Roller Care

So I finally got my rollers for my 6x10 Kelsey Victor table top press and I have read that you can clean your rollers with plain old vegtable oil, is this correect. I have Composition Rollers from tarheel. It also says I can use kerosene does this remove the ink on the rollers as well or do I have to use another product for that…

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Stick with the kerosene. While cooking oil will work, it is messy, greasy, and you will find it difficult to completely remove from the rollers and ink table prior to printing. Forget the environmental Chicken Littles; kerosene has been in use for well over one hundred years (it forms part of the wonderful aroma of a genuine print shop) and the sun still shines, the sky remains blue. Kerosene does an effective job of cleaning AND preserving the rollers. Ensure that water-based cleaners are never used with composition rollers. Save those old cotton T-shirts and use them to clean the rollers. Remember, you are working with a Kelsey; you need all the help you can get! In my opinion

Hi there,

I use vegetable oil on the rubber rollers I have, and haven’t had any problems. You just need to give everything a thorough wiping down, and old cotton t-shirts work great. I do use mineral spirits every once in a while on the ink disc and rollers - maybe once every 5-10 uses, or after a lot of use in a short period of time. I think of it kind of like oiling the press, not necessary absolutely every time, given I am using a Kelsey, and it is not exactly a production plant printing situation.

You’ll probably need mineral spirits or kerosene to clean your type anyway, but my thinking is, the less used, the better. My Kelsey is in my apartment living room, and, environmental concerns regarding kerosene aside, I don’t want my living room smelling like a “genuine print shop.”

Updated. you know, vegetable oil isn’t terrible, but I’ve used all-veg shortening (Crisco) with much success. Smear a little on rollers and/or ink plate, run your press to distribute and then wipe off as much as you can (i use pages from old phone books for this part). Then using rags/shop towels, wipe rollers clean with mineral spirits or kerosene. It uses much less of the atmosphere/respiratory-offending solvent, and takes less time than you’d think. Of course, take care to remove all traces of shortening. But we all have spotless presses, so I don’t need to mention that. :)

Laurence - Have a little respect for the “environmental Chicken Littles”. If we’d taken care 100 years ago, the “Chicken Littles” wouldn’t be running around trying to save the sky from falling! Using your kerosene in moderation is not hard to do and it puts another drop in the bucket for a healthier world. In my opinion.

Hmmm. Taken care of what, 100 years ago? And when I last looked, the sun did rise and the sky was blue. However, if you are of the opinion that the ‘world’ is unhealthy and that somehow humans are responsible for that condition, well, you are entitled to that view. No matter its underlying faulty assumption(s).
As to using Crisco, then kerosene, well, it seems a simple task is being twice repeated, is twice as messy, and uses too much cleaning material. (And doesn’t that pollute the ‘world’?) Mineral spirits should never be used on any roller as it contains driers which will harden rubber and, most certainly, composition. In my opinion.

Updated. Jenny: I suppose when we hang out on a board centered around 19th century technology, we’ll have to expect there’ll be some here with environmental viewpoints that date from around that period as well.

Just kidding, Laurence - though I am shocked that anyone in 2007 still questions our effect on the environment. Mankind’s effect… not letterpress printers, per se. ; )~

Seriously though, Laurence makes a great point about not making more work for yourself than necessary and I think we can all agree that using any of the above solutions in moderation - just enough to get the job done - is ultimately to the benefit of our tools, lungs, and wallets.

Modern press washes can be mixed with water. There are two benefits to this. You can mix the solvent to the exact strength you need, and you can save money too. I do not recomend kerosine or mineral spirits because both of these chemicals are hard on rubber rollers. Modern press washes are designed to remove ink without hardening the rollers. NA Graphics or Valley Litho can sell you what you need. You may also be able to purchase press wash from your local offset printer.


Yes, some of the newer press washes can be diluted with water. And that is fine for rubber rollers. But the original posting concerned the care of composition rollers and for that material an oil-based cleaner - preferably kerosene - serves best. My caution remains: do not allow water anywhere near a composition roller. It is most distressing to watch composition swell, then disintegrate before your eyes. As to the environmental comments, well, each to his own. But, when entering that minefield of opinion, please keep in mind the forgotten message of the “Wizard of Oz.”, and always look behind the curtain. ;o) . In my opinion.

Does Pine-Sol have water in it? I found that it works much better on the inktable them mineral spirits, but was a little scared of trying it on my composition rollers.

Sorry, I have no experience with composition rollers. My first letterpress was an 8x12 C&P. The original owner kept the rollers in cardboard box. That box became the home of a family of mice with the rollers being their main source of food. I had the rollers recovered with rubber.


Seriously though, can you wash composition rollers with Pine-Sol?

I am also going to be going down this path soon. I will be ordering new rubber rollers for my C&P and I am pregnant (and also have a 2 1/2yr old - though she doesn’t hang around the press) so I will need to be as careful as I can. I was thinking of trying the Crisco and then Simple Green to get the crisco residue off. I checked with my Dr. and the Simple Green is completely safe.


My, how we complicate life. Cleaning rollers was once so simple a task. A little kerosene, a rag, some time, and presto! - clean rollers. Nowadays it appears every action must be analysed to the point where it becomes paralyzed.
To those wondering about the use of Pine-Sol on composition rollers I have but one suggestion: look at the ingredients , and cautions, contained upon its label. Does anyone have any understanding of just what those ingredients will do to composition; let alone your lungs. Now, what next in the print shop - full mask and coveralls complete with oxygen supply? Amazing how all those real printers lived well into their years exposed as they were to the oh-so-dangerous materials surround them. And, most of them smoked, and drank, as well! Go figure. In my opinion.

Updated. In our illustrious and enlightened age kerosene is quite hard to come by. I’ll try asking around some gas stations to see if I can get any leads to a cheap source of this illusive fluid. I find that most elements are becoming increasingly scarce in their essential, pure forms. Everything is a mix, a complicated solution whose properties are a mystery even to those who supply it. This is one of the reasons I like letterpress. The people you get to deal with, honest and down to earth. The merchants oftentimes are craftsmen themselves, who love and care for their stock and are always willing to give a good advice.

And I quite agree with your points on smoking and everything else. I never quite understood why people insist on leaving behind a clean and sterile corpse.

I have a cupla suggestions: (C&P, Rubber rollers, Water-mixing presswash)

1] Have some 80# waste sheets ready to remove ink from the press by carefully holding the sheet between the roller and ink plate and turn the flywheel. You can remove A LOT of ink that way. I do it while the press is running (be careful—it takes a little practice to prevent the paper from crushing up and making a mess.) This requires no solvent at all, and takes 3 minutes+-.

2] Position the rollers at the bottom of the press. Disengage the ink plate auto-rotate mechanism, then cover it with a cleaning rag. Now move the flywheel to position the rollers so they are just starting to contact the rag-covered plate. Pour 1/2 cup of press wash across the top roller and slowly move the flywheel so the rollers travel up across the ink plate. The pressure will make the rag soak up A LOT of ink. Do this a few times and you are ready to clean the rollers with a clean cloth. This only works if you have disengaged the auto-rotate pawl!

This is what I do on my C&P 10x15 and takes less than 10 minutes to clean up without using much solvent at all.

As far as I am concerned, Laurence rules. If it is found in the kitchen or bathroom, that is where it belongs. Not the printshop. If your printshop is in your apartment, um, whatever were you thinking?