Help needed solving differing Vandercook POVs.

I adjunct at the local art institute printmaking department.
My background differs from the other instructors in that
it is Book Arts oriented rather than toward printmaking
and painting. I’ve restored only 2 Vandys & a Reprex so
I don’t qualify as any kind of “expert”. But I’ve been using
self-inking gripper cylinder presses several times a year
since the early 80’s.

Looking back on all the studios I’ve worked in over those
years I’ve never before encountered a preference for
resetting the rollers to accommodate short wood type or
thin plates. I’ve always regarded it good studio-practice
to raise the form to .918 and to set the roller height
with a proper gauge.

Another instructor here resets the roller height on the
school’s SP15 so the rear roller is so low the gauge
does not slide through easily. Then the front roller is
raised to a point it doesn’t even touch the type.
It appears the rollers are readjusted for each lock up.

It’s always been my policy to practice my own orthodoxies
but keep an open mind— particularly with artist-type folks,
but resetting the roller height and (obviously the pack as
well) every time it is to be used for sub-.918 cuts strikes
me as wrong-headed. I’m told that the other instructor,
when asked, takes mild umbrage & says that he & I
come from differing schools of thought.
Perhaps it is only my ignorance but I’ve never heard of
his school. The only time I’ve had to slightly adjust roller
height, the cut has had irregularities that made it
necessary, otherwise I simply raise or lower the plate.

Has anyone worked in a studio where the rollers were
commonly reset to accommodate the plate/cut/form rather
than raising the plate to accommodate the rollers?
Or can anyone offer some justification for his approach?

Thanks for giving this some thought. I’m stumped.

Fortunately we have a SP15 rather than a Model 4.

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My thinking is that if you had a Model 4… The other instructor might not be AS likely to change the roller settings, and would be more likely to take the easier path of raising the form.

…. You should look for a number 4!

However, in my experience that doesn’t seem all that out of the ordinary for a college setting. The other professor probably has strengths in some areas. but the logic of presswork does not sound like one of them.

Your logic seems sound; have you ever made time to meet with this other instructor and find out if you can help him/her to understand the differences between the two trains of thought?

Some ammunition you might use to point out, is that actually Vandercook gears can wear differently if they are out of setting far enough. So, needless wear can be caused by the intermeshing of the teeth with the gear rack which drives the inking system.
Also, the packing on these presses is designed to keep the cylinder at a particular height versus the type, and the gears that rotate the cylinder as it runs along the track are also SET with this height in mind. So, you will see some ‘stretch’ and also some needless wear on those gears/racks with changes to the impression diameter vs the gears/racks. The machine actually is NOT functioning as intended by it’s maker when this overpacking to print low forms is done.

It’s worth noting because as that college professor continues their tenure of teaching and practicing the incorrect mechanical settings of these machines, he is displacing a base of knowledge towards his students- and the ripple effect of that causes a machine to be used improperly constantly.
If it is used improperly 10 times a day once a week for 10 impressions, not such a big deal.
But if it is used improperly 25 times a day for 4-6 days a week for a school year, that is a large amount of needless wear.

This is why I would personally never purchase a letterpress from a college setting unless I knew the instructors working on the press.

If you can convince the school to pay for Paul Moxon to come out and do his Vandercook Maintenance workshop (money well spent), you can let him squash the weird behavior while you are innocently grinning and soaking it all in.


You know, I take umbrage at the fact that the other professor takes umbrage when his wrong-thinking ways are discussed.

His methodology and unwillingness to consider the right way of doing things makes me question if he ever worked in the field, or if he is just making things up as he goes along. His ideas seem to stem more from using an etching press, rather than from experience with a Vandercook.

the way I was taught by old Mr Catchot, (who was a true master of the Vandercook) and still practice today, is to always adjust the height of the forme up to type high, rather than try to adjust the machine downward to meet it. Thinking about it, I’ve never known a printer who did things that way.

I too, am concerned that this guy is a College Professor. What he is doing is introducing a bad practice to his students. I wonder what other bad ideas he is putting into their formative minds.

I worked for years in a company that used vandys to proof forms and then we made rubber printing plates, in all the years I never saw anyone adjust the rollers, we always adjusted the form, sometimes our plates were different heights and we always brought the form up rather than adjust the rollers.

Obviously, a methodology that relies on resetting the rollers every forme is not good practice.

That is the very purpose of makeready, is it not? Bring the forme to an even height, at the point where the press delivers the right ink and impression.

I agree with wcp, it sounds to me as if he is used to etching presses and directly transferring that experience to a completely different system.

sorry, double post

Thanks for the feedback, folks.

Yes, it does make you wonder if he is somehow
conflating his understanding of the cylinder intaglio
presses with cylinder letterpress proofers. I should
not be too surprised if someday I find a felt in the
cylinder pack.

This Instructor is an adjunct like me but he’ll likely
someday be a professor. He’s quite bright & very
good at several print disciplines which makes it all
the stranger he doesn’t see the folly of resetting
the inkers. Yes, he & I have spoken about this
practice. He says it was the way he was taught, it
works well for him, and that I should teach my class
my way while he will teach his class his way.

He hasn’t said where he was taught this approach
but it may be the same place he learned his unique
Karate chop style of swinging a cutter lever.
This is loud and seems to dull the blade quicker
as well as knock the adjustments & settings loose.

Ironically, he’s been a solid advocate for the budding Letterpress component of the department’s program.
He’s a good guy, just misguided.

If you could obtain a vandercook plate gauge, he might see the value of raising the plate to the proper height as it would be easier to achieve accuracy. Such accuracy is difficult to achieve with his current procedure, and he is not utilizing both form rollers, losing inking capability as well.

This episode does bring to light how bad practice can be passed from teacher to student for “generations”. It is critical that teachers understand the technology as well as the art involved.

John Henry
Cedar Creek Press

hhmmmm….. his Karate Chop style of cutting paper also indicates a lack of meaningful experience. If I ever caught one of my guys doing such a thing, they’d be severly reprimanded and assigned ink-roller clean up duty for a solid week!

(that is if I actaully still had emplyees in my shop…. nowdays, I’d have to assign myself to ink-roller duty)

As a letterpress press man who served a 5 year apprenticeship, I can only say that .918 is paramount. I was an apprentice in a large UK letterpress company employing about 300 staff and the letterpress department had a pre-press department of 3 doing amonst other things preparing plates and blocks to ensure that they were type high. The thought of setting rollers on press to allow for different hight material would have been so time wasting as many of large presses would need 2 men to set the rollers, ie to do up the locking nuts when set, one on eachside of the press.
To teach anything else would do dis-service to the army of new comers trying to learn the art of letterpress printing.

Buy him a .918 Tshirt!

I appreciate all the input.
It will help substantiate my arguments
if I should need to take it finally to
the department chair.

Going to start looking for that .918 T-shirt.
Great idea!

Or if all else fails, there are two short and to the point paragraphs in the Vandercook SP-15 manual that specify how the rollers are to be set. When Calvert called me about this problem instructor, it brought to mind all the Vandercooks that have been savaged by so called “artists” who destroy the inking systems to obtain their own self inflicted results.

There are several presses right now that I have been contacted about without any inking system present. Some commercial uses, like the Nancy Ploughman testing system widely used by paper mills specified the removal of the inking system from Vandercooks to use her testing procedure. Like ink plates and chases on table top presses, the inking arrangements on most proof presses are too easy to get lost or to be used inappropriately.