Dos and Don’ts list.

Hello all.

I’ve recently purchased my first letterpress, an Adana 8x5, I think it’s a Mk1. My previous experience of letterpress is a one day workshop so I am an absolute beginner.

I was sat thinking about my first project and I thought what better than a list of dos and don’ts for the novice letterpresser, short, punchy points, something I can put on the wall, behind my press to help me along the way. Any suggestions for what to include would be much appreciated whether it be type setting/composition, printing, useful terminology or even down to care/cleaning of equipment etc. All suggestions welcome.

Apologies for not posting this in the ‘Letterpress for Beginners’ discussion but I thought the ‘General Discussion’ may encompass a wider variety of printers.

Many thanks in advance for any suggestions

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inky instilled upon me “don’t chase the misfeed” though for your press this isn’t relevant. nonetheless, that phrase echoes in my ear each time i print.

Good project.
This offered gently: Learn the classic terminology of the printer and then you can talk the talk.
You are not a novice letterpresser. You are a novice printer.

Thank you Gregory and Inky, that’s the start of the list.

There’s the classic “Mind your Ps and Qs”

I really like “Don’t chase the misfeed”, maybe not relevant for you now but sage advise for anyone that grows in this field.

“Less is more” is also a good reminder for not over inking the press, something I’m pretty bad at remembering.

“Upside down, Left to right” for composing. Seems after being away from it for a while I always want to compose right to left for some reason.

Many thanks Lammy, wonderful suggestions, they’re definitely on the list.
I’ve just looked up ‘don’t chase the misfeed’ and, although not applicable to the Adana, I ain’t going to be chasing misfeeds any time soon; I’ve just discovered the possible consequences. Think that one may go in caps.

For the Adana 8x5 one rule is checker the grippers before closing the press. Many a user will have put the gripper finger across the type when taking a first impressions.

The first thing I tell new users of the “Eight-Five” is “remove and throw away the aluminium gripper fingers that come with the press”. Go to Rymans and buy a packet of large rubber bands. Stretch one of these between the gripper arms. It will do a better job than the gripper fingers - and it won’t smash your type if you leave it in the wrong position.

I have a couple of hard-earned ones for you.

The first is “Haste makes waste.” Too often I get caught up in “production” and produce mainly mistakes. Slow down and pay attention to the product.

Check your spelling, type faces (those little buggers jump between cases all the time), spacing and general look of the piece. Have someone else look at it before you start turning Lettra into recyclables.

The second bit of advice is a more general form of “Don’t Chase Misfeeds.”

“Be Safe.” We work with some reasonably hazardous materials. If they are handled with respect and care it is not a big deal. If you eat your bologna sandwich with fingers coated in lead from setting type, it might become a bigger deal.

The third one is “Have Fun.” After all why are we doing this anyway? (And printing is fun when it’s not deeply frustrating.)

Best of luck in your venture.

Thank you both, Platenprinter and InkSprite. The irony being, as you were typing your posts I had the gripper arms and fingers off the press and was cleaning the ink off with White Spirit, this is obviously advice that would’ve benefitted the previous owner.

Thank you so much Kurt, wise words. I love ‘Haste Makes Waste’, perfect! And ‘Have Fun’ is so applicable to any such activity, as a ‘hobby printer’ I really do have to make it fun and rewarding don’t I.

I am a 3rd generation printer. My grandfather, a compositor, gave me some good advise when I took my first job in the trade at age 14. He said, “If you are going to lean, lean on a broom.” It was his way of telling me to never get caught not working.

Always found it to be good advice.


Darren, would love to see your full list when your done compiling it.

That’s brilliant Mike, I think the ethos of that is still as relevant today as it was then, thank you for sharing it.
Lammy, I’ll put the list on here once done, I was hoping to find a couple more forums to post the same question on, just to get as many points as possible. Thanks for your interest.

The kitchen version of Mike’s grandfathers advice is “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean…” Pretty universal…

The platen press, like skate boarding and a number of other things is potentially dangerous. Certain rules and careful procedures can lessen the risk. I teach my students four rules and require that they be able to recite them any time they wish to operate my motor driven floor press. Gregory Willis kindly mentioned one of the rules I taught him.
My rules which contain dos and don’ts:

Stand erect and do not lean into the press.

When the platen is opening and at its near horizontal point, it is yours. When it begins to close, it belongs to the press. Hands out.

Do not chase the misfeed. The throw off lever is your friend.

Keep your focus right there on the press. Do not keep time to the music on the radio, or think about dinner, or anything else Also be aware of the possibility of becoming hypnotized. The rhythmic process of hand feeding a press is soothing, but also possibly hypnotic. If you cannot keep narrowly focused on the task, or if you become zoned out; stop the press and go outside for some fresh air and head clearing.

A couple of others.
Get some ink on your shirt
Have fun

And don’t forget to ……

image: plan ahead.jpg

plan ahead.jpg

When using a rag around a press (to clean it, etc.), always fold the rag into the size of a pad which you can hold in your hand, with all of the corners and edges of the rag folded inside the “pad.” This way it is much harder to get the rag caught in the press.

Before running a press, remove all rings and other jewelry, and loose fitting clothing……anything which could get caught in the press and injure you or pull you in. Tie up all long hair. Don’t wear long sleeved shirts.

After putting a chase (with a job in it), in the press, cycle the press very slowly by hand and watch the form as the press closes. Especially watch any gauge pins, gripper bars and gripper fingers to be sure they are not in a position to smash the type or plate.

I totally agree with Geoffrey on:
“Before running a press, remove all rings and other jewelry, and loose fitting clothing……anything which could get caught in the press and injure you or pull you in. Tie up all long hair. Don’t wear long sleeved shirts.”

I the 70s I had a special business card press that did a super great job printing business cards in mult color letterpress.

Our pressman at the time, was a fellow that lived as a Hippie, so with long hair and long unbutton shirts he got his shirt one day into the rollers system.

He only had a few cuts that the doctor was able to heal with treatment. The press never WORKED again. The cost to replace the roller system was out of budget for my small shop.

He could had been hurt more but the press was not at full speed at the time. It was in start up.

Be safe, do not rush to get things done, know that the machine, small or large can and will hurt you!

Thanks Aaron. I am 72 years old, have been in the printing business and printing education most all of my life, and still have all of my hands, fingers and other body parts. I must admit that there have been some close calls, though…..makes me shudder to think about them. These close calls were because I got complacent and failed to think to myself beforehand, “is what I am about to do, safe?”, or “is this the safe way to do this?” Everyone really needs to get into the habit of saying this to themselves every time they do anything related to printing. And it doesn’t just have to do with the press either: there are heavy things which can drop on you or hurt your back when you lift them, knives which can cut you, etc., etc. For instance, regarding lifting, don’t lean over and lift heavy things with your back; keep your back straight and lift them by going up and down with your legs.

Geoffrey you are right about think ahead. I am 69, starting printing 1964 with a 10x15 hand feed press and a 19 manual cutter with a long lever to pull to cut paper. Once I didn’t return the lever all the way up to lock, it came down missing my fingers by 1/8 of inch. That thought be to make sure the lever is locked.