Having decided that we wanted to finally take our love of letterpress from simply appreciating it from afar to getting inky and doing it ourselves, the first thing we needed to do was find a press.
|From rusty, broken and unloved…|
After months of fruitless searching, we finally found a lovely if not slightly unloved Model 3 being sold by a steam engine restoration trust in deepest darkest Devon. Where else?! Dave at the Robey Trust in Tavistock had come across it by chance, it was due to be scrapped and despite knowing nothing about printing presses his natural instinct to preserved old machinery kicked in and he took it home. Top man.
We bought it, unseen, for the princely sum of £25, with a case of type and a box of furniture…needless to say, we snapped it up. However, when we finally picked it up it was clear that it needed more than a little tlc: although the rust wasn’t too deep, it had spread to all parts; the rollers were, as you'd expect, perished beyond all use; the ink disk bracket was snapped, although was miraculously still holding the ink disk firmly in place; and there was no chase. Let the adventure begin.
|The broken bracket. Snapped clean but still holding surprisingly firm.|
Having given the press a good clean to remove all the grime and dust, we wrapped the worst of the rusted parts in kitchen towel soaked in a solution of vinegar and lemon juice. Once the worst of the rust had been removed and the parts all moving more freely, we took the whole thing apart. Even though I said I wouldn’t. ‘I wonder what happens if I undo that bolt…?”.
|The living room floor. For over a month. Oops.|
With the press in parts, and scattered across the living room floor (oops), it was time for serious rust killing. A little research led us to a marine product called Fertan, a liquid that converts iron oxide to iron tannate, a black, shiny, stable substance that can then be painted or waxed. After the first coat there was a drastic improvement, a second coat finished the job and all that was required was a little paint on the barest of metal (we may have made this sound slightly easier than it was…the living room floor looked like this for a month!).
|The newly welded bracket ready for painting.|
Gas fusion welding.
Whilst all this was slowly taking shape, the ink disk bracket was not in a good shape. It was snapped. Cast iron apparently isn’t very easy to fix once broken, so it needed to be gas fusion welded (nope, no idea either, but it sounds good), so we sent it to cast iron welding services to be repaired, re-finished, drilled and tapped. The £25 price of the press was starting to seem like a distant memory.
|One of the new chases cast by the Bridport Foundry.|
The next little problem, which was actually a pretty big problem, was the missing chase. eBay was scoured, wanted ads were placed, and everyone we’d ever met was quizzed, but to no avail. It was clear we’d need new chases cast, the next problem was finding someone who would be willing to lend us their precious chase in order for us to get new made. A little poking around amongst some BPS members finally paid off as Peter Scarett lent us a chase from one of his many sheds full of stuff. This was sent off to Bridport foundry, who were able to cast from the slightly modified original, which avoided the need for a very expensive pattern to be made for the mould. Chases procured, we were almost there.
New rollers were purchased from Elli Evans Rollers, and the bearers were raised to the correct height (this required new bolts as the originals weren’t long enough. The only new bolts that are the exact imperial dimensions and thread type for a Model 3’s bearers? The top jaw screw from a blunderbuss gun!).
|…to gleaming, fully working and much loved.|
And there we have it, 4 months, much frustration, a lot of mess, more money than was ever expected, gas fusion welding, newly cast iron, blunderbuss screws, paint, blood, sweat and tears, we’re proud to present our fully working, good as new (almost) Model 3. We are print ready, at last!