This article was written by me a couple years ago at www.coffeeisforclosers.net. The original blog site has long since expired and I've received multiple requests from people asking for the build instructions. So here they are in their entirety. Enjoy!
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. In order to make room for the tracks on the bottom board, and to make sure the top board would be the same width as the roller it was going to be pushing, I had to cut the top board to narrow it down to about 12". Next, I fabricated the tracks out of 3/4" angle iron. Since the ink pad that the roller was going to run over was going to be about flush with the bottom board, and the movable type letters are about an inch tall, I made the tracks so that they would run flush along the bottom board for about 8" before lifting up and running a little less than an inch above the deck for 12" or so. If I were to do the project over, I would have built a platform for the ink pad to be level with the height of the movable type letters so that the tracks would be straight. I then made the roller out of a 2" diameter, 12" long piece of steel tubing. I fed two bolts into two 2" washers and welded them into place. I then placed the washers over the ends of the tubing, bolts sticking out, and welded the washers into place. I ground the welds smooth and was ready to roll (get it?). The arms were very easy to make. I cut two pieces of 1" wide flat iron to about 14" long and drilled holes in the ends. Next I had to create the pieces that were actually going to hold the movable type letters in place. For this, I used the same 3/4" angle iron that I used for the tracks. I cut two pieces about 10" long. One of the pieces I then drilled holes through near the ends to slip 12" lengths of threaded posts through. I put nuts on the ends of the threaded posts and welded them to the back of the angle iron like so: (I know the welds are horrific, but I swear, something was up with those nuts that made them just a BITCH to weld to.) Then I had to make what I'll call the "anchor" from the second 10" piece of angle iron. The anchor was to be bolted to the bottom board near the front. It also had to receive the threaded posts from the previously mentioned piece. For this, all I had to do was drill holes through one side that matched up with the holes from the last piece, and then drill holes through the other side which would hold it to the board. I had to cut away some of the piece to allow nuts to fit over the threaded posts. It ended up looking like this: Once the two pieces were complete, they fit together like this: I then drilled some holes through the bottom of the bottom board in order to mount the anchor. As you can see from the picture, I had the anchor oriented incorrectly the first time I made measurements, hence the two holes. With the holes drilled (in the correct place), I fed bolts through them from the bottom and tightened the anchor down with nuts on the top. I then took the other piece (which I'll call the "slider") and fed the threaded posts through the anchor. This is the mechanism which will hold the movable type letters. I plan to make removable inserts out of 10" long 3/4" flat iron with holes drilled near the ends that will go between the anchor and slider and allow more than one line of text to be set at a time. Here's a picture with a large letter "N" in place, although the slider doesn't have the nuts holding it secure: With all the metal hardware made up, it was time to sand down the boards and stain them and rattle can all the hardware black. Once those two tasks were complete, it was time to start assembling. Here are the hinges installed on the newly sanded/stained boards. I had to make sure when installing the hinges that when the two boards come together in the closed position, the boards would be perfectly parallel at the time the letters make contact with the paper. Otherwise you might see letters towards the top of the paper getting printed properly while letters at the bottom are light or vice-versa. Next, I had to install the tracks on the bottom board. I was careful to make sure that they were parallel and the proper width to allow the roller with skateboard wheels to fit between them. I then attached the arms to the top board using a high-gauge screw/bolt and some nylon washers. It was tricky to mount them in the appropriate spot to allow the roller to clear the top board when closed completely. I ended up mounting them somewhere near the middle of the board. Then I had to mount the roller to the arms. I put a washer on the bolt coming out of the roller, slipped on the arm, put on a few more washers, the skateboard wheel, and a nut to top it off. With the roller mounted, I screwed the handle to the top of the lid and it looked like this: Next, I mounted the anchor and the slider. Here's a shot of it completely closed: This is as far as I've come with the project to date. I still need to come up with some sort of an ink pad that the roller will roll over. I also need to cover the roller with a thin rubber. I recently picked up an old bicycle inner tube which, once cut to length and stretched over the roller, should do rather nicely. I also need to mount some sort of a rubber pad or cork board on the under side of the top board where the paper will be placed, as well as fix up some sort of clamps to hold the paper. Here's a video to kind of demonstrate how it works. What's neat is that when there are letters in place, the roller will actually lift off the tracks just barely as it rolls over the top of them. Hopefully I can finish up the final touches and get a video uploaded of it ACTUALLY printing something. *UPDATE: I have written a follow-up article detailing the final stages of construction here.*
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