adjusting the platen on a Pilot

Hello all,
Can someone give me some clues/steps on how to correctly adjust the platen on a Pilot press? We did our maiden voyage on it yesterday and after taping the rails, we’ve discovered that it seems like the bottom of the form gets great ink coverage and the top seems very light. I’m assuming that the platen needs to be adjusted… Any help would be much appreciated. I can post pics of our prints if it will help diagnose.

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Do you have a roller setting gauge? Is the ink consistant on the form and uneven in the print?

Do you get a consistant impression if the form is uninked?

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

yes, i do have a gauge and used it to tape the rails. when the form is inked it looks to have even coverage. We did not blind print onto the tympan to check for even pressure. Do you suggest that?

You could use the roller-setting gauge to adjust the platen — using it like John Falstrom’s device but one corner at a time. You may want to back off the packing a little to compensate for the gauge being a little over type high. Each corner should have the same amount of resistance to sliding the gauge with the full impression — be sure you always put the bar to the stop and hold it there firmly while checking the pressure and adjustment.


It is best to troubleshoot impression and inking issues separately. When you are setting the platen level I would suggest you do it without ink on the press.

Lock a capital M out near each corner of your chase, put in standard packing (one sheet pressboard, 2 of tympan, one tympan top sheet, and pull an impression. Adjust the platen leveling bolts until you get an even but light impression on a sheet of card stock.

Make sure that the press is able to close all the way when you pull the lever down. You will see the stops meeting metal against metal at the back of the press when the press is set up correctly. I often see Pilots with the platens run out too far so the press can not reach the optimal print moment. If this is the case you will never get good or consistant printing.

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

PS- Another option for platen adjustment is John Falstrom’s platen leveling gauge. If you can get your hands on one of these you can set the platen easily with the chase and all packing removed.


If you are getting too much impression on the bottom you should screw in the platen screws to come closer to leveling. I found that almost every job needs some platen adjustment. A really good trick to make sure you are making it go the right direction is to actually look at the direction of the thread going into the platen before you turn, to make sure it is going in or out as necessary.


Ok. I got the platen adjustment from John Falstrom. Looks very easy to do. I’ll update next week as it’s due to deliver tomorrow and I’ll try over the weekend. In my research, I’m finding out that the biggest misconception newbie letterpressers have is that tabletop presses physically can’t reproduce the pressure a floor model can dish out, so trying to get that deep impression is almost close to impossible. And while trying to get that deep impression, they’re screwing themselves up with acutal ink coverage issues. Am I wrong? So, to me, in this order or importance:
1. roller height
2. platen adjustment for levelness
3. correct packing for job
4. ink coverage
5. Happy Face on printer

I’m randomly up in Brooklyn/NYC for work and I would love to stop by and check out the Arm.

You are on the correct path. You are also correct that the small press won’t do smash printing on a larger form. The presses were not designed to do smash printing. You can work around this a bit if you can print your piece in two or three passes. All of the pressure the press can deliver is available for each of the two or three smaller parts.
Your list is good and pretty much in order. I like the last item. After a well adjusted press and a good composition to be printed, good printing starts with good inking. Without good inking no amount of packing change or cursing will do any good. Thus, I would put correct roller adjustment and correct inking before packing. All are important and all must be right.
Get the platen adjusted and don’t mess with it again. Once it is true, future work is in the packing.
Get some ink on your shirt and get printing.

Come by tomrrow if you are around. I’ll be here from noon to 10PM.


Hey Dan…

question about your comment about the platen being too far out. Is it possible for the platen to be too close. The reason I ask is that when I close my pilot it doesn’t make a click sound like my kelsey excelsior press. I used the platen gauge I bought from John. It’s even all around. I’m just concern that it’s even but the platen is too close.


Hello Rose,
I would guess that the press is not closing all the way. Look at the back of the press. When you pull the lever down do the points in the rear of the press close all the way?

If not, you will have to back off the platen leveling bolts until they do. Re-level the platen with John’s gauge with all the packing removed and with the lever pulled all they way down and you should be in good shape!


image: pilotview.jpg

This thread has been incredibly helpful. Thanks to all who’ve been sharing advice. I just adjusted my my Pilot’s platen using the Capital M method, but now my rear points don’t meet … ? Am I missing a step? Or not understanding the adjustment process?


you need to start with a normal packing when you adjust the platen.

Hm - I did use the packing described above. I think my problem may be in the “even but light impression” guideline. My impression must be way too deep.


Hey Dan thanks for the advice! Will check that out. BTW…I visited the Arm back in October. Tagged along with a group from Rutgers. Great space!!

Dan! You are a genius! There’s a good 3/4” gap when fully engaged. My finger fits inside. Not a good thing. I’ll pull back my platen and re-level. Thanks again!

here’s an image of the gap. not sure if it came through on my earlier post.

image: CPclosed.jpg


I have a feeling that fixing this will make you like your press a lot more!


Rose your platen is way too close. Loosen the jam nuts on the impression screws and back the planten away from the rails. When the stops, when your finger is in the photo, are contacted without the platen hitting any structure you are ready to begin readjustment, assuming nothing is broken or assembled wrong. Go slow and adjust each impression screw slowly and incrementally until you have acheived type high + about 0.050” at six places. Lock down the jam nuts and you ought to be good to go.


T and T Press Restoration

Are you making the adjustment with the lever pulled all the way down? You should!


Those replacement lock nuts you made for me were dead on! Thanks so much- that press is now back in action.


Dan, excellent news, nothing is better for business than the expressed delight of a satisfied customer. It is odd that the jam nuts were discarded by the previous owner. But yours was not the first press to have been found without them. Curious indeed…


Dan & Tom, I pulled back the platen, closed the gap, and releveled the entire thing. I was surprised why my lever didn’t go all the way down when I first got the press. Now i know why. Now it swings all the way and is parallel to the floor! Thanks for everyone’s help!