Utter frustration

Is there anyone in the NY/NJ area who’d be available this weekend to lend me some press assistance? (Paid, obviously.)

I’m having ridiculous slurring problems on my SP-20 that don’t seem to be consistent. I did a run earlier this week on Lettra 220 with no problems – crisp impression, no ink squeeze. I ran some envelopes, different ink, no problem. I tried to run something today on Lettra 110 with the exact same ink I used on the 220 and I’ve got slurring all over the place, inconsistent inking, jus a mess. I’ve adjusted the rollers to the correct height, I’ve adjusted the amount of ink on press, the amount of packing.

I’m somewhat suspect that California Wash is causing some of my problems. I was having a little trouble getting the inking consistent, then decided to wash down the plate and try again and that’s when all hell broke loose. I thought I let it dry long enough but obviously didn’t. Washed down again, dried off. I was going to use some acetone since I know that’ll dry quickly, but I’m worried about what it would do to a photopolymer plate.

Any suggestions, thoughts, concerns, etc. I’ll take ‘em.

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California Wash evaporates rather slowly. If you take ink off the plate you need to clean it afterward with a dry rag or the solvent will resist and thin the ink.


Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

Daniel is certainly right, no acetone on anything resembling a plastic.

I use coleman fuel (white gas) which is safe on plates and evaporates quickly and is available at most hardware stores and even some grocery stores. I keep a small safety dispenser bottle about a pint in size on my composing stone for this kind of rapid wash up.

Use it on your type or plates, but not on your rubber rollers. I use press wash on the rollers and white gas on the forms.


So, the California Wash definitely caused some issues as I was troubleshooting my initial inking problems, but the source was something else altogether. The gear on the main form roller had come loose, so the roller itself wasn’t rolling along with it. Oops. That explains many things and why I had absolutely no trouble running the job this morning.

Does that gear come loose over time typically?

The gear is secured to the roller core with an Allen head set screw. It should be set tight enough that it won’t work loose.


I installed new rollers a few months ago. I must not have tightened it enough and the screw slowly worked itself out.

I can’t remember if my SP-20 had this or not, but most Vandercooks use both a setscrew and a Woodruff key, usually a No.3, to fix the form roller gear in place. The Woodruff key is a half-moon shape that fits into a recess in the core and a slot in the gear. With key in place the gear cannot spin, and the setscrew maintains lateral position.
If your SP-20 needs the key there wil be a slot in the gear.
Keys from the hardware store, even if nominally No. 3, may need some filing to fit.