Gripper Bars

I don’t want to sound clueless, but what exactly are the gripper bars supposed to do. I have a Sigwalt tabletop 6x9 and when I would open and close, they would go up and down not really touching anything and mostly getting in the way of the press closing correctly. I moved them in and out along their bar and saw no signs as to them doing something of any use. I ended up just removing them and everything just seems to go more smoothly. So the question is: Do I really need them? And if so what are they supposed to do so that I may adjust them and get them to do their job?


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Hi Holly,

The grippers are there to hold the paper in place, so it doesn’t shift before coming in touch with the type/plate/cut, or stick to the type/plate/cut when the press is opening after impression.

You just need to be sure they are out of the way of the type when the press is closing so as not to mash and ruin the type.

Any of the standard books (Polk, Cleeton, etc) will discuss grippers and how to use them.

Have fun!


On most presses that have grippers, they rotate to be touching the platen and paper on impression. If yours were just getting in the way, it sounds like the spring is missing. Underneath the platen at one end of the gripper bar there should be a tension spring that causes the bar to rotates as the bed and platen close. Look to see if you have a spring. That is the way it is on a C&P anyway.

Thanks. I knew that were supposed to hold the paper, but it just couldn’t click in my head since they never seemed to stay put at all. I found the one picture of grippers in General Printing and it seems that they are tight to the platen.

When I tightened them so that they wouldn’t move I felt like I was forcing them becuase the bar they’re on didn’t rotate. I’ve loosened and tightened that screw in the middle too. I just can’t seem to figure out how they work.

I haven’t really had a problem with paper movement since I’ve been using smaller paper and the way I’ve been setting up the pins. Are the grippers supposed to stay down on the paper? When I open the press they stay up on the chase side instead of on the platen. Then if I tighten them, wouldn’t you have to lift them up to put more paper in? I’m sorry, I feel so dense when it comes to these things. I wish I had some visuals.

Is there another book that you think would be more helpful? I’d have to order it becuase there’s not a single book in my library on anything letterpress. Gosh, I’m sorry this is so long.

Oh and sorry to ignore the fact that you said that about the spring. My press lives in my parents’ garage but I’m pretty sure that spring is there and the bar does rotate. Just not in a way that makes sense to me. I’ll check that out as soon as I can.

The gripper mechanism works like the hinge on a door. The grippers swing open, and out of the way of your hands, when the sheet of paper is fed onto the tympan paper. As the press closes, they swing closed against the paper and keep it in place as it moves toward the inked type and the impression is made. Then, when the press cycles open again, they swing back open, so that you can take the printed item out. Have you tried just working the grippers back and forth by hand and oiling all the contact points? That might do the trick.

Hi Holly,
I have the same press and mine came without grippers. I got obsessed with the idea that I was missing something and managed to find replacements including spending quite a lot to get the complicated mechanism that controls the rod that the grippers are attached to. Turns out I can’t really figure out how to set it up to work right so I returned the grippers to the other press and I just don’t use them. The liability of grippers is that if you aren’t careful and keep them outside the form they can damage the type. doh! I’ve used a very large rubber band to keep the paper from clinging to the type when I open the platen. Another owner of this press told me not to worry, that I’d be fine without them and I should have listened to her. Does your press have a tendency to have the pivot pins (my word for them—the metal rods at the joints) work their way out. I have to remember every now and then to check and tap them back if they’ve migrated out of place. It’s funny that there’s no cotter pin or cap to hold them in place.
I’d love to compare notes as you get to know your press. I’ve had mine about a year and a half and got it in working order about a year ago. I do love it! Do you have more than one chase? I bought mine without a chase which was really crazy but by a miracle I found a source for a couple of chases.

My Craftsmen Superior came without them, though I have the bar, actually two of them (one with a rounded corner). I am also wondering if I should have them, but so far I haven’t needed them. The only time the paper sticks to the type is when I let the ink get too dry.

‘course that might be different if I ever print something bigger than a single business card…

Another very valuable use for the gripper bars, apart from
stripping the printed sheet ( say airmail) back away from the forme without any slur, is to move them outwards outside the limits of the job then attach a sheet of thin strong paper to them with tape, and cut holes accurately to allow the desired print to come through, but not allow the perimeter edges of a lino-cut for example to collect ink and start printing where they should not.. Theres a trick using two of these friskets as we called them for a two colour job from one forme but thats a trade secret!