Sanity and hand-feeding

This week I had a job that put my dedication to the test—4,500 two color pieces, double sided and printed one up on existing blanks. Yes, that means that I ran 4,500 pieces through the press 4 times each. This wouldn’t be a problem on my Heidelberg, but I haven’t wired in a phase converter yet so I had to hand-feed on my C&P. I managed to finish all 18,000 impressions in 4 very long workdays.

The reason that I bring this up is that I hit a wall around 4,000 impressions every day that I printed. The first few thousand feeds were no problem. I really enjoy the work, but at a certain point I can not convince myself to stand there and keep going. Does anyone have a solution for maintaining sanity while hand-feeding long runs? Has anyone else found that they have a similar threshold?


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Are you motorized? I hope so.

I just plan on doing 80-90% of my threshold each day and plan other small projects to break up the day. If it takes an extra day, and my mental health is in check, I am a happy guy.

Hopefully this job payed for getting your windmill up and running

Take a break as often as you need, whether it is halfway through, or every thousand, and do something different (perhaps not onlne). You need to stay sharp, and standing all day long may not be the way for you to do that. Hand-feeding is something that that gets easier with experience, and which may then fade with age. Understand your own limits; they will change. Press feeders were once expected to do considerably more (even after the eight-hour day was introduced), so it is humanly possible. Are we less human now than our great-grandparents? Or is it just that our expectations are different?
It is also imprtant that the press speed is right for the stock and you. If you set a speed that leads to a lot of misfeeds, then a slightly slower speed, without misfeeds, will give a greater yield. Actually, anything that leads to unease in feeding—a bad curl to the stock, tongues on the pins that aren’t quite right—-ought to be examined and improved.

We’re not less human now; we’re more human now. A century ago, lots of people functioned as machines. Hand feeding a printing press is fun, if it’s a hobby, but it becomes onerous when it becomes work.

I’m in the middle of a 4 color job of about 1500 cards, hand fed and treadled on my 8x12 C&P OS. I take a break every 400 or 500 impressions or so to surf the web, read a book, eat a meal. etc. Getting enough to drink seems to be important. Also there are shorter breaks when transferring the pile from the feed table to the drying rack and adding ink to the ink table. The iPod is on loud enough to be heard over the press to make it more pleasant.

The first color took about half a day. Today I’ll tackle the second color. Tomorrow the third… Might make the students run the fourth in class as practice for their part of the job. They have to print the front of the cards. The project is a deck of cards for a word game/writing exercise. They only have to print about 100 cards each with 4 designs.

Hi Jason,

I agree that breaks are good to avoid the physical problems that can come from repetitive motion. Be mindful of your posture, too. Sometimes, with my Vandercook, I change the way I move. For example, sometimes I turn the impression cylinder with my right arm on the way down the bed, and switch to my left on the way back.

To avoid mental fatigue, I listen to audio books.


Well, you’ll really appreciate your Windmill when it’s up and running.

A good handfed job is going to revolve around what kind of stock you are feeding, the degree of register involved, and just little ergonomic factors. 4500 sheets a day is pretty good, but don’t be surprised that you are hittling a “wall”. The only way around that is to keep at it (ugh). The worst thing to have to contend with on a handfed job is a deadline, as you’ll get nervous about keeping up your speed and then your production will plummet.

The notes others have posted are pretty much dead on. Still, after not having run my hand fed C&P for over a year, I’m getting the hankering to run a job or two on it again.

Optimize, Optimize, Optimize. Something as simple as how the paper is stacked on the feeder, or the curl of the stock will make all the difference.

when i hand feed i try to set a time like run the press for 1 hour them stop and maybe set some type for a while, if you break up the day like this it seems to help. if you stay with it and you start to get tired or bored with repeated motion, that’s when the risk of accidents goes way up. When you get your windmill running you won’t want to hand feed ever again. I run 2 windmills and a 12x18 kluge, if you can get long runs its possible to run 2 or 3 automatic presses at once. I still like to hand feed once in a while if i have time on the job. Good luck Dick G.

Im all for loud music, something that has a good beat that I can pump away to the foot treadle too, and get my hand feeding happening to the sound of the beat.

Keeps me going for a good hour, I then have a recovery chair, sit catch my breath, relax for 10 minutes and then do it all over again.

The things we do for love.

Thousand…… we’ve discussed this very topic for years in my shop. Hand feeding 4000+ impressions per day is no easy feat. I congratulate you on your stick-to-itness.

Years ago, I used to hear the old-timers talk about printing 5000 to 6000 impressions in a single day, but to be honest I never actually saw them do it…. and I know I’ve never done that many. I’d guess my most productive day was in the 4000 range….. and only for one or two days.

Nowadays, I’d never do that many in a single standing. I take great pride in my work, but life is too short to spend an entire day doing nothing but feed a press. The largest press run I’ll do is 1000 impressions is a single session. At that volume, it’s easy to stay sane.

Bah! Try screenprinting 4000 3 color invitations by hand. Front and back! If you stop to take a break on a run, the waterbase ink will dry into the screen…

But, in all honesty, printing can be monotonous. Great music (or podcasts/audiobooks) can help, and some physical discomfort can be removed with proper posture.

I used to have lower back pain from printing, but I bought a back-support belt. All pain from printing is gone now!

These are all great ideas. I love turning up the music and just meditating to the tune of the press. Sometimes I listen to podcasts, but I should check out audiobooks too.

It sounds kind of hippy, but I definitely hit a point where I began to feel like part of the machine. Maybe this ties in to Kevin’s point of being more human now.

Arie, you have your work cut out for you. Had I treadled this job it would have taken my 10 days instead of 4. More power to you.

Winking, I know they must have done it, because on day one of my run I managed 5000 impressions. Mind you days 2-4 were harder than the first, as I already had sore knees and what have you.

Vrooooooom, I was having trouble with the halftone on these and almost had to silk screen them, or at least one color. I feel you. That can be a slow process that does not stop.

Stop me if you heard this horror story. Details are becoming increasingly fuzzy with age.

Largest run on a C&P N.S. 10 by15: 80,000 #5 manilla baggage-claim tags, printed both sides, perfed, and numbered two places on one side.

I must have managed three to four thousand per day, two sides. For you math wizards out there, that’s 6-8,000 imps/day at avg. 2000iph. With #5 tags, you can grab a dozen off the feed table with the right hand, and slip them into the gauge pins one by one, bottom feeding with the thumb. An economy of motion, born of necessity.

The only thing that kept me from going totally boinkers during the run was my youth, and other duties as a GCIU apprentice circa mid-nineteen seventies.

About three-quarters done - several weeks into the job - the airline (Pacific Air Cargo) went T.U. Thank Gutenberg!

i thought i could hand feed pretty fast until i took a job part time hand feeding in a small job shop, mypress was running about 12 to 1300 an hour when a old timer took the press next to me, he made me look like i was sleeping, he had to be feeding about 2500 an hour. Dick G.

Treadling a press is pretty good exercise and I’ve been getting a regular daily workout. I didn’t quite finish, there’s still about 400 cards to go on the 4th color. It was time to let the students do their part. They have to print 4 sets of 25 or so; changing the form for each set. Took them a bit over an hour once the gauge pins were set. I’d arranged a couple of chases so all they had to do was insert their text lines in spaces provided. That worked pretty well except when I inserted one chase in upside down and smashed some type. The students didn’t make any such mistake.

Something else I just remembered on this topic: I put one of those anti-fatigue mats alongside the press, and it really makes the physical part of printing a lot more comfortable.


A few years back I had a job that just would not feed on my Miehle V-50. I wound up hand feeding it on the Miehle-with my Father, who is my partner saying, “I don’t care how you get it done-get it done!”. Not an easy task with the lever and leather belt. 8+ hours and the job was done.

The next morning, I stopped at the local hospital thinking I had dislocated my shoulder while sleeping. The pain was that bad. After x-rays and much wasted time I went into work.

Later that evening a friend who is a chiropractor open his practice for me to work on my hugely inflamed shoulder. I’m now convince chiropractors are miracle workers and Miehle’s should never be hand fed.

Hasn’t anybody heard about costing and estimating for printing? No wonder so many go broke.
At to day’s labour rates alone say at $Australian 40.00 minimum per hour [not to mention add on labour costs, business costs and overheads, etc, etc] that would make 4000 letterheads worth a minimum of 7.5 hours x 40 = $300 plus makereadies and other direct costs. In real, small business terms that should be about an hour’s work. Bet your not getting that for the job, if you are, well keep feeding, if not then who is the fool for working for “slave” wages! Choose the right press for the right job, as the saying goes, “horses for courses”.
If anybody is getting tired or distracted, step back from the machine, it’ll bite you real bad. Nothing is worth your health, irrespective of what the boss and customer demand.
If hand feeding is “boring” or too much for you, get another job and leave it to the able. RSI?, Nah! Warm up the muscles like a good opera singer does before going on stage. Don’t do it cold! William Amer, Rockley, NSW

William…. you have hit the nail on the head, as far as cost vs productivity goes. Hand-fed is not the way to go for long runs.

My view is that hand-fed letterpress cannot compete on a commodity basis with other forms of printing…. and thus should not even try. Printing long-run letterheads should be done with self-feeding machines, and the hand-fed equipment should be employed for more artistic (read that “Higher Profit”) short-run work.


I just finished a similar job on my C&P. 3/1 business cards and 500 each of three names. The registration was very tight, so I made sure to run plenty of extras on my first pass through. Even though I did this, I still came up 50 short on one set. So after spending 12 hours printing, inking, up, and cleaning up, I felt it necessary to do it all over again for 50 cards. ugh I am presently looking for a good windwill that will register good, so I’m jealous that you have one.


Jay, you are an honorable printer ;-)

I recommend that your Trade Terms include the line (as most do) - “Delivery within 10% of total number ordered will be considered fulfilled” or words to that effect. ie, if the client MUST have 500 cards, they should order 550.
I’ve rarely had to invoke that clause, but I make sure my clients have positive notice to read the trade terms!

Nonetheless, good luck when you find your Windmill!

No way I will ever print business cards 1-up again ;-)
Most jobs I run 6-up on one end of a 10x13 press-sheet (1/4 of the 20x26 Lettra or 1/8 of the 26x40), turn the sheet around and run 6 more. For double-sided business cards, I’ll trim the 10” down to about 8, so when I flip the sheet I don’t have to reposition my form in the chase.

The Windmill can hit perfect register like no other relief press I’ve ever seen. I’ve run halftones through twice, and hit every dot spot on…

German engineering ;-)

Back on topic, I do hand-feed my 10x15 C&P Old Style, mostly for things like a couple hundred invitation envelopes, where the low speed actually saves money…

I got rid of the motor, and rigged up a 2x6 with a bunch of hardware as a treadle. There’s no way to run 4000 pieces a day on that (at least not without a more athletic physique than I can currently claim!) But it’s also very unlikely that one would lose a finger. The ergonomics of powering the press with your leg creates a perfect relaxed rhythm… You do sort of ‘become ONE with the press”, hippie or otherwise, it’s a groovy thing ;-)


forget trying to figure out how to stay at handfeeding. Use this as a reason to get your automatic up and running. I have three automatics and dread anytime I have to handfeed.