My kingdom for something flat

The odyssey to expand my printing press began in the amazingly hot Midwestern sun, and has come to completion during a cold spell that has delayed schools. I imagined myself jumping up and down when it was finished, and inside I think I am, but outside I am simply relieved. Here it is…

My new expanded press!

What you see here are the old sides and gearing of the press with new rail extensions on either end to support the 64″ bed. Most of the construction process went without too much trouble — no emergency room visits but some serious bruising — and I did once have to assume the position of a Soviet-era weight lifter to get the top roller into the gearing. My husband did a great job fashioning extensions to support the new bed.

If there was one trouble spot in this whole process, it was the bed. One of the most important criteria for a press bed is that it be flat. And to the naked eye, lots of things appear flat. Our quest for just such a bed involved numerous layers of hardboard, rollers and wood glue, cinderblocks and solid core doors for weight, and a tremendous amount of middle-aged muscle. What we discovered was that each of our two attempts yielded a bed that was not flat. And thus, the obligatory winter dump run…

So in my twenty-first century problem solving mode, I scoured the internet for advice. People recommended something called phenolic resin, but it didn’t come in anything longer that 48″. I corresponded and visited with a plastics supplier, and learned that plastic is not nearly as rigid as we might think.

At this point I had been without my press for a month and was feeling panicked. Miraculously I found an old post from Dean Smith at Graphic Chemical who recommended a composite material called Arboron. Arboron is made of papers impregnated with melamine and phenolic resins and formed under extreme heat and pressure to create a very flat sturdy surface.

The 36″ rollers glide smoothly along my new Arboron press bed.

Google-fingers at the ready, I started searching for a supplier, putting in nearby states as I struck out with my own. I finally found Woodcraft Mfg. Co. in Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. Jim and his family kindly let me come for a visit, test the material for flatness and cut a beautiful piece of Arboron for me to take home. They even gave me a great deal, and the visit with the shop Boston Terrier, Scooter, completed the day. The Abroron fits the press like a glove, and it the flattest thing I have come across.

The larger Rives BFK paper (30 x 44″) arrived and I am steeling myself for my first large print. I’ve been doing a small test print to see how the press handles, and how I deal with the new press size. So far so good.

Many thanks to the Indiana Arts Commission for making this adventure possible. Now back to printing…