Trouble Taping Rails

Hi everyone,

I have a Kelsey 5x8 that came with a decent amount of masking tape on the rails. I wanted to replace it with something that wouldn’t compress, so I chose to use a filament strapping tape. I have now built the tape back up to where the roller gauge just barely touches the rollers and have been adjusting for weeks.

The problem is that I can’t get it perfectly consistent in all 4 corners with both rollers. I’ve even tried removing partial sections of the tape for the slightest adjustment with no luck.

Does anyone have any suggestions? I’ve been considering taping the trucks instead of the rails, but I figured I’d get other opinions before I move forward.

Thank you!

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Do you know if your trucks are worn?

Try laying a straight edge along your rails and seeing if they are actually level. If so, then I would suspect the trucks are worn. Todd of Toddspresstime should be able to make you new ones if needed.

If the rails aren’t flat then you need to adjust your taping to make them flat. I would use tape to build up the rails until they are flat and then put a single layer over the whole rail to give it a smooth surface.

This isn’t ideal but is the best I can suggest.

The first principle governing all this is — the rails should be type-high and even across the bed in both directions (vertical and horizontal), and the roller trucks should be within 1/16 inch of the same diameter (not radius) as the rollers. Within those limits a slight amount of adjustment can be made, either to the rails or to the trucks as required. Indiscriminate taping of either rails or trucks can result in worse inking problems.



I did not think about the fact that my trucks may be worn. I know I need a new set of rollers, so that could very well be the case. I will check to see if the rails are level, thanks!



I will make sure to check both the rails and the diameter of the trucks. I’m still pretty new to letterpress and these are the things I don’t even know to check – so thank you!


At some point in this exercise of taping, it would seem that a test print with the press inked up and a type form locked in the chase would be made to see what’s happening. I think there is a huge over emphasis on using various roller setting gauges and bed leveling devices, especially on an inherently inaccurate press as the Kelsey, that the end result is based only on ink stripes et al. There is such a thing as makeready to over come some of the problems in any letterpress machine. Add the term makeready to the equation and it strikes fear into the hearts of beginners as they have been lead to believe that a press has to be dead on in accuracy in order to achieve great results. I had horrible results the first time I inked up my brand new Kelsey fresh out of the box but I tinkered with it until it worked. And I achieved that as a 13 year-old. And some 60 odd years later, I still tinker with things when I print as each new encounter with one of my presses is a whole new adventure.

You may find an inexpensive pair of outside calipers to measure the diameter of your rollers and trucks. A pair with a gauge built-in is ideal. If not you can put them to a ruler after you have taken reading. Very simple to use. You can search: “How to take a measurement with an outside caliper”. I have a set from “Peckerwoods”
It was a limited production. Good luck.


I do not expect the press to work perfectly, but am afraid of ruining my rollers or the press itself. My plan was to get the rollers to be somewhat consistent and then to run a test with ink. Since I can’t even get both rollers to be type-high in the same quadrant, I have not inked it yet. I have read up on makeready and plan to use this to correct my print after the rollers are semi-consistent. Unfortunately, I have found so much conflicting advice that I’m not sure what to trust.

I would appreciate any tips you have for beginners since it sounds like this is truly a passion of yours!


You say that you need a new set of rollers… Why? Are they damaged in some way? If so you would probably find you had issues with them anyway.

Fritz has a very good point.

I am using a smaller press, with slightly larger rollers than they should be, and trucks that are the right size for the rollers I should have. 1” rollers with 15/16” trucks.

I would start by adjusting the Platen, setting some type, inking the type manually and printing like that. If that works I would try the rollers (with no tape on the rails) and see how that works.

The biggest issue I am having with my press at the moment is that I tend to put a bit too much ink on the ink disk, but I am working on that.


The rollers I was given with the press have a few large cracks and a couple of holes from when the gripper bar spring was facing upwards. They worked fine on the few tests prints I did, but I’ve been waiting to replace them until I have a better understanding of the press.

Also, I’ve noticed that when the rollers come all the way down they’re hitting cast iron. I’m assuming it’s not a good thing, but I don’t have another press to compare it to.

I’ll have to try printing without the rollers and see what happens. Thanks!


I believe those Kelseys have roller hooks that can be rotated in their holder arms — if the opening is down that places the rollers further down the press and may be why they are hitting. And if you turn the hooks so they face up, that may clear that problem while adding the advantage that the rollers ride higher on the ink disc, distributing the ink more efficiently.



I tried the hooks both face up and face down and it doesn’t seem to make a difference on my press. Thanks for the suggestion though!


two things:

1) you say the rollers have cracks and holes. These sound old and hardened…never good for getting a good image. Probably you should get them recast in a material that has some ‘give’ (‘squishiness’) to get solid consistent inking.

2) you say the roller gauge ‘barely touches’ the rollers. I think you need to get more contact than ‘barely touches.’ On a Lollypop gauge, I think a 1/8” stripe is about right. Test each roller individually, at each side of the bed.

Just my experience, YMMV.

ken brownlee,

I agree I need more contact with the roller gauge - that’s what I’ve been adjusting and has been so frustrating! I will go for the 1/8” stripe when I get to that point (hopefully soon). Thanks!