Press for a beginner—Is this the right one?

Hi, everyone!

First, some background. I’m a graphic designer, and I love letterpress. Stuck in the hinterlands without any specific traning, I haven’t had the opportunity to take any letterpress classes.

However, I’m hoping to use books and Briar Press as a resource as a start my own small press.

I have the opportunity to buy an oldstyle 8x12 C&P press. It looks like it’s ready to work. I can pick it up, so moving isn’t an issue.

I’m going to attach a picture here. Would you recommend that this might be something a committed beginner would try?



image: press[1].jpg


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If you have the room and can move it safely this is a nearly perfect press for both learning and producing advanced work. It’s easy to operate and, without motor drive, relatively safe if you’re careful. I’d say go for it and ask lots of questions as you learn.


I have the luxury of a heated, 1000 square-foot garage with an empty bay. The house is nothing special, but the previous owner loved his garages :)

Thanks for your comment, Bob. It helps to know this is doable and not just another silly idea.

I have to respectfully disagree with Adlib about the press. C&P’s, even treadle operated ones, are notorious finger-biters. I’ve been doing this since the late 1960’s, and I’ve seen more than one person loose a digit to presses just like that one…. and all were from the hands of newbies. Until you have gained a feel for letterpress, I’d not recommend that style of press.

Far better for newbies are lever-operated machines, such as the C&P Pilot, or Craftsmen, or even a 5x8 Kelsey. They will allow you to learn how to print with far less danger than a flywheel operated machine…… Then after you have some experience and classes under your belt, you can advance to a flywheel machine. This is the “learning curve” preferred by most newbies, which is one of the reasons why lever operated machines are in such demand nowadays.

However… it IS a nice looking press. I’d buy it in a heartbeat and not worry about running it. BUT I’ve got a lot of experience…. if I were a newbie, I’d be cautious of it.

And I’d disagree with Winking Cat. I learned on one of these after a brief flirtation with a Kelsey 5x8. Mostly self taught. The trick to not getting your fingers chewed on is to keep the fingers out of the press when it is closing. And a treadle is in my opinion way safer than a motor. It’ll go slower than most motors.

If you live near another printer it sure wouldn’t hurt to get a few lessons. Just say where you’re located and someone will invite you over to show you how to run it. If you happen to be near Michigan, come on over.

I’ve got one just like it in my basement. These are great presses. If the price is reasonable, buy it!

Aaah. You guys make it hard to figure out these things. Of course, there are no definites in life, are there?

The thing is, I have a small child, and although he would never, ever be in the room when I’m working with the press, I started getting visions of him getting himself caught in its moving parts after Winking Cat mentioned the loss of digits.

I think I’ll take the tame route for a while. If anyone is interested in the press, let me know. I’ll give you the contact info. The seller is located near Green Bay, WI.


Don’t be scared off by visions of crushed appendages or kiddies wrapped around the flywheel. I raised two children (one with disabilities) with a printshop in the house. At the time I had a C&P with a treadle, a pilot and a Vandercook and not once did I ever have to fear that they would jump into the presses. Granted, I did not let them play around with the machinery and they understood very early that they were not toys, but I would try to involve them in carrying posters to the drying rack or taking a press to my child’s school when in second grade. I have one child who is a huge help in the shop and knows how to move presses (and is about to celebrate a 24th birthday), sort type, bind books &c, and my disabled child stays respectfully away from the moving parts (and the non-moving parts, too). You could always strap/lock the press to keep it from turning over or just teach your kids some boundries. Don’t give up before you start, and don’t be scared off by tales of maiming. Just make a resolution to not try to watch the kids and the press at the same time - I think that’s why they invented TV. My wife says this is really sad that people are trying to scare you. I think a lot of WCP’s opinions, but I have to definitely disagree with him on this one. I hope you reconsider.

The first press I ran was a motorized 8 x 12, but you have to have sense enough to understand that this is machinery that can hurt you if not respected. Simple enough.

I would recommend this press. Not only do you have the treadle, which will allow you to run the press at a very comfortable speed, but also the throw off, which should rid you of the desire to try to stop the press or retrieve the sheet in the event of a misfeed.

BTW, with proper instruction, the kids will love the treadle and it is a good introduction (when they’re big enough) to running a press. The most important thing to teach kids is not how to run machinery but how to STOP machinery.

Good luck and have fun!

There is validity in all comments. Winking Cat is safety conscious and safety is always correct. Skateboarding and working at a kitchen range can be dangerous.
Like the boiling pot on the stove, the platen press has no respect for you. You must have respect for it.
It would be best to receive some basic instruction from an experienced printer. Lacking that, learn and follow the rules. I learned (and do follow) the rules at age 13 on a 10 x 15 motorized press in school.
These are the rules I reach my students.
1. Stand erect. Do not bend at the waist.
2. Do NOT chase the misfeed. If it does not go into the gauge pins correctly, either throw off or let it misprint. It is only a piece of paper.
3. When the platen is opening or in its close to horizontal position, It belongs to you. When it begins to close, it belongs to the press. GO AWAY.
I tell my students as I stand beside the press with a brass line gauge in my hand that I will holler at them and smack their hand if they break the rules.
They probably believe me.

Looks like a nice 8x12 old style! Perfect for starting out. Buy it.

-do be careful, as in all things learn how to protect yourself and pay close attention to what you are doing. A little fear isnt neccessarily a bad thing if that is what it takes to keep you safe.

It’s also a good idea to practice feeding paper through your press until you get the hang of it before attempting to run your first job. No need to even put in a chase! Just have a pile of stock ready and some gauge pins in place to hold the paper. It’ll give you a chance to get used to the printing ‘rhythm’ without feeling like you have to save those runaway sheets.

Why wait until you’re printing a job to adjust to your new press? Go ahead and get some practice under your belt before you start in earnest!