Sunday, 16 March 2014

My Printmaking Press set-up

It's been a little over 6 months since we (mostly hubby) transformed a rusty old 1908 Ewbank "Little Giant" mangle into a printmaking press, and it has been busy ever since! It's come to my attention that others are interested in what I'm up to in my basement workshop and so I thought I'd share some info about how I have set up my press with minimal outlay, using found and re-purposed bits and bobs.

Detail: "Rockpool ~ Softly Sleeping", Drypoint
Initially, when we finished restoring the mangle, I was working on dry points using plexi-plate, oil-based inks and soaking my paper. The press can be cranked up really tight and I'm really happy with the results.

Woodblock print in progress
Now that I'm working on woodblocks the press needs to be set much lighter. With a small alteration to the spring arrangement on the mangle (ie. a piece of metal pipe inserted to prevent the spring "slopping" from side to side) it has been doing a grand job. I simply count the number  of rotations, or half/quarter rotations of the screw fittings and I have got to know how many turns are needed for which plate and for which blankets, etc.

My "Little Giant" featuring metal rollers, runners and my high tech laminated hardboard bed.  

The bed: As I mentioned in my earlier post on the press I made the executive decision to forgo the use of a laminated plastic bed, or a metal bed, due the cost. Instead I decided to make do with two sheets of hardboard which we laminated together. It's still works just fine and show no signs of wear so... if it ain't broke.... On a side note, while I was on holiday down south I went to an amazing print gallery in Old Cromwell Town called OCTA. The owner has a press set up in the back of the gallery and I noticed his bed is simply a sheet of thick plywood. If it's good enough for him....

Felt underlay from an old upholstered armchair
The blankets... well, we all know how expensive they can be. So again I use what I had to hand: some old felt underlay from an old upholstered chair. It looked too good to throw away and surely I'd find a use for it. Sure enough. I use it as the first layer on top of the tissue placed over my work on the bed.

Main blanket: a foam camping mat!
And for the main blanket I use one of those foam camping mats that cost about $9. We already had one, scavenged from the side of the road no doubt. They have so many uses (except for sleeping on!) and everyone should have one in their supplies. (They make a great spatula for applying grout to mosaics and tiling.) Over time, they slowly compress if you are doing lots of prints but they bounce back and if and when it gets too squished, I'll find another.

Inking up: I use a glass plate - an old safety glass window pane. Personally I like to roll up on glass and I simply put a sheet of white paper underneath so I can see the colours clearly for mixing.

To sum up: The mangle cost $125 from a junk shop, the metal tube for the rollers and the runners cost $30. It was going to cost $500 for an engineer to put the metal tube onto the wooden rollers and lathe them but coincidentally our neighbour is a toolmaker and he did them for us out of kindness and generosity! (Bless his little cotton socks!) Metal fittings - nuts and bolts and screw thread rods, and paint cost about $50. The hardboard bed - scraps from an old bed base. Blankets: repurposed from found items. Hours of printmaking: PRICELESS.

It's wonderful having a press here at home so I can work as the mood takes me. I'm currently working on a series of woodblocks in readiness for group shows coming up in the next few months. In between other commitments I can "pop" down to the workshop and "whip" off another colour run and not worry about having to pack everything away in between sessions. I set up a paper cutting and registering table on the bench saw, I have my inking up station on my studio bench and I have a wash up area just out in the carport with a large stainless tub and wooden bench. And I ban hubby from any woodwork projects til my print run is done - dust!