Printing on Wood Crates

Hi every one, new here and looking for answers.

I will be making some wood crates, very similar to old soap box, Dynamite, TNT, and beer crates. I will not be making reproductions, they will be unique, custom crates.

I’m guessing that in the past, crates were printed in a printing press, due to the thinness of the ink and the wood is slightly embossed.

Would anyone know how they were printed in the past and what might be the best press to use for short production runs of 100-500

The material to be printed would be soft wood 3/8” thick to 3/4”

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I don’t think wooden crates would have been printed on a letterpress press. I think in many cases they would have been branded with an iron - hence the often dark wood color and the debossing. They may also be stamped with a rubber stamp, affixed with labels, or screen printed but I would never try and feed wood into my press, and I’m not sure you will find many people willing to do it because it would require adjusting their platen pretty considerably which is really difficult to do even for experienced printers.

Wood can be printed letterpress if it is indeed very soft or kiss printed, but I would do it on a hand fed platen run manually by treadle if the pieces are very small or on a proofing press like a showcard where you can hand ink and adjust your pressure much more easily. If you are intent on printmaking, I think it would be best to do them on an etching press.

Well, I recall hearing/reading about some parallel impression presses that were set up for printing on wooden planks. Heavy duty presses. Not making this up, I don’t think, but I can’t locate the thread after a pretty exhaustive search; perhaps someone else remembers the title or can find it.

It would involve steel or brass dies, to be certain.

But yes, you can print onto wood and do so successfully.

I would consider laser engraving now that I think on it. That would produce a beautifully detailed result if color is not a factore. I think that crates would have been printed on special equipment designed for that process - and probably printed after construction, but I’m not sure, there doesn’t seem to be a lot on the internet about it.

Also, you really might look into rubber stamps.
They make a great plate for printing onto wood, as they settle into the irregularities of the wood well and transfer ink well.
No deboss/impression, but you know, it goes with the territory.

It’d be pretty easy to have some made up and get them mounted type high/shim them to become type high.

Then, it’s just a matter of finding a press you can back the platen off of enough to accommodate the 3/8” planks. (I would think there is no way you’re going to find one that does 3/4”, by the way.)

(Perhaps the gentleman who made his own press recently could help you out?)

My intention would be to make these in the same way that they were originally made. Some were hot branded, but not many. Screen printing may have been used in some cases. I have screen printed and may screen print some crates. I have seen the color printed paper fruit crate labels. Laser beaming the crates is completely out. I would be more apt to purchase a printing press.

Searching for the past couple of weeks has turned up next to nil. I had seen the metal plates that were used for the authentic reproduction Budweiser crates. The were curved and they had different plates for each color.

I do like the slightly embossed impression.
Little seems to remain on how it was done.

There is someone in Canada who has a Colts Armory press that was used for printing on wood parts for washboards, although it was mentioned that the thickness of the wood is only 3/16”.


Michael Vickey

There’s a video on youtube which shows the process used to hot stamp (burn) logos onto wooden boxes at a factory still in operation:

(if that URL doesn’t make it, search youtube for
“phillips steam powered box factory”) The stamping part starts at time 7:45 into the video. (Most of the video concerns the steam and machinery aspect of the plant, which is of course also interesting.)

Skyline Type Foundry produces lovely hellboxes with logos pressed into them. Sky uses inked type (it wrecks the type, but he’s a typefounder, so that doesn’t matter!) I’m sworn to secrecy as to the press used, but suffice it to say that it is NOT a printing press.

David M.

i think it would be best to do the planks/boards individually, then assemble. Sorry if i’m stating what may be obvious to you.
but, i think an “Arbor Press” or “Hydraulic Press” (search; “Arbor Press” “Hyrdaulic press” on google, northern tool, for example)
Either would do the trick. Either one comes in different “Power” capabilities. A decent metal fabricator could come up with a fixture to hold and properly backup the die for even pressure.
i’m quite sure a regular copper die would work fine. you would have to ink up by hand, but it would stay simple. if made the way i would do it, it last literally forever. you can contact me for further input if you like. this would not be that hard to do.

G’day mugg (et al);

Other than the little wooden blanks for business cards, the only thing I’ve read or heard about re using a press to print on wood has to do with them still using platen presses to print cigar box lids in Cuba. It seems to me I may have even seen pictures of it and that they may have been on Briar Press in the distant past —- can’t say that for sure……db

I seem to recall that Shy Shipley, of Skyline Type Foundry, printed some wood crates by impressing using the clamp of his paper cutter.

You may want to contact him to see what his experiences may have been. (website: There is no doubt that wood is suitable for printing. The only requirement is that the platen be adjusted back to allow for the thickness of the substrate.

All sorts of wooden items were printed by relief techniques; such as pencils, wooden tokens, balsa airplanes, etc.

John Henry

Why not use a book press?

image: book press.jpg

book press.jpg

I think the way it was done in the past, was using a stamping press. Stamping press used to press metal parts ets.

I think stamp press are stronger metal, than the printing press we use in letterpress, many of our press are cast iron, will not hold up to the press over many impressions.

actually, printing on wood is not that difficult. We used to print “wooden nickels” and wooden rulers all the time with a C&P.

The trick is to adjust your platen to accommodate the thickness of the wood and then turn the flywheel by hand. Other than that, the only thing to worry about is the uniformity of the thickness of the wood.

It does however tend to wear the type rather quickly…. so we switched over to PP plates.

I was thinking something like the Colts Armory press would work well. There’s a Chandler& Price Platen press for sale locally. I will have to see how far it could be adjusted and see if it’s worthy investment.
The you tube video on the Phillips family was enlightening. David M. You would be a good friend…keeping that secret.
My first thought was a hydraulic or air driven press for production, however efficiently inking the plates would be a time sucker.
The Phillips family use magnesium plates. If the standard type would wear quick what would be a good alternative?
Are there any durable modern materials, such as, casting resins or sheets of plastic that could be cast or routed with a CNC.
Winking cat what are PP Plates?

After hitting a brick wall, I would like to thank everyone for their input. It’s nice to know that our past is not lost.

There is a box printing plate on display at Fort Andross in Brunswick, Maine that was used to print the name and logo on the boxes of the Glengary Spring Bottling Co. It is a curved brass plate with raised letters. Not 100% sure but I think it was used on some model Multigraph Press. John Malone of Playrite Music Rolls in Turlock, CA uses such a press and similar plate to print his logo on piano roll leaders.

In the late nineteenth century and the early 20th century many boxes were printed with special presses using brass or steel type, brass dies and rubber dies. Check out the Geo. W. Prouty wood printer:

-Prouty Press: Inland Printer, Feb. 1894, p. 450;view=1up;seq=4...

-Prouty Press: Barrel & Box Nov. 15, 1910, p. 67;view=1up;seq=80...

Also check out the James H. Matthews box printing outfit on these Hathitrust links (I hope the links come through):

-Matthews Box printer: Barrel and Box, Jan 15, 1920, p. 58;view=1up;seq=77...

-Matthews rubber printing dies: Fibre Containers, Dec. 1921, p. 39;view=1up;seq=56...

-Matthews Box Printers: Inland Printer, March 1906, p. 61;view=1up;seq=23...

Here is a page showing three styles of steel type used for printing on wood:
Dave Greer

I found a short Perfected Prouty Press video. It looks like he is printing on wood.

It might be a long wait before I find a dedicated Prouty Wood Printer, but it does look like it might be the Cadillac of box printers.

Hi Mugg, PP plates are photo polymer plates which are thin plastic plates that you could buy or make yourself with a few pieces of equipment. They are soft enough to print on relatively rough surfaces such as wood grain and get the ink down in the low spots but not going to last very long if used like that. You could also consider flexo plates which are also plastic but thicker and maybe a little stonger.

In your opening you mentioned;
“I’m guessing that in the past, crates were printed in a printing press, due to the thinness of the ink and the wood is slightly embossed.”
Plastic plates are not going to make an impression into the wood.
If you want a deboss in the wood you will need alot of pressure and so a very powerful stamping press and a metal printing die. The softer metals like magnesium or copper or brass probably wouldn’t hold up well debossing wood so I would think steel, which you can have case hardened after the image is engraved.
There are several companies making vertical hot foil stamping presses that might have the oomph you would need to make I fine image on your crates. try; Nudec.
This kind of press applies 200 to 300 degrees of heat to the die which would go along way to bending the wood fibers to conform with image as well as several tons of pressure

If your only going to do 100 to 500 parts you could probably get your steel die and put it in a large vice and stamp them by hand and get a good result with a bit of practice.

Many years ago I saw some fonts of some kind of large brass type that, we were told, were used to print the ends of wood fruit boxes here in the Santa Clara Valley. Back when the valley was agricultural, it seems like every grower, even fairly small ones, had their name on the lug boxes for hauling fruit or nuts to the cannery, dehydrator, or wherever; undoubtedly so they would get their boxes back to use again the next season. It would seem that the brass type was fine for printing at least a few hundred softwood box ends.

The copy press suggested by Girl with a Kluge is on the right track but it would be very difficult to get enough pressure on the wheel without the press wanting to twist on you (unless it was clamped or bolted down). The best and easiest way I’ve seen (that John Henry alluded to) is Sky Shipley’s method of using the clamp on a floor model paper cutter to provide sufficient pressure to impress his soft pine wood down onto his inked lead type. The type wears quickly, but he just recasts what he needs so type-wear is not a problem for him.

I have a few fonts of iron type that was sand-cast from original wood type fonts (mainly used to imprint cloth flour sacks, etc. a century ago because the cloth texture would quickly wear down lead type) and I have used the cutter clamp method to imprint wood boards and it works well. Slow but effective.