Thursday, day of the presses – the wooden press

The practical today was a bit rushed because we were all super keen to get our hands dirty. The day’s lectures consisted of differentiation between wood engraving and wood cutting, plus an introduction to the machine processes of the late 19th century. The following slide is Martin’s, and explains the difference between cutting and engraving very concisely.

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I am sure most of you are here to see the presses. This post is about using a wooden two-pull press.

Let me start with the replica of the wooden press, upon which we printed off  from a replica plate of a page of the Nuremberg Chronicle. Both were made by Alan May, and which you can see on the YouTube documentary: The machine that made us.

I took some short videos of this several parts of the process. You might like to go to my Instagram feed.

We had a replica plate of a page of the Nuremberg Chronicle to play with.

The first thing we did was ink up the plate:

The ink pads are made of deer hide. They are usually soaked overnight to keep them soft. You take the two pads and pound them together before applying ink to the plate.

Once you are satisfied with the inking you lay down the frisket. This is a stencil or shape of the plate’s image that keeps the edges clean. In the photo on right, you can see the shape has been cut out.

When you are ready you lay the paper down, place the timpan on top and push under the platten.  This is a two-pull press because you had to move the press further in if your plate was large. The printing size is determined by the size of the plattern. We used both damp and dry paper to see which gave the best print.

The first few of us forgot that the best place to pull the lever was from the end (left picture). We started pulling from close to the center (right picture). We all forgot our basic high school physics: that the most efficient place from which we should use the force would be the end of the lever.  Even though the plattern is heavy, pulling the lever is not strenuous. Although if you were to pull it 500 times in a day, then you would get tired; it does require the whole body to be in the movement, not just the arms.

Now that I am home, I can show you my impression. Can you see a vertical white line a third in from the right? that is where the plate has split. The middle of the plate has less ink, so in later versions we built up the middle with a couple of layers of paper. It made the impressions better.

Next post will be about using an iron press with a lever to take an impression.

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Filed under bookbinding, conservation, libraries, museum, preservation, printing

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