My letterpress mentor, Jim Irwin, master printer and owner of Letterpress Finesse, told me about an old, unused Chandler & Price platen press at a local business. I went down to check it out. Sure enough, there was a dusty old press in the corner. After a little haggling we agreed on $150. Now I just had to get 1,100 pounds of cast iron home!
With the help of a friend, we picked up the press, tied it into the bed of the truck, and headed for the studio. In the process of getting the press to the ground it fell over. Luckily nothing broke but we soon learned than righting 1,100 pounds is no easy task! Using a heavy-duty jack and a lot of scrap lumber we slowly righted the press.
This was a white knuckle affair as the press would eventually swing upright with incredible force. I used two pieces of lumber for a landing pad. It worked! The press was upright.
Next task was to slowly jack up the press so that I could put on 4x4s and heavy-duty casters. This was a slow and nerve-wracking process.
Once inside the studio I could take a good look at what I had bought. And what I had to do! First thing was to clean off decades of dirt, oil, grease and paint.
That accomplished I could then see if the press was operating properly. One problem: I had a broken rocker arm (red arrow). I took it to a local machinist and in a few days he had made me a brand new one.
I ordered a new set of rollers to replace the deteriorated old ones.
The press was set up for a treadle but did not have one. Amazingly, an iron works company in Idaho still makes them. I ordered one and in a few weeks it was on the press.
I made some cosmetic improvements, including a new oak delivery board and feed board to replace the beat-up old ones.
I won't lie to you: I have a love affair with my big old cast iron press. From the serial number I learned that it was built in 1921, so it's edging in on 100 years old. I have no doubt that with a little maintenance (and a lot of oiling!) it could easily see its 200th birthday.