Back in February I bought a beautiful cast iron press called a Charlton and Cropper Improved Peerless printing press. Measuring 8×5 inches (chase size), she was in considerable disrepair and the chase and rollers where missing.
Ethel in the Shed
The Cogs that drive the fly wheel
After getting her into storage, my Uncle and I started to dismantle the fly wheel, impression lever and the main drive shaft. The fly wheel had been ‘stitched’ at some point, which meant that considerable wear had caused the fly wheel to wobble when pressing the pedel to get the wheel and platen going.
John (my Uncle) got to work on repairing and restoring the flywheel, impression lever and the roller holders. I started to dismantle the platen, and any other bits that could be removed fairly easily. So pins, nuts, bolts, screws, lay gauges, paper holders, inking discs…you name it, I removed it and then set to soaking them and then cleaning them down.
I used basic engine oil, poured into a plastic container and left all the loose parts to soak for a good week. The Part that pushes the inking disc around was completely caked in ink and rust. As I started to rub it down, this golden brass started to shine through. It was such an exciting surprise to see that we’d discovered ‘buried treasure!’ I also found that the ‘Peerless’ logo on the platen was also made of brass, so I used Brasso to restore these parts to their former glory!
With most of those parts removed, I got around to taking a closer look at the frame and body. It was in great condition and once I had given it a clean down, the rust was actually cosmetic and the actual frame didn’t need any repair work.
The Inking disk back (After being painted)
I used Emery Cloth, which is a very hard type of sand paper and is fantastic at lifting hard to shift rust. (Though use with caution because it can cause a lot of damage if you rub away too much.) I keyed the main frame and it helped get the biggest majority of rust removed from the inking disc and the outer rim of the flywheel. The finer sanding was completed with a finishing sand paper, that helped key the metal surfaces ready for painting.
The Flywheel rubbed down and painted
Once the sanding and preparation was finished, I flushed all of the oil holes, nooks and crannies. I cleaned these out by using mini bottle washers and cocktail sticks. It was so surprising to discover how much easier the press moved once these holes had been cleaned and flushed. I guess years of gunk and oil had built up and the poor press had never had a thorough strip down.
So once I’d done the ‘housework’ I then over oiled the press until it was dripping with oil. I also re–flushed holes with WD40 and with a cloth rubbed the metal work to moisten up the remaining hard to reach rusty parts of metal. I left the press at this point, to really let the oil and WD40 do it’s magic, after a week of intense soaking, the press was wiped down with white spirit and left to dry so the spirit could evaporate.
Finding Brass! The Peerless logo after being polished.
After the initial rub and clean down
With the Platen closed and freshly rubbed down
Then I got to painting all the parts of the press with Hammerite metal paint which uses rust as a primer yet protects the metal from any further damage. Though the paint I bought is glossy rather than matt, it’s really just cosmetic but I’m glad I chose black as it looks fantastic!
Painting was a long process, as I left each coat for 24 hours to dry and I ended up applying three coats in total. Once completed and dried, we started to reassemble the press. This is when the fun began!
I’d taken photos of how it looked before we took it apart and made notes on which blots went where. So some of the guess work was taken out, it was making sure that the pins and strange little pieces of metal all went back in the right places. So after tinkering, the press was partial reassembled.
The new rollers, cores and trucks had been ordered from Ellie Evans, the next step was to get a prototype chase made. So John took precise measurements and got to having it made. Whilst that was happening, I took the printer’s boards apart to find that they were in inconsiderable disrepair.
I made a template of the original boards and had a go at making new boards from a piece of pine I had left over in the shed. But pine is too soft as I discovered and it split as soon as I tried to jigsaw it into the same shape as the originals. It was also at this point that I discovered that the bolts for the press were not imperial but Whitworth screws. And the original screws were not in great condition either. So I needed to find some new screws!
Now I am a metric girl and I know about imperial sizes but Whitworth sizes? I visited every hardware shop where I live and they all looked at me with that tooth sucking frown said you couldn’t buy them anymore! (Obviously they don’t use the internet!) Except one chap in a hardware shop, mentioned I visited the agricultural shop tucked away down a little street that I have walked past more times than I can remember.
I found the shop and a lovely chap had a look at my original bolt and declared it was a Whitworth Countersunk screw and he could get me 5 for the next day! I could have hugged him! So with those ordered and costing me the grand sum of £1, I had to think about how I could get the printer’s boards made with countersunk holes that were strong and not going to cost the earth.
It was talking to my neighbour who has just retired and is bored already, that saved the day really. He looked at my attempt and laughed and explained about soft and hard woods. Then he told me he would get new boards made to match the originals but I couldn’t get them for at least 3 weeks as he was away.
So trying not to feel frustrated, I realise actually that I’ve come a long way since February. Then last night John came by with the finished chase in steel. With a few tweaks by rubbing some paint away where the chase sits, it slotted in and locked into place.
Then I took it out and did a quick setting to the forme with a printing block and we had a go at blind printing. We managed to get a slight impression but we got the press to print in goodness knows how long! We celebrated with a pot of tea and slab of fruit cake!
So as I write this, I’m currently waiting for the Printer’s boards, rollers and four chases which will cost me £40. Then we have a completely restored printing press. I have never done anything like this before, and without the kind help and enthusiasm from my lovely Uncle John, Cliff the neighbour and the people who gave me advice along the way. I don’t think I would have achieved fixing my Ethel. (I named her Ethel!)
I know I’ve yet to get a proper impression, and it’s going to take time getting used to how she works and settle into a pattern of printing but I am so glad I saved this little piece of history from the scrappers.
I’ve posted a link to Youtube, so you can see how the press looked when stripped down. Then hopefully I’ll have an update for you soon when we get her printing for real!
Till next time!
Bec and Ethel 🙂