Galley Height Bed Plate

Hi Vanderblog,

I’m looking for advice on buying a cold-rolled steel galley height bed plate for a Vandercook No. 4. I ordered an 18 gauge cold-rolled stainless steel from Online Metals which was perfect except that it has a noticeable curve which makes it bounce when sitting on the bed. This makes setting the rollers really difficult and I’m worried it will affect printing, especially if I’m printing something lightweight, like wood type.

Does anyone have a supplier where they’ve had success finding a nice flat plate of steel?



16 thoughts on “Galley Height Bed Plate

  1. Eric Holub - December 12, 2012

    I just got a table of sheet metal thicknesses and tolerances, from the supplier Ferro Union.
    Their 18 gage carbon steel is nominally .0478″, with tolerance range from .0438 -.0518″ in cold rolled stock, .0428-.0528″ in hot-rolled or “P. & O.” whatever that is. 17 gage though nominally .0538″ could even be just under .050″ and still be within tolerances.
    Their galvanized sheet metal has different specs. 18 gage is nominally .0516″ with a range from .0466″-.0566″. The 19 gage material is nominally .0456″ but could be as much as .0506″.
    Random testing with a micrometer of galleys here generally run from .048″ to .051″.

  2. Paul Moxon, Moderator - November 23, 2012

    Glad you’re happy. I appreciate the follow up.

  3. Marianne Dages - November 23, 2012

    Hi everyone, to give you an update and help with anyone that might have this problem in the future, I ended up getting a new 18 gauge plate cut by Perry Tymeson of Suitcase Press. The plate was cut perfectly to size and though it still has a slight bow, it does not seem to affect printing. The plate was cut to fit under the head and tail bars, and the form and furniture weigh it down enough to keep it flat. Maybe someday I’ll make some NASA connections and get a perfect .050 plate, but until then, this plate is working just fine.

  4. Paul Moxon, Moderator - November 16, 2012

    Eric, I defer to your experience —and that sounds like a fun challenge/experiment if I can find the time when I’m in SF. I’m never vested in an outcome.

    I’ve had success adding interlay as you described with polymer on standard .918 beds, but when troubleshooting for other folks, if a there’s a bed plate involved it’s nearly always s major factor.

  5. Eric Holub - November 16, 2012

    Despite higher claims on manufacturer’s specs, if you can demonstrate .0001″accuracy on average photopolymer plates, I will buy you lunch when you come to town Paul. I have a Bacher plate gauge if you want to use it and .0001″ Starrett micrometers.
    My scepticism comes from real world experience. I had a recurring job of chapbooks printed from photopolymer plates. On each job there were pages with light areas in the text block. Standard pressman’s problem-solving is to swap plates into differnt positions, and if the problem moves with the plate, then the plate is the problem. And in every instance, the plate was the problem.
    The solution was a variation on traditional interlay makeready, not possible with magenetic bases and makeready tissue. Instead I used Krylon acrylic spray to build up very thin additions to the plate back. Problem solved. And the problem was absolutely in inaccuracy of photopolymer plate. Whether that is down to manufacture or processing makes little difference to low-end users such as us, on forums such as this.
    .0001″ precision comes from an an industrial humidity-controlled clean-room, not today’s letterpess studio.

  6. Paul Moxon, Moderator - November 15, 2012

    Type is one thing, but .0001 is applicable for polymer plates.
    A second-rate bed plate can adversely affect printing them as much as out of spec rollers.

  7. Eric Holub - November 15, 2012

    How much precision is really needed to get ink on paper? Letterpress is not aerospace. Typecasting, papermaking, rollermaking are not to the .0001″ tolerances at JPL, .001″ is more like it with Linotype or Monotype or used ATF, and frankly despite stated specifications, photopolymer is not much better in the real world of today’s user.
    If you need true precision, sell your Vandercook and buy a Heidelberg cylinder where there is vastly more precision in manufacture and durability. I’ve seen decent Vandercooks ruined in a few year’s misuse, but a Heidelberg takes catastrophic stupidity to ruin. And yet I’ve seen Heidelberg cylinders sell for less than some Vandercooks, despite the real advantage in production.

  8. Gerald Lange - November 7, 2012


    You are absolutely right. Screw precision. That is so old school.


  9. Eric Holub - November 4, 2012

    Well, the sheet metal industry has no market for exact caliper in their product, and if they did we could not afford to buy any. Does it matter if that duct is .049″ as opposed to .051″? And if you take 100 printer’s galleys and mike them, you will probably not find such exactitude either. A couple thousandths had little importance when proofing. It is only today that proof presses designed for metal type and photoengravings are expected to do production printing from much more exacting photopolymer that it becomes an issue. These are high expectations.
    If you want precisely .050″ sheet metal, you must either have them sort through many random sheets to find that thickness, or take a thicker sheet and have it ground. But considering that much of Vandercook production was only to .003″ tolerances, perhaps such precision is excessive. Better know your actual, worn bearer height first and fit your bedplate to that situation.

  10. Gerald Lange - November 2, 2012

    The primary problems with bed plates is that they are made from junk steel; they bow, they rust, they are soft and bend, they aren’t even precision made to .050″.

    A while back a friend at Jet Propulsion Lab had one fabricated for me from 303 high-grade stainless steel (highly resistant to corrosion, non-magnetic), deadly precise at .05 in thickness, and parallel from end to end, length and width. This was for a 320. 30 x 22. It still has no bends, no bowing, no rust. And the 320 is long gone.

    Hey, it’s letterpress, you want deadly precision (I hope). It’s a Vandercook, worth god only knows what unholy market value these days. Why degrade it’s potential with a piece of crap steel?


  11. Marianne Dages - October 21, 2012

    Thanks for the feedback. The plate didn’t cost that much so I might just try again. Does anyone have an actual .050 plate or is 18 gauge the closest thing available these days?

  12. jhenry - October 15, 2012

    You could take the plate you have to a good sheet metal shop and they could run it through a set of rollers to flatten it for you. I would think that would be better than buying a whole new piece of steel.

  13. Ladboyle - October 15, 2012

    Frtiz Klinke at sells bedplates for SP-15’s. Yu might check with Fritz to see if he has bedplate for a No. 4.

    As an aside, can someone explain why some presses are galley high (.968) and some are type high (.918) and what difference it made to mfg two different versions of the same press?

  14. Eric Holub - October 15, 2012

    I’d add to Paul’s comment that a bedplate should sit under both head and tail bars. They would hold down a bowed plate if locked up with care. You might need to add an extra lockup force at the head, with furniture and quoin, and also at the tail if using a static bar rather than a Handy Lockup Bar.

  15. Paul Moxon, Moderator - October 14, 2012

    A bowed bed plate will effect most printing forms.

    It’s possible but not guaranteed to reduce the problem by flipping the plate over and build forms in a large chase with iron furniture to add weight.

    Also, note that 18 gauge steel is .048″ so you may be shy of spec. You can compensate by placing .002″ no slip packing under the bed plate or for small forms you could use phone book paper which is approximately .002″

  16. Widmark - October 12, 2012

    You could always get a galley bed plate gauge and set the rollers without the plate one.

    That wouldn’t help with any problems it would cause during printing…and it’s probably easier to just get a proper galley bed plate. But it’s an option.

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