How To Make a Wooden Printing Press General Woodworking
by Don Heisz
My wife is always engaged in some artistic process or other. Recently, she has been very interested in making linocuts. For those of you who don’t know, a linocut is a printing process whereby an inverted image is negatively cut into a piece of linoleum and the image is printed with ink onto paper. While it is possible to make a print from this without a press, the uniform pressure generated by a machine is much more reliable. So, I decided to try to make one.
I initially thought I would make a roller-press. That’s pretty much just having the printing block and the paper roll through pressurized rollers. But I don’t trust my ability to make accurate rollers on the lathe and I couldn’t find anything appropriate.
So, I thought I would make a straightforward lever-driven machine. The most important thing, from what I could tell, was to make sure the base and top plates were both very flat and strong enough to withstand the pressure without deflecting. So, of course, I found some prime materials lying around my shop: spruce 2x4s.
A bit of attention with the jointer, thickness planer, and tablesaw made those splintered old things into beautifully smooth splintered old things….
Well, they became flat and straight, and that’s what matters.
For the smooth surfaces, I chose some nice half inch plywood. Well, I didn’t actually have anything thicker that was any bigger, so I settled for that. I considered this a prototype until proven and a finished product only if it worked. So, go with a minimalist concept, I say. Go with what you have until you prove you need something more. That can be a motto for life. At any rate, it keeps you from going to the building supplies store.
I cut my plywood with my radial arm saw. I like to use it whenever I can. Most of the time, it collects dust. Today, it got to make some dust. After I cut the plywood, I made some lap joints for the top pressure plate of the press.
Of course, that didn’t work exactly how I wanted it to. You can see from the numerous pencil marks I initially measured incorrectly (didn’t take the angle into consideration). I was so pleased that I managed to catch that before I started cutting, I failed to notice I actually had the angle wrong, too.
Once again, prototype. And it didn’t matter, anyway. All that’s important is these two stack together perfectly flat. And they did. So, I nailed them to the plywood and then nailed a hardwood block to the act as the pressure point. My plan was to have a lever press down hard on that point, and I anticipated the softwood lumber would compress under direct pressure.
The lower support is a basic frame. It too must be completely flat, though.
After nailing the other piece of plywood onto the base, corner guides are attached to keep the top plate where it should be. Then I made something to slip the end of the lever into. Solid maple works very well. Not very likely this will ever break under any amount of human-applied pressure.
So, then it was time to test it. I grabbed a piece of maple that was long enough to use as a lever. I carted my newly made contraption out of the workshop and got my wife to set up a linocut to print and gave it the old college try.
Absolute bitter failure.
Well, maybe not absolute. But trying to use a lever to press that top plate down without flipping the entire thing off the table was nearly impossible and I don’t think many people would be able to provide enough pressure that way, anyway. Maybe two or three people wrestling with it could generate a good result. But that isn’t exactly practical.
However, it is a prototype. And I made it with the possibility in mind that it would not work as it was. So, I carted it away and started to add in the necessary elements to make it a crank-driven press.
Using a lever is a stupid idea, anyway.
I happened to have a piece of 3/4 inch threaded rod from years ago when John and I bought some for us each to make vises. He actually made one and I kinda halfway made one that I abandoned under my workbench for 4 years. So, I dismantled what I had and started to work out how to use it in my press.
First, the nut had to be set in a cross brace that would be supported by the cutout for the lever I originally installed and another exactly like it on the other side. I should have rotated the nut to avoid making that thin point in the wood but it should not matter. The overwhelming force on the nut as the crank gets tightened will be vertical, not rotational.
I had to make the threaded rod bear down on the top plate similar to how a clamp works, but it could not push directly on the wooden block I installed initially. It would eventually split that wood. So, I found some steel plate and made a divot in it for the end of the threaded rod to sit in. I needed to flatten the angle on a large drill bit to make the divot, but I had no other use for the drill bit, anyway. I rounded the end of the threaded rod so it would rotate more easily in the divot.
The steel plate was cut to the size of the block on the top plate and screwed to it.
The other end of the threaded rod was flattened to more easily drill it for a handle. I then drilled it on the drill press while having it clamped in an otherwise useless vise. I end up with some odd things.
I then made a handle on the lathe (not decorated like my chisel handle) and attached it to the threaded rod with a heavy lag screw. (It was a good idea to drill the wood for that screw before making the handle, by the way.)
Then it was done.
All that was left was to bring it and try it out again. This time, however, the results were what I wanted. In the first picture below, you can see the inked linocut waiting for the paper. In the second picture, you can see the resulting print.
Overall, it was a good project for a Sunday morning.
I would change a few things if I were to do it again. I would use something more substantial than half-inch plywood. It would also be good to have another piece of plywood on the bottom of the base to help prevent deflection as pressure is applied. I’d likely try to make the holes for the cross brace a bit less sloppy (I did that with the router, handheld).
But it does work well. And it didn’t take long to design and build.