Getting Started on the Vandercook SP15

My Vandercook SP15 is in the house and ready to go. When we moved the press in we removed the carriage to lighten the load. We did not remove ANY of the carriage parts just removed it and set it on 2 x 4’s on a flat dolly. Oh, we did remove the rollers at one point.

I am getting ready to finally give printing a try however, I have NEVER seen or used one of these before.

I have the manual and it explains how to raise and lower the rollers but I have many questions:

1. Got the rollers turning but the little white bearings dont all turn - is that a problem? Still having issues understanding how to set the roller height - I turn the knobs but nothing seems to be happening. Also, if there is a knob on each side, how do you know you have both sides set at the same height?

2. Is there a diagram somewhere of all of the spots I need to oil? I had someone help me with my Pearl but there is no one here to help me with this so I have no idea what to do.

3. How do I know if I have a galley high bed? I am waiting on Fritz from NA to get back to me but I was told that some SP15’s have a galley bed. When I put my standard .918 roller gauge in the bed the bed is exactly that height but the rollers are SUPER high compared to that. Am I measuring the wrong part of the bed?

Any other suggestions, this machine is very intimidating. I know it is in perfect condition because I purchased it reconditioned from the amazing Don Black Linecasting - this is totally operator issues because I have NOOOOO idea what I am doing!

Thanks in advance,

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You were able to get the cylinder carriage back where it was originally, so the grippers have the correct distance to the feedboard at the rest position?
1. The little white bearings—Nyliners—don’t need to turn. To turn the roller adjusting knobs, you must loosen the lock screw on the side of the roller bearing block. Use a roller setting gauge to set the rollers evenly from side to side.
2.There are two critical points to oil on a SP-15, the cylinder eccentric bearings. See the circular plate on each side of the carriage? There is a tiny notch at the top of each plate that is an oilhole. And there are a few other points such as the roller journals, trip pins etc. And the motor and gearbox hould be oiled occasionally.
3. If the .918 roller gaiuge is the same height as the bed bearers, then if is not a galley height press. Are the rollers in lowered or raised position? There is a lever to lift the rollers out of contact when not in use. (Don’t leave the rollers down when not actually printing, Don’t leave the motor running unless you are inking up or printing.)
I really recommend getting instruction somewhere even if you have to travel. There are classes all over the country, or perhaps you can get some private instruction.

parallel - thank you for your response!

Yes, I was able to get the carriage back to it’s original place as we marked it prior to removing it.

All of this information is helpful. You mention not to leave your rollers in the lowered position - so when I am done printing I need to use those little black knobs to raise the two rollers back up again? I always raise the large cylindar and the other little roller in the front when not using - is that what you are talking about?

What do I clean that metal cylinder and the other metal roller with? Can I clean that with my California Wash like I would with my rollers?

I am attending the Wayzgoose Printers Fair coming up two weeks from now and there will be several Vandercooks there - you can rest assured that I will have my pen and paper in hand and be asking a million questions. If that does not leave me with enough information then I will find a class somewhere.

I guess I should let her sit until the fair. I was just so excited to get using her but obviously I am in way over my head here ;-)

Thanks again for getting back to me!


From your posts, it sounds like you’ve never operated a Vandercook before. They might not be jet engines, but they are complicated machines. I suggest looking for a tutor in your area, or taking a workshop at one of the many institutions around the country.

Do you know about Paul Moxon’s Vandercook Press site? The address is, and you would do well to post a request for a tutor there.

Also, the SP-15 manual is available for download at the Boxcar Press website. It doesn’t give operating instructions, but parts lists and diagrams are very handy!


Kelly, you are correct - I have never operated or actually even seen a Vandercook before. I made this investment knowing that this would be a good press. I have used a platen for about 6 months now so I am familiar with letterpress but not with the Vandercook which is apparently a totally different ball game.

I have been looking for instruction as well but I have not found anything within reasonable driving distance that is a full day class or something. Everything I have found has been either too far away or the times are staggered so that I would be making a 6-10 hour drive once a week for however many weeks.

Right now I dont have a ton of extra money as the press itself was expensive so I guess it will just have to sit for a while until I can find some help.

I am a VERY fast learner so I know that if I could even spend an hour or two with anyone who had my same machine I would be good to go. I just need to keep looking for help.

I will plan to post on the Vandercook board and hopefully someone will respond to my plea.

Thank you again,

They are really excellent presses. I learned to print on one, and six years later am still learning.

It sounds like a tutor is the way to go!

One more suggestion—check out Dave Seat’s schedule ( He’s a repair/service guru, and took the time to give my SP-15 a good cleaning last time he was in New England.

Best of luck,

No, don’t use the roller adjusting knobs to raise the rollers when not printing. Use the roller lifting handle, which raises the form rollers and also lifts the distributor rollers off the form rollers. You can also lift the distributor rollers manually, but the latch that holds the distributors up isn’t always that reliable.
You should also be aware of the deadlines on the press at head and tail and keep the form between them. Never operate the press without the headbar in place, which fills the space up to the deadline; if you put a form ahead of the front deadline (or behind the rear deadline) you will damage the form and possibly the grippers or paper guides.

On the Vandercook website mentioned above is a census of the Vandercook presses still around; it’s at

You can sort the list by model number or location. Maybe someone near you with a similar press will turn up, and you could call and ask to visit.

Kelly - I scheduled a date with Hot Metal Services on the 20th or 21st of September after the Wayzgoose festival. Thank you SO much for recommending them. I checked their website and they were already in Iowa for that event so that is awesome!

Two weeks and I will be printing away!

clothdog - thanks for the tip on the census. I had seen that once before but could not remember where it was!

parallel - I have no idea what your last comment means but it sounds serious so I am going to print it out and ask about it when my help arrives! Thank you so much for bringing that up - I would not have known to ask!

You guys are the best - thank you so much - I REALLY want to print SOOOOOO badly!



Put a piece of metal type on the bed next to the bearer. If they are the same, it is type high, if the metal type is lower, it’s a galley press. Either way, you should have been informed when you purchased the press, especially from the “amazing” Don Black..



Thanks so much for the tip! Great idea!

Don and Craig have no idea how inexperienced I am so I am sure they just assumed that I knew the basics. I did ask them specifically for an SP15 - which I knew that I wanted - but I did not follow up with - by the way - I know it want it but I dont know anything about it ;-) My bad!

They were both so wonderful and helpful with all of my questions especially with the move. I just adore them both.

I just figured I would try to get some help here and if there was an easy way to figure out the galley thing I could try it.


To explain the deadline comment: deadines are lines scribed on the bed of the press (also tagged on the siderails of some models). They designate the printing limits, but the bed extends beyond them. You must keep the form between the lines. The headbar fills the front deadline area, but is removable (it usually has a center line and some warning). The cylinder gap falls into the tail deadline area, but is followed by the grippers, so a smash at the tail is also possible.
Galley height presses would have a .050” metal bedplate to print from .918 type-high forms, and the bedplates don’t necessarily have deadlines on them.
I wouldn’t expect a press from Don Black to be missing such essential parts, but you still need to be aware of them.
Note also that some roller height gauges are for galley height presses; they should be marked .968.

parallel - thank you SO much again for your help. I have someone coming to help me and have added all of your fantastic advice to my list of items to talk/learn about. I have a seriously long list ;-)

Thank you again,