building a letterpress

I’m in the process of designing, milling, and assembling a letterpress for my wife’s birthday in May. I’m an industrial designer who has access to a number of materials and vendors who can help in acquiring the raw material’s needed and help with the finer machining that I may have to do.

I’m EXTREMELY excited about this project and plan on having a high-quality press. It’s a little crazy but I cannot afford the cost of buying a 8x5 Adana or other tabletop press.

I would be extremely grateful to anyone who can offer pointers on specific measurements (How much clearance is there between the type bed and the roller bearer? How high does the Chase sit on the type bed?)

I’m currently planning on creating a hi-bred between a Adana style press and an the C & P platen presses.

If the Briar Press community is interested I can continue to update as I progress. My wife’s birthday is in May so it will be a months long project.

Thank you in advance.


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Way to go!
I’d love to hear about your progress, and we all like pictures.

Hi Michael,
Are you making this press by CNC? If so, it’d be nice if you could make the design files open source so that others can follow your lead and build from your experience.

Be sure to make the components as heavy as possible. The castings of a C&P Pilot are webbed to reduce torsional deformation from the pressures of printing. I am told the Japanese Adana replicas fail in this department— they are built so light that they flex and can not print well unless with a perfectly balanced form.

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

I’ll look into the problems that the Japanese Adana have.

As far as making the design files open source: I don’t see why not. IF the design is successful and produces nice quality letter pressings I may try and offer the press in kits or assembled units for sale. That’s a big IF. I’m having a blast just trying to figure out the mechanism.

I’m going to try and visit a friend who works with a printer who has a C & P. Take some notes and get some measurements.

That’s such a nice birthday present!!!

Well (BIG)IF you do decide to offer the press in kits after the first one succeeds, please contact me!!!

Good luck!

Sounds fun… I have a suggestion though.. instead of using an ink disc like the C&P’s and Adana… try an ink cylinder like a heidelberg or vandercook… then you could build in an ink fountain… kind of like an “advanced” table top.

I don’t know… might not work but it would be pretty cool to see something like that.

I would take a good hard look at the adjustable impression mechanism on a windmill and try to incorporate something like that. I also have some ideas for “built in” and adjustable gauge pins if your interested.

Thanks! I’m going to visit Platen Press Museum in Zion to take a look at a variety of different presses.

I am focusing on the impression mechanism at the moment and may not be able to incorporate an inking system do to time constraints (I’m doing most of my designing over lunch breaks) BUT I would allow for attaching one to the press in the future. I will take a look at the ink fountain.

Lammy: Yes! I would like to see your idea’s. I do worry that any adjustability in the impression mechanism would compromise the repeatability of the actual impressions (i.e.something would slip and one impression would not have the quality of the first impression).

I should be uploading a CAD image of my first design in the next two weeks.

Thanks for the suggestions!

Just looked at a Heidelberg press in action (via you tube). Wow!!! That may be the way to go. It “seems” easier.

I’m an extremely visual person and am looking forward to my visit this Saturday as I’m trying to balance cost with quality. All of my brain storming has resulting in fairly complex mechanisms … and I feel like I’m reinventing the wheel. Online videos can only show so much.

Check out “937die” for my Heidelberg platen vids on Youtube

Ok. After the museum visit I have decided that there is no reason not to put rollers in the design. The mechanism is very simple and can be done with everything else.

I’m designing for a 5x8 chase with a lever action mechanism.

What inking rollers does the Briar Press recommend? Obviously I would like to get the least expensive roller but would I be sacrificing quality if I did? Where can I purchase these rollers?



Have you ever seen the built in gauge pins on the Golding Pearl Old Style presses? I have them on one of my Pearls. What was the design you had in mind?

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

image: pearlgauge.jpg

I’d suggest using some rollers that can be purchased off the shelf. What size press would you be building? If it is in the realm of 6 1/2 x 10 then I’d go for the C&P Pilot rollers that American Printing Equipment & Supply sell. If you prefer to go a little smaller then I’d go for the standard Kelsey 5x8 rollers. Either way I suggest rubber over composition material.

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

I don’t want to ruin your fun - but I suggest ‘a night out’ and a ‘bunch of flowers’ -

If I tried to get my wife anything to do with letterpress I would end up with another black eye!

Best wishes

>>Have you ever seen the built in gauge pins on the Golding >>Pearl Old Style presses? I have them on one of my >>Pearls. What was the design you had in mind?

Something that would be like the gripper bars on most platens. I actually did some drawing of it at one point but I don’t think I saved them. It would require some very intricate machining.

The other idea is a system that actually sits in the the platen. This would have the limitation though of always having to print to the same corner of the platen. Kind of like a windmill, though there are options that might allow for something different… .

contact me off list if you want to talk more on this.

MJ—As I have with several other folks with various and sundry letterpress-related problems, I suggest you contact Larry Raid in Denmark, IA for any advise and input he can provide. Larry is the owner/curator of The Working Linotype Museum. When I was attending his Linotype workshop last Sept. he spoke about designing and fabricating (if that’s the right word) a medium size press . He was going to make it mostly with castings but with some machined parts. I don’t know how far along he is with the project, but Larry is an absolute wiz with machinery. I just hope he doesn’t get mad at me for recommending him to so many people. His e-mail address is in the listing for Linotype University. Best of luck, but if your plans don’t work out I can probably recommend a good florist and confectionary store for alternative birthday gifts to one’s spouse.

Lammy and bill - To prevent spam and for privacy reasons, I have edited your posts to remove the email address and ad a link. For an explanation, see Email addresses and spam in Classifieds & forums.

Sounds GREAT. What a wonderful birthday gift!

My Girlfriend bought me my Chandler & Price 8x12 OS for my birthday - the best present I ever got! If you can get it together I’m sure she will love it Michael! Good luck!

Hey Michael,
What’s the progress on your press? May is around the corner! We’d love to see some pictures.

Honestly … everything came to a halt about about a month ago when I had to focus my energies on other house related projects (redoing our bathroom). I’m still working on it and as I have something to show: I’ll post it.

More later.


Great post. I’m new to this forum & letterpressing.

I’m curious to see the progress on this project.

I’ve always wondered, given the high cost to acquire a tabletop platen such as a Kelsey or a C&P Pilot, why not take the CAD drawings and get it mass produced with an aluminum body instead of cast iron?

I think it would benefit the letterpress community.

Although, it can be said, that its the process of restoration, and understanding the technology will give deeper appreciation for a technology that went on for a good 400 years…

Great Project.

I know you have you project underway Michael, but I thought I’d add this as it is something I’m embarking on.

How about fabricating a flat bed press in the vein of an Adana QH(HQ) or QFB?

I know technically these are more crude, are less compact and can be a little finickity to set up, but you could make a much larger chase size and be able to print up much bigger sheets with much easier access to the type.

If you are thinking of developing a roller rather than ink plate that would save a lot of space with this design.


how did you make out with your build?