Common Vandercook Operator Errors

Paul Moxon

Several times a year, I teach a Vandercook maintenance workshop at various schools, book arts centers and private shops around the country. I enjoy sharing my knowledge, setting presses right, and often learn something new in the process. This is a summary of the maladjustments and misunderstandings that I see again and again. Undoubtedly, these are not the only things that can go wrong and each operator’s experience will vary. Please note that I am addressing the Vandercook proof press in general. A thorough discussion of the particulars of existing models would require more space than is available here and might be as tedious to read as it would be to write. Such comparisons are better illustrated in workshop.

Press Not Level
Leveling the press is the first issue addressed in the Vandercook operator’s manuals. The press be must be placed on a firm foundation. If it is not level across the width of the bed one side will carry more of the weight of the cylinder causing uneven wear to the bearings and rails. Use a spirit level, crow bar and shims to balance. Some models have leveling feet at the right end of the bed. Lighter weight presses like the SP15 may creep forward across the floor during printing. To stop this, insert rubber pads under the feet. The press should never wobble or rock.

Improper Press Height
This is an ergonomic and safety issue. If the primary operator is tall the press should be raised up to reduce stress on the back and shoulders. However, I have witnessed short and average height individuals use presses on skids, blocks and casters. This will stress the back and shoulders much as a too low press will a tall person. An improperly raised press may slide off on end of its supports. While casters may make it easy to move the press it can also make it less stable. The force of the carriage hitting the bumper springs at the end of the bed will move the press forward.

Lack of Lubrication
On some presses oil holes and cups are identified by a spot of red paint. The operator’s manuals also identify the points of lubrication and the frequency of which to add it. SAE 20 wt oil is generally specified, however today 3-in-One which only comes in small sizes is the only retail brand available and is relatively expensive. For older presses that seem to require more frequent oiling of the gear box, such as the No. 4, SAE 5W20 is a good economical substitute. Additionally, use WD40 to wipe down the bed and to coat screw threads. Graphite powder is good for lubricating the gripper stems. (See also Oil: SAE 20 wt and variants.)

Dirt Accumulation
In general, grime on mechanical parts inhibits their operation. While the gears and gear racks allow for some build-up, the smooth surfaces of the carriage bearings, cylinder bearers, bed bearers and under rails that contact one another have a very small tolerance. For example, during impression, the weight of the cylinder rests on the bed bearers. Foreign matter more than a .001 or .002″ thick may noticeably affect the impression from one side of the bed to the other. Dirt ground into these surfaces will cause premature wear and produce uneven impression, making it necessary to adjust the impression bearings, which may not alleviate the problem. To remove grimy build-up, use mineral spirits and a scouring pad. From then on, heed the operator’s manual and wipe these surfaces with a slightly oiled rag before each use. Remember: oil attracts dirt. As with grime build-up on bearers, etc. debris on bed may get under printing form causing surface to be too higher resulting in heavy inking and impression. Loose debris may also contact inked form rollers. Wipe down bed with clean cloth and light amount of WD40 before usage. Cover the press with a canvas drop cloth when not in use. Use canned air or an air compressor to blow out the dust on an SP series press between the carriage side plate and the trip assembly. Remember to oil the trip eccentric at the collar of the crank handle. Rust is of mechanical concern only if it has decayed a large enough area on any of these surfaces: impression cylinder and bearers, bed bearers, under rails, ink reservoir drum or press bed. The surface may be filled in with a hard solder. To free seized parts, use WD40 which will penetrate into hard to reach moving parts.

Poor Condition of Form Rollers
New rollers is an expense that most operators wish to delay as long as possible. Rollers in poor condition deliver an uneven lay of ink on the printing form. Endless and futile roller adjustment is an expense of time and will still yield substandard results. Rollers need replacement if the ends are flared or the faces are torn, pitted or glazed (oxidized). The latter can be ameliorated with a roller conditioner, e.g. Easy Street or Putz Pomade. Less noticeable are flat spots and rubber that is too hard. Vandercook recommended that the hardness of rollers should not exceed a 20 reading on a Shore “Type A” durometer.

Over-packed Cylinder
Too much tympan or other material under the drawsheet may cause misregistration, slurs or wrinkles on the printed sheet. When printing large forms, excessive packing may cause cylinder bearings to shift out of alignment. Vandercook recommended that total packing including drawsheet and paper stock should be between .002″ to .003″ over cylinder bearers. To determine how much packing to use, begin by confirming the cylinder undercut. This is the amount of the cylinder face that is lower than the cylinder bearers, which contact with the bed bearers (smooth rail). With the cylinder at feed board, find the measurement stamped into the narrow channel separating the cylinder face from the cylinder bearers on the operator’s side (040k is most common). This means that .040″ worth of packing is needed to make contact with a form locked in the bed of the press. Adjust plus or minus for the sheet being printed and degree of impression wanted, but to be significantly over .918″ changes the diameter of the cylinder and that may cause register problems. Tympan paper is generally .006 while Mylar is .005, .007, or 010″. The bulk of the paperstock can be measured with a micrometer. Certainly impression over .003″ is possible without damaging the press. The force from compression of the paperstock and packing force can be felt by the operator using a hand-cranked press. The limit is well short of a two-handed effort. Operators who use a Mylar drawsheet often have an additional tympan drawsheet scored and tucked down between the cylinder and the clamp bar. This is unnecessary and positions the gripper bar further from the cylinder than intended, keeping the screws from tightening completely, which is critical to obtaining good packing and sheet registration. Note that bent or stripped threads inhibits the tightness of the gripper bar. Drawsheets that are hand-cut from a tympan roll need to be sharply scored at clamp bar end. Like too much packing, a soft rounded edge may cause misregistration, slurs or wrinkles on the printed sheet. Hand-cut drawsheets allow the operator to make the tail longer that those than are die-cut. More tail wound around the reel rod provides enough tension so that a reel rod clamp or adhesive tape is unnecessary to achieve a smooth drum-tight surface. A common complaint is the sticking of the gripper pins. These should be cleaned and lubricated at the lower end with graphite. Adjustment on older style gripper bars is rarely needed. Later Universal and SP series presses have a shaft that passes through the center of the cylinder on which tapered cams are mounted that contact the bottom of the gripper pins. When the foot pedal is depressed, the shaft and cams move toward the operator wedging under the cams thus pushing the gripper pins up. The position of each cam on the shaft can be moved so that more of the taper is pushed under the pin. See the illustration in the manual.

Loose, Worn, Broken and Missing Parts
Because these presses are 40, 50, and 60 years old, wear and tear is to be expected. When encountering a particular press for the first time take a quick inventory to see if all the parts are accounted for, and compare to the manual, which is available for most models. In addition to the obvious (oscillating rollers, form rollers, gripper bar and side guide), check the screws, nuts, bolts and springs. Confirm that the screw threads are in good condition. Replace or use a thread die to clean them up. This is especially important for the roller height adjustment screws on bottom frame form rollers found on the 219 and the No. 4 as well as the roller adjustment knobs and lock screws on Universals and SP series presses. These latter model presses have “quick change” rollers with a separate bearing on each core end. The roller height is adjusted by a vertical screw post attached to the roller bearing and held in place by a lock screw. Often the original lock screws have been replaced with either flat head or Phillips head machine screws. The slots on these screws are generally chewed up and thus make tightening difficult. Replace them with socket head cap screws and tighten with a hex (or Allen) wrench. Use 8-32 x 3/4″ for the SP15 and 8-32 x 5/8″ or shorter for the SP20 and Universals. The bearing block for the SP15 is a cube that sits on the lift arm, while on Universals and the SP20 the bearing is round and sits in a bracket mounted on the inside of the carriage side plate. An L-shaped bracket (actually: Г ) is riveted or screwed into the side of the roller bearing. This bracket rests on top of the lift arm. When the rivet or screw is loose the bracket may flip upside-down ( L ) causing the end roller to be set too high. If the bracket is inserted under the lift arm the form roller will sit too low and cannot be adjusted. Check the tightness of the hex screw(s) on the collar of the form roller gear against the roller core. A loose gear will wobble as it travels over the gear rack and over time, the hole will ream out. Eventually, this would allow the roller to slide over the form instead of turning and thus not lay ink correctly. An addition concern on the No. 4 is its gear and clutch mechanism. When at the feed board these parts are separated by the depression of a pin, aided a spring, that slides in the end of the roller cores. If the pins stick, clean and lubricate with graphite powder. The pin is depressed by the clutch plate. If it has excessive wear at the contact points it can be brazed. Rollers on older presses (e.g. 320, 219, No. 4, and No. 3) are set into a frame and held in place with two-part brass bearing blocks bored to the diameter of the roller cores. Over the course of use, the spinning action of the harder steel roller cores will ream out the blocks’ holes in an oval shape, causing the form rollers to bounce. Replace with steel blocks and nyliners (nylon bushing). These blocks are bored to the diameter of a nyliner fitted onto the roller core. Note the position of the oil holes and install retainer clips to hold nyliners in place on the side opposite the gears. Roller height adjustment to each screw needs to be made incrementally because adjusting one screw too much will inhibit the adjustment of the other screw on that same block. Also check condition of the screw threads, besides being stripped they may be coated in dried ink. Once adjusted the middle sets screws must be tightened to hold the roller height. The worm gear for the oscillating roller should be on the operator’s side so that its cleanliness and lubrication can be easily monitored. If it is on the opposite side, it had previously been removed for repair of thorough cleaning. Apparently on the 320/325 series and the older Composing Room Cylinder presses with their separate inking carriages the worm was designed to be on opposite side. This can be reversed with no adverse affects by removing the worm gear and oscillating roller from its frame then rotating them. Inspect the carriage latch spring (called the cylinder check on older models). Usually it is still in place, but broken in several pieces and can result in the carriage rolling away from the feedboard unprompted.

Brash Disassembly and Adjustment
While understanding how a press works is essential, taking it apart to do so isn’t. Those operators with the initiative to restore a press can be too eager to disassemble it to get at cosmetic grime. Others will diagnose a problem and apply an unsound remedy that may serve them in the short term, but may actually exacerbate the problem, such as adding adhesive tape to the bed bearers. Caution is especially urged when considering adjusting the carriage bearings. They will wear down over time and may not make contact with the bed bearers or under rails at all points during travel over the bed. However before adjusting, check the evenness of impression by pulling a blind proof of type high rule or bearers locked in the bed placed near and parallel to the bed bearers, per Gerald Lange in his article “Adjusting Cylinder Carriage Bearings.” Similarly, Fritz Klinke’s method is recommended:

We have typically set the impression bearings with the cylinder on print positioned in the middle of the bed. Set the bearings too tight to the upper rail and the cylinder will not turn, and too loose and it will allow for movement in the cylinder when printing, so we have used paper in the thickness of .003″ to place between each bearing and the top rail, tighten snugly to the rail with that paper in place, then roll cylinder off the paper and it should be about right. It may take more thickness in the paper, probably not less, but should be the same for all four bearings. This can take some time and experimentation.

Feeler gauges or brass shims work better than paper, and it should be noted that factory settings can only be approximated.

Upgrade Your Toolkit
Simple adjustments and repairs are poorly executed in a shop that doesn’t have proper tools. For example, a small screwdriver used to loosen the fillister-head screws on the gripper bar may not provide enough torque to loosen them and will quickly chew the slot, making subsequent drawsheet changes difficult. This can also get expensive since these screws are not found in a hardware stores and usually have to be purchased from NA graphics who has them specially made and are currently priced at $10.50 piece. Assemble a basic toolkit that includes:

3/4″ open end wrench Socket/ratchet wrench set  (SAE) Fine-grit metal sandpaper
Medium adjustable wrench X-acto / breakaway knife Extension magnet/ grabber
Assorted screwdriver set Cutting mat Flashlight
3/8″ flathead screwdriver 36″ ruler or straight edge Lint free rags/blue wipes
Hex wrench set (English) Bone folder Pipe cleaners & cotton swabs
Pliers (Channel Locks) Metal files 2-3 toothbrushes

I hope this narrative will be helpful. My goal is to encourage greater diligence in the care and maintenance of your press. If you do this, it may outlast you and perhaps someday a Vandercook operator yet to be born will be grateful for your efforts.

© 2007 by Paul Moxon. This article originally published in Galley Gab, October 2007. Revised March 2013.