Treadle vs. Motor

In the grand scheme of things, I’m pretty new to the world of letterpress and I’m looking to buy a large platen press. I currently have a 6x10 kelsey victor which I have no intention of replacing but I’d like to get either a 8x12 or a 10x15 C&P.

I’m finding that they’re a lot easier to find with a motor (or motor capabilities) than a treadle. Ideally, I’d like the treadle but trying to open my mind to the idea of having my press powered by a motor.

I’d like to hear other’s thoughts on the pros and cons of both.

I think my main fear is a lack of control with having a motor but having never used one, it’s like to know if that’s just silly or not.

Thanks in advance!

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As long as main shaft has the offset for the treadle in the middle, you can always take the motor off and use a treadle. If the shaft is straight, you can only use a motor.

Hern Iron works sells treadles.

We’re pretty new to the world of letterpress as well, and have a treadle powered 10x15. So far we’re not wishing we had a motor yet. I do know people who hate using the treadle though.

You should try to find a platen press in your area and try it out. You might get lucky and find both motor and treadle and can decide what you like.

I’m taking a 8-week class and have been using one with a treadle and I like it. There aren’t any with a motor around that I know of so that’s where the hesitation comes from because if I buy one with a motor, I will be a blind purchase of sorts.

This is also coming from a girl who was afraid to drive the Driver’s Ed car because it was an automatic and my parent’s taught me how to drive stick. haha…same situation? irrational worries?

I’m pretty new too, but I have a 8X12 with a kimble motor and Press-O-Matic control.

With this control i can run the press at an incredibly slow speed, so that’s not a problem. As well, if you have the correct posture as described in the Elementary Platen Presswork book, then you have very little chance of injuring yourself.

The throw off lever gets used a lot around here.

Regardless, next time I’m in the area I plan on picking up a Hearn Treadle as my press has an offset shaft and I want to be able to print stuff even if the world ends.

if you are going to get a press the 8x12 is a little small and also lighter than the 10x15, but you can do so much more with a 10x15. a treadle is nice but i think it gets old fast if you are going to do a lot of printing. There seems to be more parts around for 10x15 presses. These floor model presses can and will crush your hand if you screw up, you should take a few lessons if you can. Always stand straight, never lean into the press to get a misfed sheet, don’t keep too much stock on the feed table (it can vibrate and fall into the press, not good).

On the press I use at my job, we have a motor. We have a switch that I press down with my foot to make the press run. When I take my foot off, the press stops. We use a 2 x 4 when first applying the ink. So, if you wanted to continue to use the motor, but are concerned about the safety of it, this is probably the best way to go. Oh, the press is a 10 x 15 C & P and I love it. :-)

Speaking of treadles … I recently purchased a treadle from Hern for my 8x12. The hook does not have an oil hole. It sure seems like the surface of the crankshaft in the “U” would get a lot of wear from the inside of the hook. Did the original hooks from factory treadles have an oil hole? Or was/is the only way to lubricate this to take the hook off frequently and coat the surface with oil?


If you put a little oil on the journal of the flywheel shaft where the hook connects it will lubricate the hook OK, at least as well as if there was an oil hole. But you could drill an oil hole if you want — except that it will weaken the hook, which I believe is cast iron, not the wrought iron or forged steel C&P supplied.


liljohn - please clarify about using the 2 x 4 when you first apply ink. Thanks - Neil

It’s the old story about the mule trainer — “First you have to get their attention”! ;-)


Huh…lloking back at my original post, I guess I didn’t really explain that…lol. I just put the 2 x 4 on the foot pedal so I don’t have to stand there with my foot on it…that is all…

liljohn, My granfather did the same trick on this old desoto
on long trips,wedged a 2x4 from the aclelerator to the front seat. My question is why don’t you just have an on/ off switch so your foot can support the weight of your body
My switch is under the feed board, I give the flywheel a good push flip the switch an up and away,both feet on the james

I’ll try to explain it better…we have an on/off switch. The motor won’t run until I put my foot or something on the peddle. The peddle is on the ground, so it’s not too much different than just standing there. I haven’t done any real big runs yet, but when I do, I’ll probably use the 2 x 4 instead of my foot. It’s just been easier to step on it than having to put the wood there and take it off after doing a couple impressions. :-)

You should eb very careful with such a setup when loading the chase or placing pins, etc. It would be veryu easy when otherwise occupied to inadvertently step on the foot switch and activate the press while your hands were in a bad place.

A switch placed out of the way can be a great safety device as it is nto easily bumped in error.

John Henry

We have a cover over the pedal, and I normally push it to the side when not using it. Thanks for the concern though. :-)

Seems this thread got a little of track. The question was treadle or mother. Having run both on 8 x12 and 10 x15 C&P’s I prefer the treadle because it affords the ability to slow down or accelerate the press very quickly. When you get to know your press you should be able to actually slow the press down by putting a little pressure on the treadle as the crank comes back around. (it’s an acquired skill).

Of course a lot depends on how much printing you plan to do-hobby vs. commercial, and how long your runs are.

I think the most important consideration is in running a floor model like a C&P is that you find your speed and rhythm and try to avoid using the through off on every impression. You’ll find you have more time than you think if you avoid relying to heavily on the through off.

back on track I prefer the motor because I don’t sweat on the job as I print it.And bear in mind with printing nothing is vs: anything it’s vs: your imagination. nothing is conflict.
best james

I vote motor. It is just easier and predictable.

The serious negative is that you really have to respect the fact that it won’t stop for fingers. But then a treadle version won’t either.

I do tend to run it a bit slower than I have to (about 900 ipm). Going to the extra expense and trouble of having a variable speed motor will help a lot.

I would also vote for 10 x 15. You want the force in case you want to do some things. Yesterday I was scoring (Eterno 0.8mm) bookboard (for a sewn board book) and that is a lot easier on a 10 x 15.

The most productive and controllable setup for a Gordon press is a variable-speed motor set to the job at hand, but with foot brake. That is safer than any other situation, some of which seem to have elements of romantic fantasy (arm-garters and green eye-shades).
Add a distibutor roller and you will get improved inking as well.