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6 October 2014

PRESSING MATTERS

Technical things always seem to go wrong when you need them most. I don't know if that statement is generally true but it seems so to me.

My etching press, as often mentioned before, is an essential tool and I've currently been using it for printing relief blocks (for the 'Trans-Siberian' book) rather than etchings. The difference is basically in the thickness of inked blocks or plates which must pass under the roller in order for ink to transfer to the printing paper. Etchings are generally on thin metal plates and require heavy pressure - adjusted by tightening the top screws - whereas relief blocks can be any thickness and only need fairly light pressure since the ink lies on the surface of the block rather than in grooves below the surface (intaglio) as in etchings.

Unlike some of the more modern machines, it's not possible on my press to raise or lower the heavy steel top roller to allow any thickness of block to pass through. The DIY way of solving this problem is to loosen pressure completely, push through on either side of the roller a couple of flat wooden runners same height as the intended blocks, then tighten the screws again as needed. This I did and it worked fine for about a hundred proofs from relief blocks.

My eyching press in studio

But recently an ominous bump developed in the middle of the press bed and though I tried to ignore it, when a vinyl block I was printing was bent beyond recognition and a cracking sound came from the press, drastic action had to be contemplated. Examination revealed that a sheet of formica, glued to the steel bed over thirty years ago and firmly in place all this time, had suddenly come unstuck in the centre, though not at the top and bottom edges. Result: solid bump in the middle. Reluctant remedy: get rid of offending formica. Easier said than done. This was all taking place around 2 am, by the way.

Struggling to lift the formica stuck to the edges of the base I succeeded in breaking off pieces while rough bits of the backing remained glued to the metal - that's the reddish-brown mess showing in the photo below - it looks like rust but isn't. Note the strip of wood keeping the roller off the base, but not enough to let the steel bed run right off the press which, in the worst scenario, would chop my feet off, or would fall to the floor and stay there because I wouldn't be able to lift it back up. Minutely accurate, heart-stopping attention to the top screws was needed to prevent such a disaster from happening.

Removing formica 1

Below I'm pushing a knife under the formica with one hand while the other hand (invisible) attempts to hold the camera and the roller screw simultaneously.

formica removal 2

To make a long story a bit shorter, I did manage to escape injury and to remove all the formica, but not the residue from its backing which resisted all scrubbing with steel wool etc. So I decided to let it be but to stick a length of Fablon over it and the whole of the metal bed - another hair-tearing, tooth-grinding task that could only be undertaken in the crazy hours of the night by a stubborn fool.

There is a happy ending: my beloved machine is now restored to peaceful, purring operation and I can get on with printing new blocks for the special prints to be included with the special extra copies of Trans-Siberian Prosody and Little Jeanne from France currently in production at The Old Stile Press.

And here is something beautiful to conclude and to celebrate the marvellous Indian summer weather we've been enjoying in London.

Consider the lilies of the field....

Lilies aagainst the light

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