Platen Pending

So you’ve got a Chandler & Price 8×12 dating from the early 1900s. The platen, that which determines all when it comes to evenness of impression, is off. Considerably. All right, it’s almost sideways. Would you:
A. Use tons of make-ready to compensate for the uneven die-on-paper contact on all projects for the rest of your life?
B. Concentrate all your projects on the tiny spot on the platen you think is the most “true”?
C. Not sweat it: The charm of letterpress is that it allows for a little unevenness and the client probably won’t notice?
D. Use a different machine, as your shop assistant suggests — OK, pleads?
E. Tell your assistant to stop whining and to grab the wrenches?

If you answered E, welcome to my world.

Word has it that many pressmen, even old-time sticklers, don’t mess with the platen. Haven’t touched it in years, or ever. Can’t say that I blame them. It took Mary and me six months (!) to adjust the platen on our C&P: five months and 29 days just to work up the courage (mine) to try. Our little Bible of Letterpress didn’t help much, advising: “Ask your instructor.” Good enough for me. Let sleeping dogs lie, and all that.

See, in my book, the French have it right. Plumbers plumb. Sailors sail. Electricians electrify. Platen adjusters adjust platens. It’s all very democratic. I’ve pondered legally changing my name to Etienne, in fact. Do it yourself? Hah. Do that YOUR-self. I’ll just end up breaking it, or it’ll break me.

Well, Mary’s not French. And she’s not much into democracy either, at least in her printshop. So, I’m on my knees, a wrench in each hand, another tucked in my apron. My left arm reaches through the spokes of the drive wheel. (Machine unplugged? Check.) The right arm goes through the leather belt. (Check again.) I’m kissing metal and getting grease in my hair while trying to remember what’s clockwise when you’re upside-down. Bitter, bitter bile …

I stagger to my feet to find that, after all the twisting and cursing, adjusting the top-side’s not so bad. We test the impression. Nuts! Still off. Back under the press. Half turn, quarter turn, test. Ugh! Quarter turn, test. Half a quarter turn. Bingo.

“See? That wasn’t so hard,” Mary chirps. “We’ll just back it off a bit when we do coasters tomorrow.”

Pardon my French …

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