how to avoid letterpress injury?

This probably seems like an easy thing to avoid, but yesterday, my business partner got the tips of her fingers caught in our 10x15 C&P old style. She was rushed to the hospital, had hand surgery and lost the tips of 3 fingers. It was a horrible incident and I’m sure rare, but happened regardless. We are using a full sized base for photopolymer plates. Our business is in full swing and we have a lot to print, but she’s terrified to use it again and I’m quite a bit anxious now as well.
Does anyone have any suggestions for safety measures for the future of our printing and our own security? I’d love to hear how everyone else hand-feeds. Thanks!

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The classic textbook, Elementary Platen Presswork, by Ralph Polk (1931), gives good advice on how to safely feed a platen press. A few tips:
1. Don’t wait until the press is fully open (to start feeding) but advance the sheet to meet the opening platen.
2. Work in rhythm with the press. Keep your eyes off other moving presses.
3. Don’t run the press too fast.
4. Never reach in after a sheet. Never attempt to square a sheet, or to pull it back into position after the press starts to close. “A crooked impression, or a sheet dropped through the press, is infintely better than a crushed hand.”
5. Keep your body erect while feeding, under all circumstances. The erect position is always your best safety measure. Keep the body erect and do your work before the platen starts to close.

I owned a C&P once that had been used in a high school. It had a part that pushed the hand upward out of the way as the machine closed. Perhaps you could persuade someone to part with theirs or at least find out how it was made and copy it.

Over at PPLetterpress,

in the photo section, is a folder by Lance Williams that has a number of pics of the guard. There is a C&P at Archetype Press (Art Center College of Design) that is equipped with one. Basically it pushed your hand up out of the way.

Generally though, standing straight up when you feed rather than bending over will somewhat keep you out of harm’s way. Also, if you fumble a sheet, let it go. A pressman at a client’s shop completely loss the use of his hand when the press caught it full on. He had to quit the biz.

Just a further note, when C&P quit manufacturing their presses they sent out a letter of notice to every institution and press suggesting they remove them from the premises as they were dangerous machines and C&P would no longer accept liability for injuries caused by them.


Updated. That is awful to hear. If you don’t feel you can safely feed the press, your partner is afraid to get near it, and your workload is as heavy as it sounds then maybe it is time you got yourself a Windmill.

There is also the option of finding one of those old pop-up impression guards they used to sell to prevent you from having your hand near the platen/bed when they were about to meet. I haven’t used one, but I could imagine it might help you to develop good feeding habits and you can remove it once you feel confident.

It is so important to develop those good press feeding habits from the beginning. Get comfortable going for the throw-off lever instead of trying to reposition a misfed sheet or to stop the flywheel. It is never worth it. These presses are very unforgiving industrial machinery and must be treated as such. There is far too much on the line!

Again, sorry to hear about your friend. Hope she can be back and printing soon.

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

I’d be very interested in seeing a copy of that letter. Do you know if anyone has it?

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

Hi Daniel

I have one of the letters that was sent out. Whether I can find it is another thing altogether.


Hi, I have two comments: 1) run the press at speed that you can control with the brake and 2) never wear jewelry or loose clothing avoid long sleeve. All of the comments given above are very good. Lots of luck and hope that your friend will get better and printing soon.

I don’t mean to diminish the safety issue at all, and one of the most important rules is to let lost sheets go.
years ago I knew a printer who (as a young man) got his hand caught, somehow, in a C&P Kluge. Didn’t injure him seriously, fortunately, but he was very upset because it broke a part in the press!

Very sorry to hear that your partner got injured. I can identify with her, with the finger injury. Not from a printing machine, but had a finger almost cut off at the first joint a couple years ago, from a car port roof coming down during demolition.

All of us have what used to be called in the print shop “war stories”, yours is a particularly, serious and painful one. I hope that you two can find a means to continue doing what you like to do concerning printing stuff.

Although as dangerous as all machines can be, as I have been pinched, slightly by one. Would a Vandercook be suitable for the type of work you do? I don’t have one but was thinking that now perhaps, it might be an acceptable alternative to a clam shell press. If you are not comfortable with it now.

The list of injuries, minor and major, that came up “the war stories”, while we would eat our sandwich on the steps of the presses, from just 30 something years in the trade. Many comical, others gruesome is a reminder. Constant vigilence is needed, be as careful as you can. I hope you recover well.

I once got the top of my index finger smashed when I was working on a press that was identical to mine, except it was not mine. I was putting in a proof by hand, and my finger was caught. I realized later that MY press had a board to stand on, so my body made the usual motion, but it was too low for that press.

But I also had broken one of my rules (other than tie your hair back, never print after even one glass of wine, &c.), which is NOT to print when TIRED, late at night.

After trying not to faint or vomit — I was alone too! —I raced for a latex glove, filled it with ice, and stuck my hand in. I didn’t even lose my fingernail. Apparently, ice is good remedy for injuries besides burns.

I, too, think a windmill is your solution.

One particularly troubling aspect of this recent letterpress movement is how people with absolutely no shop experience or training buy equipment and begin using it. The best safety measure one could do is to first watch an experienced operator at work on that particular machine or very similar while explaining the process and answering your questions. Then, work under their supervision and feedback. Follow those tips from the Polk book, they’re essential, but nothing beats hands-on training with a pro.

Being terrified and anxious to use the equipment is your instinct telling you something important and I don’t think that buying a Heidelberg press is the message being conveyed. That old adage about getting back on the horse comes to mind. You either get back on or walk away but buying a different horse won’t make that decision any easier.

Updated. I have no useful comment other than my sympathy. A young man who was in a class with my girlfriend recently had a similar misfortune in the wood shop, and lost some digits, which were irretrievable. It’s painful to imagine and more so, I’m sure, to experience. I imagine the event, and the initial shock, fading to this uncomfortable realization that part of your body is now missing. Awful. The get-back-on-the-horse adage mentioned above does, it seems, hold true evermore… the guy got patched up at the hospital and was back in class within a week, looking sheepish, working. The accident was entirely the result of overconfidence, but how can you not admire him for living and learning?

I suppose the consolation here is that after an experience like the one you and your partner have been through you’re much less likely to make a similar, even more catastrophic mistake. A rude awakening: be careful, not overconfident, and don’t get distracted. The same virtues we extoll when we talk about our presses with our friends (“they don’t make ‘em like they used to”… “this machine will last forever”) are the qualities that make a press require our constant attention when our bodies are near them. They’re big, heavy suckers and they can hurt you.

Again, my sympathies, and I hope you, your friend and your business recover well.


I just wanted to thank everyone for their good advice and their sympathies! My partner is healing well. She had an initial surgery and a follow-up surgery. She now has two fingers that are a tiny bit shorter than they were before, but will be starting occupational physical therapy soon. She’s not printing now and we’re not sure if she will again. I can’t blame her! But we’ve made some adjustments to the letterpress and in our work hours and environment. We’re hoping to learn from it and are still pushing forward! So, thanks for the support, lots of good tips.

Wild stuff, my sympathies. That’s very scary.

You’re right Alncarter - it’s rare when we newbies can find an experienced pressman to stand around and watch. This site is likely the main resource of information for most of us who are just getting into letterpress.

As for me, I’ll gladly stick with my tabletop press for a while, not just because it takes up less space but in order to gain good, real experience before moving onto a big press with a flywheel.

Updated. I’ve worked in a few different print shops since high school, and I’ve seen some pretty gruesome smashed fingers, a few fingers fed through stitching machines, and xacto knives embedded in the strangest places of the body.

My 2 cents on safety: The more practiced you become the easier it is to take that second-nature feeling and let your mind and eyes wander from your job. I’ve learned that if you aren’t focused and alert, you can cause accidents no matter how adept at operating machinery you are. Its worth a lot (its worth not risking bodily harm) to be sure you are awake and paying attention. Its the same for any one who uses dangerous tools from forklifts to table saws.

Best wishes for a speedy recovery! Maybe this video will help cheer up your partner a little - Shake Hands with Danger

Lock and Key Press

I am glad to hear your partner is feeling better and did not give up on her work. I can see where a clamshell press would take some real diligence, awareness and practice. I am a newbie researching my first press and have ordered the Polk book for reference and will be traveling to visit a studio next month to see a floor model C&P in action. Watching videos of motorized and treadle C&P’s made me slightly wary of handfeeding the paper myself.

I am looking at purchasing a 1914 C&P 12x18 with a Kluge feeder. Do these two items work well together and does the Kluge automation then diminish the “hand in the clamshell” dangers? Do any other safety issues arise with that specific equipment? Of course I understand that all letterpresses are industrial machines that require your undivided attention, but I am a lone female operator and want to take any safety precautions available to me.

Thanks all~

Thanks for any advice.

A 12 X 18 with a Kluge feeder is indeed an industrial machine. It is a big beast intended for long runs of commercial work. It will work for hobby printing, but isn’t what I would consider an entry level press. Do you have room for this large chunk of iron and how will you get it to that place.
If the press and feeder have been maintained well, the machine can work well. If it is one that has been poorly maintained, free may be too large a price to pay.

Hand feeding a press is for me a great part of the joy of printing. You get to participate. The auto feeder takes that away. The risk is there as it is with many other things. There is a risk in driving a car or roller skating or cooking on a hot stove. It is very healthy to understand the risk and keep it in mind. Accidents often happen when we do something very stupid. I am sympathetic with those who have been injured and don’t wish to call them stupid, but I am sure they will admit they did something very wrong. The machine has no respect for you, but you must respect it.

Watch a good pressman hand feed the press. Don’t talk to him or her while feeding. She/he may talk to you. When you are ready to try it, do so under supervision with the press running quite slow. If the piece does not go into the gauge pins correctly, do NOT EVER try to adjust it. Either throw-off if you remember to do so, or let it misprint. It is that chasing the misfed piece that will cause the accident. That is the stupid move to be avoided.

The press is designed for a right handed person. Leftys have to learn to feed with their off hand.
Most can probably learn the skill. I have just taught two lefties. I run the press very slowly as with all new students. I holler at them and slap their hand when they try to adjust a misfeed. It seems to be the natural thing to do - to try to correct the feed. You have to unlearn that natural wish to try to correct your misfeed. Keep preservation of life and fingers foremost in mind. Learn under the supervision of one who will holler and slap your hand.

I learned to hand feed a 10 X 15 in junior high school at about age 14. Several of the boys got after school jobs feeding presses in small print shops. I never heard of an accident on the press. I credit that record to the fact that we were taught correctly. I do know of one case where a boy dropped a full chase on his foot. It hurt.

When OSHA came along, they were aghast at seeing the platen press running with an unguarded flywheel on one side and an unguarded drive belt and mechanism on the other side and the pressman putting his hands into a machine that could crush fingers and hands. Some presses were probably ordered shut down on the spot. Guards to cover the moving parts on both sides were easy to fabricate and install. The clamshell platen was a little harder. A device was designed and installed on some presses that caused a piece to rise up between the platen and the delivery board as the press closed. If a hand was still in the way, it pushed it up.
Some pressmen didn’t like it and took it off. That is the kind of stupid move to be avoided.

If you stand erect, run the press slowly, learn under supervision, and only have your hands on the platen when it is nearly horizontal — you can have safe enjoyment hand feeding the press.
Learn and repeat the mantra: Don’t chase the misfeeds. Don’t chase the misfeeds. Don’t chase the misfeeds.

Tell where you are located and you may get someone to invite you to their shop to learn how to safely hand feed. I would invite you or any others. I am near San Francisco.


Updated. Thanks Inky. I completely see your point about the auto feeder taking some of the enjoyment out of the process and the other advice was so helpful. I am located in South Carolina. Any friends this way?

As far as the 12x18 being a good press for me…. I am a graphic designer looking to grow an already active custom wedding invitations business. Want to bring the entire creative process in-house and expand the letterpress offerings - instead of outsourcing printing, which is what I do now.

I liked the 12 x18 because of the fact that some of my designs have “wraps” for the invites, up to 17” long. Wanted the flexibility to do larger dimension items and I think that is what this press would offer. I am aware of the fact that the machine is absolutely huge and thousands of pounds, am planning on disassembling the machine, hiring movers and renting ground level warehouse space to house her. Also, the press was in use in a family business up to a year ago, only sitting since then. I took that as a good sign.

Is it possible that the Kluge autofeeder is a removable option? That would be IDEAL to be able to use feeder when needed, but have the handfed mode when I want to get “in the zone”.

What do you think?

hi, glad so much letter press interest.
As a youth I worked with C&P presses in school, and job shops. I’ve hand fed easily over a million sheets of all descriptions on 8x12s, 10x15s, & 12x18s.
Some of the presses, especially in junior high, had the “push away” attachment. It was composed of a +-3/8 steel rod frame in sockets at the edges of the platen that rose about 3 1/2” as the platen pivoted vertically. A piece of canvas stretched between the rod frame and a point a little below the upper bail.
The Kluge feeder attachment is a great piece of equipment. The feed arm can be swung back overhead, the paper feed hopper swings back to the right, and the delivery arm locks back and with a wrench is swung up out of the way, allowing the press to be hand fed as well.
C&P made a Rice feeder attachment, but I thought the Kluge was the better of the two.

I have Heidelberg platen and cylinder but it’s hard to beat a hand fed press for short runs especially when there is a limitted amount of set up sheets. We hand feed C&P’s and a mid size Thomson. All operators that I train must first practice feed and delivery without power(this is a good habit for anyone when running a stock or sheet size you are unfamiliar with) then slow with power and impression off. When trainee is comfortable they progress to standard operation.See my recently added video on youtube(937die) of left hand feeding a platen by my son. Mike

It is unfortunate when anyone gets injured while pursueing something as rewarding as printing. It should never happen. This is precisely why I oppose recommending C&P and other flywheel operated presses for newbies who do not have proper instruction.

I’ve operated these machines for many years without personal injury, but I have seen enough bad incidents to convince me that they are inherently unsafe…. and thus must be treated with the utmost respect. Even a moment’s inattention can cause a lifetime disability. They bite, and they bite HARD. I love my presses, but I also fully understand their potential dangers. I accept that risk, fully realizing that it is very similar to swimming with sharks.

LEGALLY however, persons who are thinking of opening a letterpress based business MUST know that platen letterpresses without guards are contrary to OSHA, NIOSH and many European Union safety rules. CFR 1910 is very clear on this point: they cannot legally be operated by employees, no matter old they are, or how much training or experience they have. Because of this, an injured worker can claim “gross negligence” and pierce the veil of workman’s comp. In other words, they can sue you into bankruptcy and have done so in many instances.

So… does that mean I’m going to put guards on my presses? No… I’m not. BUT I’m also never going to ask an employee to run one, and I’m not going to recommend such a machine to a newbie.

Winking Cat,

Would you consider a Heidelberg Windmill to be OSHA-compliant?


You don’t need to be OSHA compliant if you have no employees—OSHA is not even allowed on your premises if you are a sole proprietor with no employees. Not that there is much left to OSHA since the Bush admin.



OSHA has a remarkable sheet on cleaning the ink from a Vandercook. There is a copy of it somewhere way back in the archives of Letpress. At any rate, a very good rationale for rubber-based ink. Just leave it on there cause it sure ain’t worth the effort they require to remove it. Besides which, just where do you get a lock for the ink drum, NA Graphics?


Hi all,

It is sad to hear this. I do know a lady that got hurt really bad once, working with a platen press. She had surgery and it was added metal to fix her broken hand. After all it wasn’t that bad, only that she couldn´t take the pain when was cold.
The worst thing that I have seen (actually I did not really seen it…) was that a pressman running a huge HD Speedmaster, while trying to clean something on a plate cylinder got caught by his sleeve jacket and was sucked in the press …
When I saw people screaming in desperation I realized what happened … I just walked out of the plant. I couldn’t look at it. The press had to be broken apart to get him out, dead …

Be careful at all times.


MadM- I don’t know how they’d view a Windmill. I’ve never looked at the guards on one, and so can’t even really offer a good opinion.

About OSHA…. Gerald is right in that they no longer have a lot of teeth. Unfortunately, their function has largely been taken over by contingency lawyers and the courts.

For those of us who are owner operators without employees, acceptance of the danger is a matter of personal choice. OSHA and the courts are not applicable. If we get our own fingers bitten off, that’s our misfortune. Once we introduce employees into the mix, the entire situation changes.

Remember, just because a press is old, beautiful, and produces fantastic printed pages does not mean it’s safe or legal to operate.

Its interesting to see this topic brought to the top again. There is a gentleman from Kluge who posts here occasionally, and apparently, they have a standing policy of advising the decommissioning of all presses older than a certain year.

Alas, I don’t think there is much of letterpress printing that is OSHA compliant. The presses aren’t, the typefounderies certainly aren’t, so nor would compositing be, and those guardless Challenge cutters? How many people have come close to nipping a finger, cutting a short length of leading?

I think some of the late model Heidelberg cylinder presses and late model V50s are OSHA compliant. Also, the refurb Kluges from the factory are, if you can find one with an inking unit.

It is a risky business…But legally, if you are opening a print shop, talk to a lawyer. If the shop is set up as an LLC, and all ‘employees’ have even a small ownership stake in the business, OSHA might not have authority. Also, an LLC (Limited Liability Corp.) will, of course, limit your personal liability. It will be the cheapest (about $2,000) long-term protection you can get.

Well said, Mr Burnette.
Letterpress printing with platen presses is indeed a risky business, whether or not OSHA rules apply. That is why is imperative for us as a group to make sure that newbies are properly informed as to the inherent risks so that they can realisiticly make the correct decisions about whether or not to use certain pieces of equipment.

If we bite off our own fingers, that is our own responsibility…. but for us to lead someone else to get injured is not morally right.

People considering the purchase of a commercial, floor-model platen press — especially one powered by an electric motor — should first read up on how to use one and watch a printer actually print with one. Ask lots of questions. Many people probably do not realize that a printing press can cut fingers off in a second. There are plenty of nice, safe table top platen presses and proof presses around, and they’re much cheaper and easier to move.

Does anybody know where to get one of the guards for a C&P so that I don’t get my hand stuck? I’m buying a C&P 10x15 and I’d like to find a hand guard to use for the first few months I have it. Thanks!

To avoid letterpress injury

I am not familiar with the various literature on the subject, specially in english. Follow up the books, but, most importantly is when you are doing your tasks: inserting the chase, or inking the press or washing it, or feeding paper to it, or starting it. When you do your tasks or anything you do in the press or with it, you have to have your mind on what you are doing.

Just BE there with you mind in it.

And look for any source of information. Put an ad looking for a experienced pressman in you area if you can.

Best of luck



Apologies for bringing up a 4 year old topic, but safety is very important for us all.

Early in this thread, Gerald mentioned that at:
…there was a C&P at Archetype press with a hand-guard - that pushed hands out of the way as the platen closed.

I am having trouble finding this photo, or another photo of a handfed platen with hand-guard installed.
-> Can anyone provide any assistance with sourcing a photo?

My goal is to engineer a hand-guard to help reduce the likelihood of feed injuries sustained to limbs.

To see a photo, or even video of such a guard in action would be very helpful.


have seen some platens with this guard, it rises up as the press closes to push your hand out of the way. i don’t think it is the answer as most of them have been removed and discarded. the best way not to get caught in a press is to stand straight and never reach for a mis fed sheet, try to run your forms higher in the chase so you are not reaching down into the press. i think on utube there are some videos of this guard on some presses.

The 1902 Pearl 14 at the Paper Trail ( has a hand guard. I am guessing it was added to the press on import to meet the industrial safety requirements at the time. It is held in place by two bolts at the hinge point at the bottom. When the platen opens there is room to feed and as it closes the platen moves towards the guard and pushes your hand away. The guard pulls forward to allow access to the bed.
The Pearl has a long dwell time (time open to remove printed item and feed a new sheet). Other makes built the presses with more of a hinge mechanism and had a short dwell time and known for taking the tops of the operators fingers.

image: Pearl14small.jpg


sorry about your partners fingers. platen presses are often referred to as “snappers” with good reason. they will snap your fingers off. all normal safety procdures for machinery should be followed with platen presses. if a person has trouble following any of these common sense rules, maybe they shouldn’t be operating machinery at all. safety is always directly proportional to the amount of common sense the operator is willing to exercise in the operation of the machinery! i learned to hand feed on thomson national cutting & creasing presses, platen sizes were 33”X47” and 38”X54” , they would crush anything caught in them. first rule i was taught, when the press is closing, you be out of it. never reach for a sheet, throw it off impression and straighten it on the next press cycle. i have three kluges with feeders, they get a bad rep as “highly dangerous”. they are production machines, but when set up and running, they do the work. if you are standing and watching with hands crossed on chest, how can you possibly get hurt? people get hurt trying to hand feed them, thats not the way they were intended to be used. kluges are fine machines, slower than meihles and heidelbergs, but in 30+ years of running them i have found only 2 jobs unsuitable for them.

People can get hurt also if they are less experienced, and beginning operators being taught.

This is the challenge I am facing, and thus any machinery upgrades to complement correct training is desirable.

Especially from the point of view of trying to satisfy health and safety regulations.

taken from my copy of ‘Elementary Platen Presswork’.

It’s simple, and perfect.

image: -1.jpg


@Courtney - I have a C&P 8x12 OS with a hand guard. When restoring the press I actually wasn’t sure what the pieces to the guard were and people here on BP were able to help me identify it for what it was. The canvas was removed due to it being really old and easily torn (I plan to sew up a new one when I have some free time), but the guard itself seems like it would work without the canvas. I’ll try to take some pictures over the next few days and post them here.

I think the reason for the canvas is so that a hand would not inadvertently be caught within the frame of the guard itself, posing a very risky entanglement.

Ahh- I didn’t think of that. There isn’t much clearance to stick a hand under the guard bar until the press is closed, but it certainly is possible. Replacing the canvas is now a little further up my to-do list…

Here are the photos - sorry for the wait. I included a shot of the canvas that was removed from the guard and that I plan on copying. Unfortunately I can’t make out all the text - only


Is anyone familiar with that label?

Let me know if you have any questions about the guard.

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I would really love to get my hands on one of these guards (no pun intended honestly). I’m very sorry to hear about your associate. As someone who makes my entire living on the dexterity of my hands (illustrator, painter, designer) I cannot imagine how awful this would be. If anyone comes up with a way to manufacture one I’d be interested to hear how I could outfit my press to have one. Maybe there is some simple way to add one?

I would really love to get my hands on one of these guards (no pun intended honestly). I’m very sorry to hear about your associate. As someone who makes my entire living on the dexterity of my hands (illustrator, painter, designer) I cannot imagine how awful this would be. If anyone comes up with a way to manufacture one I’d be interested to hear how I could outfit my press to have one. Maybe there is some simple way to add one?

Every time I work while I am tried, I get hurt.
9 out 10 times people get hurt while working with any machine is being tired.

A month ago while pushing myself to finish a test job, I reached into my 12x18 cylinder press while it was running to get a sheet that miss feed.

Just as my hand got close to reaching in all the way, my brain stopped me.

I can only thank the lord for waking me up in time.

We all want to get the job done to met our deadline. But, getting hurt does NO one any good.

Since that night, I told myself, rest before working on the press.

I would add to be extra careful when you are getting to the end of a stack of blank stock. Running out of paper to insert can cause your brain to look for something to do when there is no paper to shift.

When I started my apprenticeship first January 1945, female employees were hand-feeding platen presses in the commercial department. Circa 1950, female employees were banned from platens, note, EMPLOYEES. The foreman had VERY short fingers on one hand — guillotine. Later we heard of a lad (in another town) who lost most of his arm to a guillotine, it was switched on when it was supposed to be OFF.

Many mishaps, deaths which should not have happened. At present there are deaths much too often on our main highway, drivers go to sleep, result: head-on; I went to sleep on a western road (12 vehicles seen in 200 kilometres) some years ago, a chance in a million that I was only shocked, not killed.