'Secrets' of a Kelseyman!

By Jack Gifford
Published in Type & Press
Summer 1980

(I'm not an authority on presswork but over the years have learned quite a bit while pumping a 5x8Kelsey Excelsior. During that time I have encountered a number of problems —some of which I have solved. With the purpose of helping newer Kelseyites, I have written this short article. The Author.)

What ever you call them—miniature, lever, table top, side arm (but never toy) —most of these presses are scaled-down versions of the clam shell platen press. Consequently, many problems & solutions are similar. Therefore, some of the "big boys" with the power presses may find parts of this writing informative.

There's little doubt that the small tabletopper (Kelsey, Victor, Pilot, Official, Sigwalt, etc.). when pumped by an experienced amateur, are capable of doing the finest of presswork within the limits of their size. Many commercial shops have printed with these "Tom Thumbs."

With the exception of large and heavy forms that require heavy impression and full color, these ingenious little contrivances can turn out printing comparable to that of large platen jobbers.

First —the Kelsey press is an assembly of about a dozen cast iron machined parts. The chase and the chase bed are easily removed & may be used as an imposing surface. Two rollers ink the form twice between each impression, obtaining ink from a rotating ink disc, which may be lifted off for cleaning. The front operating lever on the Excelsior permits two-handed operation & any size of sheet to be printed.

To create quality Letterpress printing, several factors are always necessary —good rollers, adjusted to just lightly touch the type form; platen leveled & tightly covered with a hard tympan; all components in the form exactly type high; careful makeready plus the proper setting of guide pins, grippers and stripping devices. Neglect of any of these important factors will result in a poor print. These subjects have been covered in past issues and will not be repeated.

Modifications have been made by some lever pressmen which allows them to do better work in less time. First, a hand press should be solidly mounted to a bench or table so it won't "walk" when being used. Handy is a 9xl2 inch feed board fastened to one side and about six Inches above. When printing 8.5x11" or larger sheets a side guide extension is useful. One can be made from a narrow strip of aluminum with a center slot accepting a machine screw. A small piece of metal soldered on the screw head will act as an adjustable stop guide. The screw can be held in place by a wing nut. The extension can have a lip bent on one end, which is used to fasten the piece to the platen edge with two screws in drilled and tapped holes. The extension will be flush with the surface of the platen.

If an "eyebrow" appears on large printed sheets it could be caused by the ink plate being slightly too large, allowing it to touch the sheet. A frisket or the turning down of the plate will remedy the problem.

If you always seem to need more makeready in the center of form the platen back spring may be loosened by unscrewing the coil spring.

No modifications should be attempted on any make press unless one has the mechanical dexterity and the proper tools for various modifications.

For fast feeding the left hand should not be removed from the lever. Feed a sheet to guides & close press with left hand. With the right hand pick up next sheet with the forefinger and middle finger. The thumb and lower side of the forefinger should be left free. With press open, slide the new sheet, directly on top of the printed sheet between the thumb and forefinger and pull it out. The new sheet will drop into the lower gauge pins.

When attempting to print tint blocks & halftones the supply of ink on the rollers will be greatly depleted after they have rolled over form. To increase the supply of ink on the form, double or triple rolling may help. This is accomplished by inking rollers and form repeatedly without making an impression. For additional impression & inking, hold handle at print point for several seconds. This may overcome difficulties when printing on rough surfaced stock.

If adequate color impression is still unattainable, sheets may be dampened with a quick swipe of a slightly dampened sponge just before feeding. This will allow paper fibers to accept ink more readily with less impression.

To print large solid areas tacky ink will give best results. To test for tack, daub a small dot on a finger and bring the thumb down on it gently. If ink forms a thread when thumb is raised, it's a tacky ink. If it feels like butter, the ink is "short."

Sheets printed from large forms requiring heavy inking will probably require slipsheeting with old newspaper to prevent any offsetting on back of sheets.

I have had good luck using the Kelsey "all-season" rollers and have used my present pair continuously for 12 years. I find that rollers and press work best at a temperature of from about 65 to 75 degrees and a relative humidity range of 30 to 80 per cent. Masking tape about one-half inch wide wrapped around my roller trucks increases their diameter so they just touch form enough to keep them turning. If taping trucks, don't use friction or electrician's tape —they will gum up things.