sticking your hand back in to straighten a misfeed. If your press is built for one, I definitely recommend that you start with a treadle. Whereas a motor will keep trucking at the same pace regardless of what you are doing, with a treadle you can control of the speed, and can even come to a complete stop when needed. Best of luck, and don’t feed the alligator.

Well let me add my thoughts here. There was at one time on some C&P’s at a High School I taught at in DC a bar with a cloth screen on it like a window shade that came up and kick your hand out of the press as it closed. Do not know if these were a specal fit or how it worked other than being timed to the press closing.

Another thing to try is to keep your form as high as possible in the press so that you are not reaching too far into the press. Slow and steady.

Excellent advice from everyone.

I may look into making a brake at least. I have to see how slow the press will run before I determine if I need the treadle or not.I’ve hear of people training C&P operators by standing with a ruler and whacking their hands if they reach too close to the snapper or chase a print. I might try it haha

One thing I hope is in my favor is the fact that I am highly focused and silent when I print. I’m one of those people who can focus for hours and get into a very strong rhythm when I print.

At least that’s how it was with the hand cranked press, but dang did I get shoulder problems after that, I needed a few months of physical therapy because of how knotted the shoulder muscles became - i think it was the height of the handle and the fact I basically had to hold a shrug to turn it. I’d print hundreds and hundreds in a run and my hand would actually get a bruise from the handle. The extreme soreness I would get was part of the reason a C&P appealed to me. Turning that handle for thousands of impressions was actually causing physical pain. If I was only doing a hundred posters or so it wouldn’t have been an issue, but those presses were simply not built for petite people with little ladylike arms who need to take over a thousand impressions. My whole right side from my neck to my heel would ache when I had to take that many prints. It was at a university so you had to sign up, and use the time the best you could, I didn’t always have the luxury of coming back the next day but man could I crank out like 50 prints a minute when I really got going.

Don’t print when you are tired!