My First Windmill

My husband and I want to start creating out own prints and found a Heidelberg Windmill for sale in our area. I’ve been a designer for some years now and have worked with a letterpress printer who used this type of press, but never printed myself. After reading some of the other discussions here I am now wondering if this is the right press for us to start with.

We are also concerned about the state of the machine. It appears to be in good condition, but it has been sitting unused for a while and we will not be able to see the motor working until we get it home. I’ve been told that these presses are very reliable, but I’m afraid we might not know the right questions to ask to make sure that we’re not getting a lemon.

On the other hand, I’m worried that we won’t find another one in our area and the cost of moving is high as it is. It would be much more expensive if we were trying to move from another city to our studio.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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If you have never printed before a Windmill might be biting off more than you can chew. That being said, if the machine is in good shape, is from a good year (after 1950), and the price is right it may be wise to buy it anyway and keep it in storage until you have some experience and are ready to tackle the project. There are Windmill intensives offered annually (?) that you would want to attend. I imagine you’d learn just about everything needed to start running (and maintaining) your own.

You said that you and your husband are looking to create your own prints. Do you have any sense of what quantity you will be working with? The Windmill is really engineered to be a volume printing machine. If you are doing smaller edition prints you may find the Windmill to be overkill both in terms of complexity and parts cost.

If you are looking for a press to start on I would suggest one of the floor model platens from C&P or similar. Their operation is easy to understand and they can be treadle powered or motorized. An 8x12 should be fine, but the 10x15 is often regarded as a more capable press.

You’ll also want to make sure your work space is ready to handle a Windmill. This typically means 3 phase power. Any decent electrician in your area should be able to give you an idea of what this would require if it’s something you don’t already have. Alternatively you can convert the motor to single phase.

The best question to ask would probably be what the machine was used for during its lifespan. If it spent the past 40 years as a diecutter then it may be a little less desirable than if it spent that time printing. Either way it shouldn’t be an issue as long as the press was well cared for and properly serviced.

How much are they asking for the press? That could be a determining factor in whether or not it is worth it.

I forgot to mention that C&P floor models can typically be found for ~10-20% of what you can expect to pay for a Windmill and can weigh only half as much. Both of these factors may be something to consider depending on your situation.

Mia- that’s a tough decision. A Windmill is indeed a great press. Everything about them is well-engineered, they print superbly well, and they look COOL. If I found one in my area for sale, I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

BUT they are not what one would consider to be a “beginner’s machine”. They are more complex than most other presses, and do have the potential to cause injury if you get your fingers in the wrong place or happen to get tangled in the feed mechanism. AND like other fine machines they do require a bit of care to keep in tip-top shape.

Since you are a new printer, I think it has to boil down to how mechanically inclined you and your husband are…. and how careful you are willling to be. If you guys are the sort who never works on your own car, never built anything, can’t fix a bicycle tire, and don’t own a hefty tool box, then you might want to consider a simpler press to start with.

IF however, you or your husband can rebuild a Hotrod engine with your eyes closed, or have restored an old Steam Tractor, or your last project was an Aerobatic kitplane, then you should be able to handle it without raising a sweat. I would however, recommend that you find someone well-versed with Windmills to teach you how to use it.

As far as it’s potential “lemonality” goes…. I wouldn’t worry about it. In all my days, I’ve never seen one that was actually worn out. They seem to last forever. As long as the major pieces are intact, and it appears to work ok manually, then it’s probably fine.

Good luck! When you get it set up, please post it’s pics here. I’d love to see it.

DISCLAIMER: My normal recommendation is that newbies never buy anything other than a tabletop lever-actuated press as their first machine. Soooo in order to be consistent, I’d have to recommend that you don’t get it. BUT since it IS a Windmill….. hhhmmm…. that’s a tough call.

“BUT since it IS a Windmill….. hhhmmm…. that’s a tough call.”

My sentiments exactly. I’d be tempted to get it and put it in storage until I was ready to use it.

Again it all depends on the price and vintage.

Wow, thanks for the comments and advice everyone. My husband is actually a bike mechanic and has been for several years. So he’s very mechanically inclined which has been a big part of the motivation for this little “print shop.” We want to have the capacity to do larger runs (upwards of 100) with multiple colors. I have found some smaller table tops but they seem like a big investment for what could be limiting. However, I don’t want anyone losing any fingers or anything. The asking price for the Windmill is $2500. but the moving costs are unknown until we have some one come take a look—might be around $600.

$2500 is a good price depending on the year of manufacture. The below comes from Richard Tautenhahn:

1954 or later…………..Original Heidelberg ‘54……….BEST

1950-1954………………Original Heidelberg ‘50………GOOD

1949 or earlier…………Super Speed or Ultra…….Try to avoid unless very cheap (an Ultra is better than a Super Speed)

For runs of 100 or less, a more manual press should not be limiting. My typical press run is ~100- 200 impressions, with 3 or four colors on a cylinder proof press… and the speed of the press is not a major issue. Most of my time is spent on set-up, so a fast press would not help me a lot.

BUT…. I’d still get the Windmill.

Winking Cat brings up a good point: cylinder versus platen. You never really stated what sort of prints you were interested in creating. If you’re thinking of broadsides you may very well be better off with a cylinder.

Just some more food for thought.

Thanks again for the input. We are hoping to print anything from business cards and invites to art books and calendars. We’re honestly not super familiar with the what type of press works best for these things, but I have worked a little (teeny tiny) bit with the Windmill and know people in the area that might help us learn. I am curious though why a pre 1949 Heidelberg should be avoided?

Others could likely give you an in-depth explanation of all the little pieces, parts, and functions that were improved with the later Windmills. I am not familiar with the details, it’s things like ball bearings, feed table cranks, and, eventually, lock outs. Some of these are argued to be more important than others.

The best windmills are from 1960 and up, I see that they call them “red-ball” - because the pressure handle is red. 1950 to 1959 have a powder sprayer very high in the machine causing that too much powder sprayed over. I am talking about the powder sprayer because it was used a lot to print color work in coated papers. From 1965 was incorporated the “lock-rollers” which is a very good help and also makes the cleaning ink a faster task. If you want the best press you should look that is a 1965 and up. Heidelberg produced windmills until 1985. I agree that prior to 1949 you should avoid; those machines had a manual lubrication system which was done by oiling holes over the machine, opposed to a central lubrication pump as the 1950 and up models. Better oil, better machine.
The models from 1965 and up have the “safe guard” squared and the earlier models were elliptical.
The image are of the press is about 13.5”x10.25” -gives you a idea of what you can fit in that area.

You say you have never printed on windmills, you should look for a instructor on you area. Probably you could find a work shop and learn from there. You need instruction, as the press can be dangerous if you don’t acquire some mileage working with it.

I recommend, if you can have a press from 65 and up go for it. In the other hand, maybe a smaller press should be considered if you are thinking in small runs.

Actually I am looking for a table top, looks so much fun the little ones …

I have to speak out in defense of my “1947” windmill. I have it, as well as a “1970” red ball. The oldie will hairline register as well as run all day, numbering without ceasing. It might require a little more oiling time, but 5 minutes at tops. If I were getting started in letterpress, I do agree that a c&p, probably 10x15, would be the best to learn on. But, these presses, like all presses, are unforgiving. You can’t be too careful. They will hurt you, so be CAREFUL!

Depending on where you are located, you might want to try to get to Mt. Pleasant, Iowa on Friday, September 19. We will be having an all-day Open House at the Printers’ Hall printing museum and offerring informal training sessions on just about all of our equipment. We have three Heidelberg Windmills, so you could have plenty of opportunity to watch them in action, ask questions, etc.

We’ll be open from 8:00 in the morning, break for supper in the evening and be back again for a 7:00 - 10:00 p.m. session. I did say ALL DAY.

You might want to hang around for the Saturday morning Great Northern Printer’s Fair on Saturday, September 20. It goes all morning and then we’ll break for lunch and set up an auction to start at 2:00 p.m.

Look in the Birar Press Classifieds for more info in the “sticky” near the beginning of the listings.

” I have to speak out in defense of my “1947” “

That’s true. I did work with a 1930s model (don’t remember when) and it was as good as any. Actually I like the powder spray of it, it is like a ” U ” atop of the “paper delivery”. Before I bought my 1969 Red Ball someone offered me a 1930s model. I guess he would have sold it for little. I did not take it and sort of regret it …
You are right James, it just take a bit more to oil them. Which is done every day and on the run as required.
Do you have a picture of it ? Show it :) if you like.

” Northern Printer’s Fair “
Foolproof, looks like fun!