Why do Composition Rollers Touch Boxcar Base?

I have a Kelsey 5x8 platen press. I’ve purchased two Tarheal summer rollers recently (for my old cores) and have used them once with okay results.

However, I am concerned that the composite roller material extends too far beyond the roller trucks thereby providing too much pressure or too much roller material to squeeze over the top of my type.

I’m further worried upon noticing that my new (Deep Relief) Boxcar base seems to be well within inking range of my rollers. That is, if I were to ink up my rollers and load my chase with the Boxcar base without a photopolymer plate, the base would get well inked itself.

So, I’m not an expert but this doesn’t seem to jive. What do I do?

Would it be advised to tape up the press’s bearing rails (roller rails) until the roller surface it up to type height?

I live in Missouri, so it is hot and humid right now. I realize my summer rollers may have swelled due to this. However, my rollers today look pretty much the way they appeared the day I received them in the mail.

My rollers:

Thank you.

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Looking at your photo, it is obvious that the diameter of the rollers is much greater than the diameter of the trucks.

These MUST be identical, no matter what the machine is, to ensure efficient inking.

Building up the tracks will not cure the problem.

In an area of high temperatures and humidity rubber rollers are much more stable.

Hope this helps.

Wow. This makes me unhappy. This means I purchased those rollers essentially unusable. I don’t want to think the Missouri humidity is that bad in May. (When they arrived.)

I also emailed the maker. I think my next step is to talk with them.


natehofer,I have been printing for 30 years composition
rollers suck period. Tarheel should regrind your rollers
free of charge and pay for shipping both ways. best james

Tarheel has been making rollers for a long time and Kelsey presses have been around even longer. If you told them the make and size of your press when you ordered the rollers they would have sent the standard diameter rollers for that press. Of course, it’s possible they made a mistake. But it’s also possible you have the wrong size trucks.

The first thing I would do is start at the basics. Ask someone knowledgeable about Kelsey presses such as Alan Runfeldt at the Excelsior Press or Paul Aiken what the correct size rollers for your press are. Then measure your trucks, and the rollers you got from Tarheel, to see which is correct. This assumes one is correct but of course it’s possible neither is right. Once you know this you will know what action to take.

However, keep in mind that in general it’s not necessary that the rollers and trucks be the same diameter. In fact, many older presses were made with the rails at under type high and therefore required differences in the diameters between the two. This includes C&P presses and some Pearls/Goldings. When a press has the rails at type high, and if the rollers and trucks are the same diameter, you’ll have problems because the rollers need to press into the form a certain amount in order to tranfer the ink. If they are exactly at type high they will either ghost across the form and tranfer too little ink or not come in contact at all. There would be no way to adjust them sufficiently without an excessive underlay of the form.

Mills’, in his book Platen Press Operation, writes that the rollers should be 1/16” larger in diameter than the trucks. This means that they will extend beyond the trucks 1/32”. This allows for normal inking of a type high form and also allows for adjustment of the rollers above type high if necessary. This is usually accomplished by taping the rails, though this is not the only method.

Kelsey as far as I know had the press rails at type high. From what I’ve seen they don’t usually need to be taped when rubber rollers and the trucks are the correct diameters in relationship to one another, i.e. the rollers are 1/16” greater diameter. However, composition rollers as you know can vary slightly with the weather and so some taping may be necessary when using them.


Front Room Press
Milford, NJ

I should have looked at your photos first. It looks like you either sent Tarheel your trucks or they provided new ones for you. In either case, they look like they’re in the correct relationship to one another in terms of diameter. Of course, if you sent the trucks you had and they matched the rollers to them, that may still be the problem if the trucks you sent were not the right size.

On the other hand, you wrote that the rollers printed OK with a regular form but that you’re not sure how they will work with the Boxcar base. I’m no expert, but from what I’ve seen and read, Boxcar bases, deep-relief or regular, are particularly fussy with regard to roller height adjustment.

I’d double check the roller/truck diameter specs for that press just to make sure and then I’d try to print with the Boxcar base. It may need some tape or some other fussing but if the regular form printed OK then it seems like the rollers/trucks are OK.


Front Room Press
Milford, NJ

you should send pictures of the rollers on the press. the roller hooks have springs on them, the nuts are adjusted all the way back so there is not much tension on the rollers, the platten looks like the top is adjusted too far forward, if you haven’t printed with this press you should adjust the platten.

you should send pictures of the rollers on the press. the roller hooks have springs on them, the nuts are adjusted all the way back so there is not much tension on the rollers, the platten looks like the top is adjusted too far forward, if you haven’t printed with this press you should adjust the platten.

Hi Rich,
I see the book you referred to was published by the carnegie inst of technology; so I am assuming that Mills was a tutor there. This says it all for me. These academics are good for the theory, but when it comes to the practical production side in a commercial world they are lost, and I had 52 yrs in that printing environment and met many of them from my local university here in the UK.

Also things have moved on somewhat over the 50 yrs since it was published, and rollers can now be made to much tighter tolerances.

Maybe a little simple maths will show what I meant by my statement that rollers and their trucks must be the same diameter.

Ideally the trucks will be in constant contact with the tracks as the rollers roll over the forme; with both rollers and trucks having the same diameter the circumference will be identical and the distance the trucks travel will be mirrored by the distance the rollers travel; but increase the diameter of the roller by just 1mm and the roller is trying to travel an extra 3.143mm than what the trucks are travelling.

This will result in a “wipe” which usually shows on the top or bottom edges of the forme relative to the chase.
A wipe can,or even will cause the ink not to dry and in fact it can be wiped off the sheet several weeks later.

The trucks should always be the means by which the rollers rotate and not the reverse, where the travel of the rollers over the forme rotates the trucks.

Everyone’s input has been helpful, but I’m still not quit there.

I’ve started a new flickr set for my troubleshooting to better show what I’m seeing:

@rpolinski: Thank you. All your suggestions are helpful. And I’ve emailed Alan Runfeldt through his web site. The trucks are from Tarheel and I did describe my press to them.

I feel I’m stuck between a rock and a hardplace:

On one hand, my composite rollers are contacting the floor of the Boxcar base (without a plate) and lifting the trucks away from the rails:

I thought at first bigger trucks (or more tape on the roller support tracks) might solve this but because the bottom roller is (on the other hand) contacting the gripper bar base, that would make this issue worse:

So currently, I feel the issue is that my summer composite rollers are just too big probably due to humidity (however I do store them in a basement with a dehumidifier). David Hauser at Tarheer confirmed humidity could be problematic and suggested taping up the tracks (but that won’t work as stated above.)

So, nothings seems certain. I’m almost ready to just buy rubber rollers and wait until the humidity goes down to use my composite rollers.

What am I missing or not considering?

(My one press run with set lead type seemed okay but the floor of the lead type also became inky on the top side. Otherwise the printing results were fine.)

Looks like your trucks should be larger in diameter. Perhaps you local hardware store would have something that would work for now. Even nylon would work.

Nathofer you are correct. Thanks for pointing it out.

Yes however that solution would only make worse the other issue of the bottom roller contacting the gripper bar base mount:



I don’t think Mills can be dismissed because he was a tutor any more than the vote of a majority can change the orbit of the planets. Either what he writes can be shown empirically or it can’t. Also, manufacturer’s catalogs of the period show many presses were not designed to run with rollers and trucks of the same diameter. A C&P catalog circa 1915 for example recommends rollers be cast at a different diameter than the standard trucks supplied with the press.

I certainly respect your experience and agree that when rollers are adjusted too low they strike the form in a way that causes problems. I also think that in many cases it’s true that the rollers and trucks can be the same diameter. My rollers and metal trucks are both 1 3/4” diameter for example. But my C&P OS press built in 1892 does not have rails that are type high which was true of other C&P presses (and other manufacturers) of that vintage and later. The printer who used my press for 30 years before I got it had rollers slightly over 1 5/8” with 1 3/4” trucks since this is what was supplied to him by the major printing supply house he bought it from in 1960. This brought the rollers to slightly below type high and he never experienced any problems with his work as a result.

These rollers were no good by the time I got the pressbut I was able to get a set that were 1 3/4 inches. So in my case I’ve taped the rails. But in taping the rails I still haven’t brought the rollers to type high because if I did, they would not transfer the ink properly to the form. This isn’t just a theory. I learned by trial and error that this is the case. The rollers, as you know, are soft and must press into the form slightly to properly transfer the ink. Too much and you get too much ink, slurring, etc. Too little and you get little to no ink.

Vandercook and some platen press users often use a roller setting gauge to set the roller height. As you’re probably aware, the method for using this gauge includes checking the width of an ink “stripe” that is transfered to the gauge during testing. The reason for getting the stripe the correct width is because the rollers are pressing into the gauge and they need to be adjusted so the amount they press in is correct.

Think also historically of the use of ink balls. These were called brayers from the French word to beat out. The ink was beaten out on the slab and then onto the form. The soft leather backed by felt allowed the form to press into them slightly and so properly transfer the ink. While they weren’t pounded on, neither were they lightly touched to the form since this would not allow the transfer.

More “modern” presses such as the Craftsmen, Heidelberg, etc. have adjustable rails so taping and other methods of roller height adjustment aren’t necessary. This also allows the rollers and trucks to be the same diameter. But where adjustment is necessary, it’s only the means of adjusting the height of the rails (tape or built-in adjustment) that is different. Not the fact that the rollers must be adjusted so they will press into the form sufficiently to transfer the ink correctly.

My point is that the fact that the rollers shouldn’t press into the form so much that they cause slurring or wiping doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t press into the form at all. In the case of the Kelsey, in order for them to press into the form at all they must be slightly larger than the trucks since the rails are type high. I think this is the starting point after which adjustments may be needed (such as taping, underlay, etc.) to accommodate a given form.


Front Room Press
Milford, NJ

Wait and see what the correct size trucks/rollers are supposed to be for that press. That way you’ll have a baseline by which to judge what you have.

Looking at the new photos, it does seem like the rollers are too large in relationship to the trucks. Certainly 1/8” bigger in diameter is too much. Perhaps they are just swollen, but you do write that they’re in a somewhat controlled climate.

Alan has been printing with Kelsey presses for over 50 years so he will liklely have something helpfiul to say about it. I’ll call him and have him check his mail for your email.

I’ve read that new composition rollers are still holding a lot of water from their manufacture and must be seasoned. In the summer with humid weather this basically means that they should be allowed to sit unwrapped for at least 9 days.

What have you been using to clean them?


Front Room Press
Milford, NJ

i would try storing the rollers up stairs in a air conditioned room, looks like they have swelled, i have had my com p. rollers swell so big they touch each other, air conditioning seems to help. good luck dick g.

You all are so smart. These detailed responses are fantastic.

I use kerosene to clean my rollers since it’s what’s recommended on the Tarheel website.

And I’ve taken my rollers from the basement to the upstairs where the a/c is blasting away. I’ll check on ‘em periodically and hope to hear something about the true intended size of trucks/rollers for my press from Alan.

I also operate a 5x8 Kelsey, and was surprised to find my Tarheel rollers significantly larger then the trucks on arrival. It wasn’t a problem with metal composition, but when I gotten to photopolimer, I ended up wrapping both tracks and trucks with copious amounts of masking tape. Worked like a charm.

If your bottom roller touches the gripper base, you might try triple-inking with just a single top roller (properly taped).

Thank you. I don’t feel so alone now. However, I’m afraid I won’t feel settled until this works the way I want it too. (Or the way I hope it was designed to.)



Louis (a vendor from Excelsiorpress.org) informed me that rubber rollers he sells:

Should be 1 1/4” in diameter


The trucks are 1.125 which is 1 1/8”. This is an eighth of an inch smaller.

So, by this information the roller should extend beyond the truck by 1/16”. Right?

(My trucks currently seem to be this same diameter.

Link to roller sale page:

Currently my Tarheel composites seem to be 1/4” bigger than that trucks so that’s a 1/8” beyond the rollers. So, that’s about 1/16” additional space.

It’s hard to be certain that will solve my problem until I try. I’m a little hesitant to buy all-new rubber rollers.

@rpolinski: You mentioned Mills book suggested the roller should extend 1/32” beyond.

Right now I’m leaning toward buying new rubber rollers to fit better with my Boxcar base system but that’s a lot of money for more rollers for one press.


i don’t use polymer plates, i buy 1\4 inch mag dies, i think they are the same thickness as the boxcar plates. when i mount them i use furniture and double sided tape, with 2 pieces of chipboard under the furniture, this works well for me, if you try this with polymer plates, remove 1 piece of chipboard your plates should ink better, but you might have to add more packing under top sheet. good luck dick g.

Roller, rail and form adjustments. Simply form should be .918 type high(gauges are out there for this I use a micrometer). Rollers should put ink on form check with roller gauge usually a 1/8th stripe. Never used tape myself( all my presses are adjustable) but make sure rails are not slippery or your rollers may skid across the form Rosin the violin bow stuff will help lots.

Whether you’re using metal type, metal plates on wood, or photopolymer, all should be type high. The rollers must press slightly into any of the above forms to properly transfer the ink but some kinds of forms are fussier than others. Photopolymer plates seem to be notorious for needing very fine adjustment of the roller height. Type is often more forgiving which is probably why you had better results with it. My point is that you should be able to use either composition or rubber rollers with the Boxcar base. Many people use rubber rollers and still have to fine tune a bit with taped rails or an underlaid form for the photopolymer. That’s not what appears to be the problem.

Roller and truck diameters for a press are determined by the manufacturer to work with the design of a given press. On a press where the rails are manufactured type high, generally speaking the rollers should be 1/16” diameter greater than the trucks which places the surface of the roller 1/32” below type high. On most presses where the rails are not manufactured type high, the rollers and trucks can be the same diameter because the rails must be built up anyway and so by that means the rollers can be set so their surface is 1/32” below type high. You get to the same port on a different tack.

It does sound like your problem is that the rollers are too big around, for whatever reason. If the reason is seasonal swelling of the composition material, then rubber rollers may be the solution. But while I’m certainly no expert it does seem to me that so much swelling is abnormal. Composition rollers were once the standard for Kelsey and other presses and climate controlled homes far less common in the past than today. So it’s hard to believe that so many presses just had to sit idle over the summer months because the rollers swelled up so much.

If you haven’t done so already I’d get back on the phone to Tarheel and find out why the rollers seem to be swelling so much that they not only can’t be used with a type high form but actually hit the press mechanism and are therefore useless. Perhaps they are simply not the right diameter to begin with or were made as winter rollers and not summer and you got sent the wrong ones, etc.


Front Room Press
Milford, NJ

Hi Rich and all,

Just a clarification to a statement in Richs post:
“On most presses where the rails are not manufactured type high, the rollers and trucks can be the same diameter because the rails must be built up anyway and so by that means the rollers can be set so their surface is 1/32” below type high.”

The fact that the rails of a given press are not type high does not automaticlly equal roller and trucks of the same O.D. and that “rails will need to be built up”. This rail heigth measurement would have been taken into account when designing truck O.D and its relationship to roller O.D. The trucks would have or could have been larger which would raise the core center (and roller surface) away from the bed.

In fact any roller truck could be made usable regardless if it where to factory specs. Not that I am advocating a mish-mash approach to a very technical process, rather my point is that measurements and calculations will provide the answers on what size to make a roller finish. You know type high .918…you know roller squeeze….03125. So place the trucks on the cores (with or without covering). Now take a measuement from bed heigth. From this point you know the roller needs to finish at a heigth of .886 ( .918 minus .03125 ). So by measuring core diameter you will know how much rubber to add. NateHoffer…this is your place to verify if the roller is too large based on rail heigth, and truck diameter…is the surface of the roller .886 from the bed? IT MUST BE! How you get here can be accomplished several ways…different truck, different rollers or rail tape.

Admittedly these are precise measurements and cannot be done with a pica stick or ruler. You need inside and outside claipers and a micrometer. Regardelss…still expect to “fine tune” roller squeeze especially on photopolymer…as it is also impacted by ink viscosity, as well as roller AND photopolymer durometers.

And to Bern Bennett’s point of “surface speed” delta’s between truck and roller- this will not cause a wiping or slurring although I compeletely understand the theory. Speed of rotaion is determined by the travel of the truck period…yes if measured the surface of the roller would be rotaing at a slightly different speed but this would only “wipe” if the speed difference were between the roller and the type and if they were both moving in the same direction. The type of course is stationary and it gets inked at a pre-determined speed every time…in fact in MANY MANY presses over the last 100 years have form rollers (or those that feed ink directly to the type or plate) that are of different and alternating O.D.’s in the same unit to minimize ghosting. These are all turning at different surface speeds.

One last word of advice…use buna nitrile! especially on photopolymer…transfer tolerances are too critical to be messing with rollers that swell and shrink on the whim of the ambient temperature and relative humidity.

-sorry the post is so long, sunday morning R&R!

Hi, all—

I want to emphasize the importance of Bern Bennett’s point that the diameters of the roller and the truck must be very close to each other for the roller to be driven at the same rate as the truck. The vertical distance traveled by both is identical. Consequently, if the diameters are different (and therefore the circumferences are different) the roller and the truck would have to revolve more or less relative to each other in order to cover the same fixed vertical distance. Since the trucks are presumably driving the rollers, a mismatched roller is pushed or pulled along the type in a squeegee-like way, sometimes producing a slur.

The use of form rollers of different diameters is good to avoid ghosting, but the trucks should be of different diameters too. The implication of all this is that the tracks should be approximately typehigh.

I don’t think that all these dimensions are very critical, and sometimes, perfectly acceptable printing can be done with them being seriously out-of-whack (I believe that’s the technical term). Still, this point about roughly equal diameters between truck and roller is important to bear in mind.

Best wishes to all parties who have replied on this thread, Brian

This has all been super helpful thanks to all who have responded. For today’s run, I’m just gonna tape the sh*t out of the rails to get the composition rollers high enough so that they aren’t touching the Boxcar base.

Unfortunately, this only makes worse the fact that the bottom roller contacts the gripper bar base at the end of its traveled distance.

I can’t justify the added expense of another new set of rollers until I try this annoying work-around. However, I may be buying rubber rollers if today’s print run doesn’t work well.

I’ll let you know how it works. Thanks again, all.

Hi Brian and others on post,

“Very close” is a subjective statement and leaves everyone to decide for themsleves what the answer is. “Driven at the same rate” would only be accomplished if they were EXACTLY the same outside diameter not “very close”. Since the facts proove they generaly ARE NOT the exact same size (but close)…then at what difference is there a negative impact of slurring? 1/64,1/32, 1/16, 1/8?

The rollers and trucks will be “very close” by default unless the truck rails are seriously altered from original specifications or if someone did somethig obsurd like mix C&P pilot trucks with 10x15 C&P rollers.

My main point remains -one should not size rollers off of the trucks or the trucks off the rollers. Decisions and problem solving should be done from the type high and roller setting dimensions.

Again…surface speed implications for a “squeegee” effect in this scenario is a non issue partly because everything IS VERY CLOSE but more so because the trucks are not gears with absolute posititive drive.

These dimensions are in fact critical depending on who will define the subjective statement of “perfectly acceptable printing”. Kinko’s is perfectly acceptable to many but not to me :).

Must be fairly important to NateHofer?

Best regards and print rocks!