Technical things always seem to go wrong when you need them most. I don't know if that statement is generally true but it seems so to me.
My etching press, as often mentioned before, is an essential
tool and I've currently been using it for printing relief blocks (for
the 'Trans-Siberian' book) rather than etchings. The difference
is basically in the thickness of inked blocks or plates which must
pass under the roller in order for ink to transfer to the printing
paper. Etchings are generally on thin metal plates and require heavy
pressure - adjusted by tightening the top screws - whereas relief blocks
can be any thickness and only need fairly light pressure since the ink
lies on the surface of the block rather than in grooves below the
surface (intaglio) as in etchings.
Unlike some of the more modern machines, it's not possible on
my press to raise or lower the heavy steel top roller to allow any
thickness of block to pass through. The DIY way of solving this problem
is to loosen pressure completely, push through on either side of the
roller a couple of flat wooden runners same height as the intended
blocks, then tighten the screws again as needed. This I did and it
worked fine for about a hundred proofs from relief blocks.
But recently an ominous bump developed in the middle of the
press bed and though I tried to ignore it, when a vinyl block I was
printing was bent beyond recognition and a cracking sound came from
the press, drastic action had to be contemplated. Examination revealed
that a sheet of formica, glued to the steel bed over thirty years ago
and firmly in place all this time, had suddenly come unstuck in the
centre, though not at the top and bottom edges. Result: solid bump in
the middle. Reluctant remedy: get rid of offending formica. Easier said
than done. This was all taking place around 2 am, by the way.
Struggling to lift the formica stuck to the edges of the base I
succeeded in breaking off pieces while rough bits of the backing
remained glued to the metal - that's the reddish-brown mess showing in
the photo below - it looks like rust but isn't. Note the strip of wood
keeping the roller off the base, but not enough to let the steel bed
run right off the press which, in the worst scenario, would chop my
feet off, or would fall to the floor and stay there because I wouldn't
be able to lift it back up. Minutely accurate, heart-stopping attention
to the top screws was needed to prevent such a disaster from happening.
Below I'm pushing a knife under the formica with one hand
while the other hand (invisible) attempts to hold the camera and the
roller screw simultaneously.
To make a long story a bit shorter, I did manage to escape
injury and to remove all the formica, but not the residue from its
backing which resisted all scrubbing with steel wool etc. So I decided
to let it be but to stick a length of Fablon over it and the whole of
the metal bed - another hair-tearing, tooth-grinding task that could
only be undertaken in the crazy hours of the night by a stubborn fool.
There is a happy ending: my beloved machine is now restored to
peaceful, purring operation and I can get on with printing new blocks
for the special prints to be included with the special extra copies of Trans-Siberian Prosody and Little Jeanne from France currently in production at The Old
And here is something beautiful to conclude and to celebrate
the marvellous Indian summer weather we've been enjoying in London.
Consider the lilies of the field....