Old printer new to letterpress

I have been reading a great deal about letter press and after 30 years in offset I really want to do some letterpress work. I have for the last 10 years run a windmill on foil and die cut work but the desire to do what I call real letterpress has been growing. What I will be doing my work on will be a 3x5 kelsey after I get a set of rollers. If anyone has any tips on how to get going I would be greatful.

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Hmm … I’m kind of a newbie, but if I had a Heidelberg windmill and a Kelsey 3x5, I’d do my letterpress printing on the windmill. But maybe that press doesn’t belong to you personally, and maybe you just want to start with a few small things. If this is the case, you might start by looking at David Rose’s introduction to letterpress printing:


Also, a good book to start with would be General Printing by Cleeton, Pitkin, and Cornwell. It’s availalble on Amazon.

I think you will love letterpress printing!


Another vote for the Heidelberg! Does your Windmill still have all the roller assembly? I am sure you’d need new rubber, but it will be much more satisfying to print on it than that tiny Kelsey, especially considering your experience!

Do you intend to print from plates or type?

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

You guys are right. The windmill would be where I would love to do my printing. There are severel problems with that the largest being the machine isn’t mine plus the missing parts. I have also thought that I would like to have the ablity to be portable so I could set up at several local vintage fairs. I would really like to use type but sometimes I have to give into being practical. Plates will windup being how I go.

If you take your portable press to vintage fairs, why not take some type as well? A few 2/3 cases don’t take up much space, add a cigar box or two of spacing material and furniture, and you can set and print people’s names while they watch. That could be more engaging than just printing from plates that may or may not interest them, since many people may be interested in their own name. With two chases, you could print a card from both type AND plate.
You don’t need a whole stand of type. Many hobbyists with limited space have built their own type cases to fit small spaces. Check out this cabinet, containing everything needed:
Heck, put a Pilot on top of that and with two presses do two-color printing at the fair .

Sounds like that could be very interesting and would surely create a great deal of interest . The big draw back is that my wife thinks that the whole thing is a wast of money so I have to go slow on my purchases. All that I have to start with is what I think is a really nice little press.


The Kelsey should be fine for what you are looking to do. It’s perfect for business card sizes and I’m guessing people would love having their name printed on a card while they watched. If you didn’t want to go through the process of setting up names you could always print the name of the fair and the date it took place—a small keepsake for attendees.

Do you have any type? If not you may want to consider placing an ad in the classifieds or searching around eBay for something that you’d like to start with. You could very easily start with only a couple of drawers and grow as you like. Don’t forget a composing stick to actually assist you in setting the type.

You will of course want the basics like quoins, key, furniture, spacing, etc—but I assume you already know how all that works if you have been running a WM for 10+ years.

If you’re in need of rollers and want to save money I would suggest looking at eBay:


It will take a couple of weeks to get the rollers if you are stateside, but the money saved could be put toward type and accessories.

Hope that helps,

Thanks. I do have some type. The problem that I have right now will be the spaceing. For something like you said about the date card I was thinking about using leading cut to size. I know that it will be hard to get right but when in a tight a little rigging is in order. The thing that is really confussing me is how to build my packing. With what I have done on a Windmill I always used a steel jacket or a sheet that is like rubberized cloth. The name of it has slipped my mind at the monent.Any help in under standing packing would be great

goto www.boxcarpress.com; at the foot of the home page click on press manuals and select the 15x10 platen manual and download and read and reread!!!
Guidance on packing is there, and a lot more info beside.

The best (in my opinion anyway) book out there is Elementary Platen Presswork by Ralph W. Polk. He doesn’t specifically cover small tabletop presses, but the principles and practices are generally the same when it comes to things like packing, lockup, etc. You should be able to find a very affordable copy online at bookfinder.com.

Thanks for all the input.I realized this morning that it is really amazing that all of you found my post and where so helpful when I saw what I had put it under. Thanks once again for all the advice. It really gives me a great starting point.