The Homemade Letterpress
Written by Kris Damascus on 1/27/2010
Towards the end of last year my girlfriend and I were watching Seven Pounds, mainly because she wanted to show me the part where Rosario Dawson operates a letterpress. My girlfriend (being quite crafty herself) goes on to tell me how letterpress is an art she has been wanting to get into for years, but could never afford the required equipment. Most letterpress machines are several hundred pounds, up to a ton or more and may cost anywhere between a few thousand and tens of thousands of dollars. When she told me, I made the mistake of saying, "I could build that". So began the Christmas present of 2009. I decided I would try my hand at this letterpress machine, but would sacrifice many of the features and automation of professional models for simplicity and affordability. The idea was easy; there would be two wooden boards, attached at one end by hinges. The bottom board would have a set of tracks along which a roller would run. The top board would connect to the ends of the "rolling pin" with two arms attached to the side. When open, the arms would pull the rolling pin back towards the hinges. When closed, the arms would push out and propel the roller forward and away from the hinge. The roller (which would be made of steel, but covered in a thin rubber) would roll over an ink pad of sorts, collecting ink on its surface. It would continue along the track where it would then roll over the top of movable type letters, saturating the tops of the letters. As the lid continues to close, the paper, which will be mounted on the underside of the top board, will be pressed firmly against the inked letters. I started my hunt for parts at Home Depot. I was unable to find boards of the dimensions I was looking for, so I ended up buying two boards which were about 1" thick, 18" wide, and 4' long. I glued the two boards together and then cut them in half, leaving me two identical boards about 2" thick, 18" wide, and 2' long. While at Home Depot, I also picked up hinges and a handle for the lid. I had to visit the local skate shop in order to pick up a set of skateboard wheels, which were to be used to guide the roller on the tracks. The rest of the material, I ordered from OnlineMetals.com.