replacement chase questions

Before I go any further into the replacement chase business I am looking for some advice.

At this time it looks like a steel chase that bolts together at the corners is the ticket for the smaller chases.At present it looks like it is very doable from a manufacturing viewpoint.

Also it should be very versatile if someone needs a slightly different size then either the tops or sides can be made to meet those needs.

What I am looking for right now is a sense of market pricing for say the smaller chases. No use making new chases that cost say 30 dollars when the market for them is 20 dollars.

Bottom line is, I don’t want to have 20 or 30 chases sitting around that cost me more to make than buyers are willing to pay.


What is a reasonable price for the smaller chases?



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Small chases, depending on the press, can go for $50 or more. Be aware, though, that some presses have notches/grooves/etc. that allow the chase to sit securely in the bed. This might complicate things a little.


A solid chase, whether cast in one piece or welded into one piece, will be far superior to a pieced chase held together with fasteners. Dicharry is quite correct that chases will vary much from press to press, even if the ID and OD are similar.

A solid construct chase is the superior tool. And casting such is not out of the reach of anyone having competent mechanical ability. Heck, the Chinese cast iron for centuries simply using coal, sand, and chicken feathers. Now look where they are. :o)
Although iron mongering is a stretch for the home-based enterprise, aluminum and brass fall easily within range. There are any number of sources wherin home-foundry casting fundamentals are to be found. Equipment too is not expensive for the initial foray; apart from sufficient source of heat, most home workshops have materials readily at hand, and even a basic blowtorch will melt the softer metals. It’s not rocket science. And I suspect casting parts for a rocket is not on your menu. :o)

Cast iron chases are still in the planning stage. I am working with a foundry now on ink discs and other hard parts. Financial numbers are looking doable, need to get patterns made next.

By going with higher grade tool steel, interlocking corners and grade 8 socket head bolts a chase can be made that is strong, square and adjustable. If a press bed is wore some, these chases can be dissembled, shimmed and rebuilt to whatever tolerances the printer needs.

Maybe I am over thinking this? I like the idea of modular parts and adjustablility.

Haven’t settled on lengths of the chase sides and top/bottoms yet. Am playing with the idea of making them expandable into a spider style chase with bolt on modular rails.

Special features on some chases, ie, grooves, bevels, notches ,etc can also be incorporated into the design.

Let me know what you think. I am always open to ideas.


Does anyone have any evidence that the old chases are made of cast iron? I suspect they are cast steel, at least the 19th century ones, which should be stronger. The forces on the sides of a chase with a securely locked-up form are pretty fierce, and given the propensity of cast iron press parts to break I would expect chases to be made of something stronger.

I believe chases with corners held together with high-strength fillister-head bolts would be quite satisfactory. The kicker is that practically every different press has a different system for holding the chase in the press bed and you would need either to have a substantial inventory of parts or a file of precise specifications for each press — where and at what angle are the bevels to match the bottom bed brackets and locking clamp, etc. It does seem more sensible to make them of machined steel than cast iron.


Marshall, Sir, follows little addendum(s) filtering through my head in respect of your projections and up to a point, my own as well!! in modest form, I have a billet of steel which will provide, via my milling machine, progressively smaller, (russian doll style) at least 4 chases for our Adana range!!!
Inside dimension only governed by strength of potential lock up pressure!!
Outside dimension(s) less than bed size by say 1/8 of an inch with 4 spacer fillets attatched with countersunk screws to suit the vagaries of the press dimensions, or small pegs to locate in the bed!!
Train of thought has also wandered thus, Heidelberg and Thompson Platens that only grip to one side, and have to be layed/imposed as such, were/are equipped with not only spider chases but, occasionally equipped with full out chases, that had vertical cross bars at either exactly 50% or exactly 33%, (ish) facilitating lock up with much less furniture!!!
The method involved the cross bars being Tounge and Grooved into the top and bottom run of the chase and secured with countersunk grub screws??
Could a variation of this system be incorporated into remanufactured chases, i.e. (possibly) with 2 vertical bars to lay to the right/left/top/bottom, and centre, and feed accordingly, less futrniture, fewer quoins, etc etc.
Apologies!! . . Just ramblings but who knows???

That is my thought. By having modular pieces a user could take a small chase and expand it out to fit larger press if the need came up.

Like a spider chase, only all bolted together.

Outside “ears” could be fitted at corners to adjust the fit to a particular press or shims could be used in the T&G corners
to take up a smaller amount of wear on a press bed.

Really need to get my hands on some chases and see if what I am thinking of doing is possible or if there is a better way. I am a hands on type of inventor.


I’d suggest doing some ‘simple’ duplication of hard to find but often needed parts first. You can make your patterns, get some photos and promote the idea before casting to gauge the level of interest.

Anything too far removed from that and you are risking spending a bunch of cash on something that either doesn’t work well or that nobody wants.


Last thing I want is to have money invested in parts that won’t sell and to be reminded of that fact by my wife once a week.


Cathy, if you read this, I love you!

I think Daniel Morris (The Arm Press) is right - if you’re going to cast chases, limit yourself to two or three of the most common and most wanted. Perhaps the 7x11 Pearl, and two of the most common C&P chases, whatever they are. That way you can make exact duplicates that don’t have to be worked over to fit.

how about making some of the “mammoth” furniture that I have posted elsewhere recently, also there is a real scarcity of large scale aluminium”jumbo” as we call it in UK, here is pic for example. Good for flatbed cylinders and platen presses particularly. I think there’d be a real market for this stuff.

image: jumbo.jpg


another selection here

and I love those giant locking quoins, maybe a market for those too?

What sizes of furniture would be useable?
How thick are these pieces?
Asking because I have never seen these up close and personal.
While I have been around vintage machinery all my life, the art of letterpress is still new to me. Therefore I will ask questions, some pretty basic, but I learn quickly.

Putting all these ideas in the notebook that I have started on on this project.

Thanks for all the advice, hopefully this project will be helpful in meeting a need in the letterpress community.


I wish I knew the dimensions, the photo is by Jens who posts here under the name of “Bogytrykkeren”, haven’t really seen any myself either

is his website, might be worth contacting, maybe dimensions are based on “line’ point size from setting wood type…….there must be info/a collection somewhere, flickr has several letterpress groups including iron hand press group where contacts might elicit information……………

The pieces I use are 12 line width, some with a hole as in the pic and some with a concertina pattern down the middle. I am not an engineer but I presume any castings would have to be machined to give a square edge.

I am probably assuming too much but, from some research on the web it appears that 5/8” thick is a standard of sorts. That matches up with the quoins that I have.

Also 3 1/4” wide is common with various lengths. How 3 1/4” is related to points, pica, ems, etc, etc. I haven’t the foggiest idea! Still trying to get my head wrapped around how the letterpress and printing world measure things. To someone new it is confusing to say the least.

Have drawn up a 3 1/4” by 13” welded steel piece of furniture. With some luck I will get out to the shop in next week or so and build some samples. When a pair are completed I would love to send them to a printer that could try them out and give feedback.


Marshall, the simple fact is that printers’ measures don’t directly equate to Imperial or Metric measurements. They are a distinct and separate system. 72 points comes close to equaling 1 inch, but not quite. Probably quite by accident, 83 American picas (996 points) equals 35 centimeters. But don’t use these as “conversion guides”. If you want to manufacture parts for printers, you must start thinking in printers’ measures. In the old days, there were calipers and micrometers manufactured to measure in fractions of a point directly. Things aren’t as easy nowadays, unfortunately.

David MacMillan has kindly posted numerous point and pica-to-decimal inch conversion tables on his website, here:

Those should help you to figure out more precise sizes for things like furniture and chase dimensions. Furniture especially must equal printers’ points rather than round inch fractions.

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN


Thanks, I think? grin

The more I learn, the less I know!
Have downloaded the charts, will study them tonight.

Couple questions.

Why is furniture dimensions so critical? Seems to me that quoins would take up any small differences. By my way of thinking the only place where it would be important is in the height. You would want the furniture to end up on the point between two lines ,instead of fractionally higher or lower than the joint between two lines. Is this an decent assumption or is there more to the art?

On the the 3 1/4” width of what I have found is “standard”??, how does that tie in with points, etc. Not sure even if 3 1/4” is normal for this industry, just what I have stumbled across so far.

Hopefully other viewers will learn more by me asking these questions.

Thanks for taking the time and effort to bring me up to speed.


3-1/4 inches is a little scant of 20 picas (about 10 points scant) so you are probably looking at 20 pica width furniture.

Lines in printers measure are 12 points, or 1 pica, so 6 line wood type is about 1 inch. There are 6 picas to an inch and the 6 picas come out to be 4 thousandths less than an inch (.996 inch) or 1 point=.01383 inches.

Furniture is made modular, so that 2 3-pica pieces equal 6 picas. This can be very important in spacing out a lockup. Yes, the quoins will take up some slack but if you have 4 columns of type you don’t want to have to use 4 quoins to lock them up.

I also think of the “height” of furniture as the measurement from the stone to the top, whereas the horizontal measurements (when on the stone) are length and width.

It can be very confusing until you’ve used a lot of furniture to make a lot of lockups. You should consider acquiring a good quality printers’ pica rule at least a foot long, on which you can compare inch to pica measurements.


As Bob said, furniture is modular. It’s widths are what really need to be absolutely precise. Not only does it allow you to manage spacing, it allows you to repeat that spacing across multiple chases. This makes multi-color layouts much easier to register. If you know you’ve used the same width of furniture on each color’s forme, you know their positions in the chase should be the same as well. If the widths are not accurate, that won’t work.

Length should be accurate as well, if for no other reason than it makes locking up a forme square much easier. Having the same pieces on each side and having them lock up the same way makes it clear the forme is square and true. Slight variations are less of an issue here, though, than with the width.

Height from the bed is somewhat less important, as long as the furniture is well under type-high. .625” high is fine for that.

All that said, to me the fact that the furniture is accurate in all dimensions is simply a sign of good quality manufacturing. If one of the dimensions isn’t consistent, how can I be sure the others are? Therefore, how can I trust this furniture to create an accurate print?

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN

The light bulb is starting to glow.
I understand now how repeatability is important, hadn’t even considered multiple passes for multi color printing.

I can hold tolerances to within .001” on any part that I make. I take great pride in what has my name on it.

Will redesign the furniture to be in multiples of either 6 or 10 picas. 6 picas is close to 1 inch and 20 is close to the 3 1/4” that I have seen listed for larger furniture.

Wasn’t as worried about the height since .625” is below .918”. See I have learned a little already. Thanks to briarpress members willing to share their wealth of info.



you seem like a nice guy who is trying to find a niche.

I think that you will have better financial success making press parts that are not available - whatever you determine those to be. You might look at the want to buy ads on briarpress to see what folks are looking for.

While large metal furniture may not be so readily available, there is furniture for sale on ebay for not big dollars. Moreover, anyone with a table saw or radial arm saw can make wooden furniture and there a folks out there
who make new wood furniture. So, unless your new stuff is very competitively priced, you may not sell the stuff you make. I suggest you do some research about what’s out there and at what cost before you go too far


the ideal part would be the one that requires the least machining. Chases would require time on a mill and that isn’t the fastest piece of equipment in a machine shop. Short runs on CNC equipment is still big dollars. Weld up chases for small presses might be a break even project. Check on ebay and see how long C&P chases stay on before they are purchased, that might give you a clue. I would kind of guess that for every 5 Kelsey presses out there 2 will not have chases. Sand casting though simple needs high heat and skilled pattern makers and mold makers. The press makers from years ago had all of this and most probably made other things besides presses just to keep there equipment busy. It takes a lot of fuel to melt cast iron and you need to know the make up of the scrap you’re melting, to much sulphur and it breaks like cheap china and on and on. May be it would be better to keep this as a pipe dream.

Casting also requires a real understanding of metallurgy and how metals contract as they cool. That is one reason why cast furniture is milled after casting—to get absolutely true dimensions—but also get the smooth surfaces necessary for lockup.

While I can and have cast small off pieces myself, for this project I will be working with a commercial foundry. They have the expertise that will allow success.

As far as machining straight pieces goes, I have a secret weapon. My 1899 Woods and Powell metal planner. It is slow but does an amazing job of keeping tolerances, surface finish, etc. The cost of the cutting bit is dirt cheap compared to even a import cutter for my horizontal mill. By ganging multiple pieces together on the planner I can do one set up, start the planner, make any needed adjustments and then go do other work while the old gal makes piles of chips.

Main goals for me are as follows.

One- Keep older machinery running so that the “ART” involved in their operation can be passed on to future generations.

Two- Pay back the mentors that have helped me over the past 30 plus years by acting as a mentor to the younger generation.

Three- Make a small profit. Positive cash flow makes the wife happy. And you know the saying…………

If Momma ain’t happy, no one is happy!

I am going to start the patterns for some ink discs later this week. If that goes as planned, then a road trip to the foundry will take place right before Thanksgiving. At that time anything that I have missed or messed up can be fixed and a final game plan laid out for the pouring of gallons of molten metal.

Thanks for all your ideas and advice!!