My Wooden Proof Press- pic and details

It dawned on me yesterday while discussing home-made presses that I’ve never posted pictures of my own press. It’s not a great “Work of Art” or “Masterpiece of Engineering”, but it does put down a nice image. This one is the fifth press I’ve built, each one being an improvement over the previous model. The other four have been “loaned” to various printmakers and are still in service.

It’s a free cylinder design, similar to the Galley Proof Presses of oldentimes. The bed is made of two 3/4” thicknesses of Finnish Birch Plywood laminated together to make a solid 1.5” piece of wood. The rails are red oak, with a replaceable 1/8” thick strip of aluminum on top to prevent wear to the wood. If you look close, you can see set screws in the side and end that are used for lock-up. I used little brass inserts for the internal threads.

Since the rails are higher than type-high, I built up the bottom of the bed with a piece of 1/8” masonite with a few shims of 1/32” plywood from the hobby shop underneath.

The cylinder is what I’m REALLY proud of. It was made out of an old aluminum scuba tank with the ends cut off. (Believe me, a person cannot appreciate how thick a scuba tank is until they cut the ends off with a hacksaw. It was a lot tougher than I anticipated.) The ends are wood, as is the handle/axle…. and the entire thing was filled with damaged type and concrete. It weighs about 50 pounds. The blanket is a sheet of 60 durometer rubber (from McMaster Carr for $8) that I cut and laced onto the cylinder.

All in all, it cost me a little less than $100 to build….. and most of the parts an pieces are readily available at most home-improvement stores. The only part that might be hard to find is the old scuba tank, but one could also use a derelict fire extinguisher. They are quite round and have thick sidewalls, too.

How does it print? I love it! I’ve found that it has enough pressure to easily print a full 9 x 12 image on all but but the most heavily textured papers… and will put a deep impression on smaller areas (perhaps a 3x5 image) of softer papers like Lettra or Classic Laid.

So…. there it is. Hopefully the pics and description will be helpful to others who might also want to build their own presses.


image: IMG_0339.JPG


Log in to reply   37 replies so far


Your reinvention of the wheel illustrates ingenuity and the spirit needed to further the quest of a much needed industry to make cylinder presses available to all. Thanks for posting your article and photograph.

Vance Studley Fine Press

“(Believe me, a person cannot appreciate how thick a scuba tank is until they cut the ends off with a hacksaw.)”

Holy Balls. That’s hardcore.

Nice looking machine, too. Ever tried making a second cylinder for inking?


Thanks for the positive comments. It’s nice to not be working in a vacuum all of the time.

About the “inking cylinder” idea: Yes, I have actually built a press with a second inking cylinder….. but I don’t think that’s the best solution. I’m currently working on a small seperate inking carriage, much like the ones on old Vandercooks. It would have two or three rollers, and an ink slab at one end of the bed. Attached is a pic of the concept. BUT it might be some time before I get around to it. For now, i’ll probably stick to hand-inking.

image: 32.jpg


That is very cool. I know where there is an original cylinder from an antique version of this press. Should I try to grab it before it gets scrapped? Anyone feelin’ crafty?

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

Very cool solution to the where-do-I-find-one-? problem.
Dropping in some removable bearers might give you better inking control.
And I would stick with hand-inking. The inking carriage on the old press in the illustration never performed very well for me. I had one of those old Vandercooks here in KC till I sold it to the people at the Dirt Gallery. It still may be floating around town.
It lacks the eccentric cylinder axle to trip-off the return impression. I considered fabricating a hinged tympan-frame assembly but there is precious little space to tuck it in between the gear track and the bed.
If that cylinder that Daniel’s found has grippers and is the right size, someone could upgrade one of these basic Vandys to something more useful.

Calvert Guthrie
Ragpicker Press
Kansas City

Daniel….. if it were anywhere close to me, I’d grab it in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, I’m 1400 miles away on the Gulf Coast. BUT you should still try to get it. For a press-builder, it would save many, many hours of work.

Calvert…. I looked into a folding frisket/tympan set-up for my press, and actually made several trial set-ups. Like you, I decided that there is not enough room inside the rails to make it really worthwhile. SO, instead I have been using a pin-register system for close work, and quads stuck onto special furniture as paper guides for one color. I can easily hold a 1/64” register for multi-color projects…. which is far tighter than my blocks are cut anyway.

The lack of a trip is the one real flaw of such a simple press. It prints “in both directions”….

The press that you made is quite inspiring! Thanks for sharing how it was put together and for posting a picture- it looks great!

KEVIN….. this is the posting I was referring to…. Since this was posted, I’ve built three more just like it, and they are all happily employed in small shops.

I’m glad you pulled this post up from the past, I hadn’t seen it yet.
That is exactly the kind of thing I am trying to design and build, could you put some more pictures up somewhere? Or even better, maybe a few measurements?
You have given me new inspiration!

Mark…. I’ve been asked several times for the plans for that press. What I’ll do is draw up a few sketches and post them here. It might be a few days…. but keep a look out for it.

Thank you!

Beautiful job, Dave. Very nice indeed.
As for cutting the scuba tank with a hacksaw … a little electric grinder, with a cutting wheel, would do the job very quickly and easily.
I was lucky enough to get my Miles Nervine press for $50 at a local flea market. If I had had another $20 on me, I could have gotten the original stand, too.

So much time to reinvent the wheel, Dave. What a lovely press ! As I can see it does print.

Thanks for posting this. What an excellent press. This looks like the best example of a hand made printing press that I’ve seen in a couple years on the internet.

Kevin… you are right about using a power grinder. Unfortunately for me, I built that press while living at an Executive Suites style hotel……. and so didn’t dare risk making a lot of noise. So it was hack, hack, hack for about two days.

HD…. thanks for the comment. I don’t consider it “reinventing the wheel” however, since that credit must go to Mr Nervine. All I did was recreate the galley proof press in wood since I couldn’t find a metal one to buy.

Boundstaff- thanks for the compliment.

The name would be Dr. Miles (he founded Miles Laboratories; their biggest seller was Alka Seltzer). The press were given as premiums to country newspapers or in lieu of payment for advertising space. There were two different versions of the castings on the bed, one read “Miles’ Pain Pills” and the othe “Miles’ Heart Cure” and the other end read “Miles’ Nervine”. They were probably made by Schneidewind & Lee in Chicago, which later morphed into The Challenge Company. The credit for first manufacturing Galley Cylinder Proofing Presses should go to Stephen Tucker at the R. Hoe Company as they offered similar roller presses at lest 30 years earlier. The British book printer Morris Cox (Gogmagog Press) also built a cylinder press very similar to yours using a coffee tin filled with lead type and concrete. It would print six pages at a time for his book work.


It doesn’t surprise me that others have built similar home-made presses using this design. While it looks simple, and is easy to build, it’s actually a quite capable machine.

Since that photo was taken, I’ve added a pin-register bar and an adjustable paper guide system to allow for close registration. I recently did a 4 color (not 4 color process…. just four different colors) job on it that held perfect for 250+ impressions.

Dave —
Do you think that a section of large diameter PVC drainage pipe would work? It’s cheap, rigid, and easy to cut.

could you post photos of prints you made with this press?



Kevin - your PVC pipe might be a little too light. Someone on another forum made a heavy rolling pin using PVC filled with concrete.

Yes, it would have to be filled with something to make it heavy enough. I was thinking that the piece of PVC would be a good substitute for the section of scuba tank.

Kevin, I used a PVC-pipe—filled with sand— for my proof press. Cutting was indeed a joke!
I’ll post pictures later.

I have thought about using large diameter PVC pipe. My guess is that it would work fine if you fill it with something heavy. I’d use concrete with old lead type or shot-gun shell shot.

The only reason I’ve not used a PVC cylinder is that I’m a little concerned that the plastic would be more easily damaged than the metal tank. Other than that I don’t see a problem with it. It would be a lot easier to cut, plus it’s easily available.

My opinion is that it doesn’t matter what you make the cylinder out of, as long as it’s very nicely cylindrical, and it’s hard enough to withstand the pressures involved. Since I built my press, I’ve heard of similar machines with cylinders made of PVC, old fire extinguishers, and seamless SS tubing.

I found this low quality photo on my mobile phone.
I used a pvc drain pipe, about 5mm thick and pretty rugged.

image: nudel.jpg


Max…. good work. How wide is your press?

Dave, the cylinder of my press is about 50 inch wide.

since Drock72 inquired about home-made presses, I thought I’d bring this posting back up so newbies can see what can be easily built.

Wow, even though I have a Challenge signpress style proof press, this looks even more capable (esp with a rubber blanket on the cylinder. Also thought this thread’s worth a bump too.

Thanks for the inspiration.

Mike….. from my experience, it’s a lot more capable than a sign press. I’ve also got a very mint condition Nolan, but it’s a lot easier to get a first-class print with this wooden press. I think it has to do with both the size of the cylinder, and the rubber blanket.

This “newbie” says thanks for the re-post. It’s fascinating. I never would have thought of going back to 2008 to find this.

I take it the “handle” in the center of the roller is fixed, and a slightly larger diameter “sleeve” can be placed over it to allow smooth transit? Also, how do you get the handle exactly in the middle of the concrete filler when casting?

Baldwin- yes the handles on my press are fixed in place, just like on a Miles Nervine press. It’s actually quite easy to use this way….. you just let the handles roll under your hand, like you would with a rolling pin. BUT several folks have put sleeves over their handles so they can grip them tightly. If you look at Max’s press above, you’ll see he’s done just that.

About keeping things centered- my end caps are two layers of plywood. One fits snuggly inside the cylinder, and the other is larger and fits over the end forming a flange. When I cast it, I put the inner cap on one end, poured the concrete, and then put the inner cap on the other end. The only thing to remember is to make sure you put the handle in place before casting….. because if you don’t, you won’t be able to do it later!

Your simplicity is genius!

please don’t praise him too much, we’ll never hear the end of it. Ask him about gummi bears and wooden chases, this guy has some great ideas.

LOL! Moi? I’m as humble as a mouse…. ;)

Just wait until you see the new “Grasshopper” Press that I’m working on!

I was asked to build a press based on this idea and have come up with a design that uses drawerguides to guide the cylinder.
This video shows it in action and how it works. It’s available at the website:

What about someone who doesn’t have any construction skills who would like to buy one?

“What about someone who doesn’t have any construction skills who would like to buy one?”

I don’t know of anyone other than Affordable Binding who makes a similar press….. but I DO know of quite a few folks with very limited skills who have successfully built similar presses. Heck, even I was able to build one….. and I’m an accident-prone clutz!

All you need in terms of tools are a jigsaw, a power drill, and a few hand tools. I’m sure you could handle it.