How Best to Clean Dried Ink Buildup on Ink Drum

I’m cleaning up a Uni-I AB, and there is quite a bit of hard, dry ink build up around the ink drum. I tried chipping at it, but I don’t want to accidentally scrape the drum. Is the best course of action to remove the drum? Is that tricky? I don’t see an easy way to pop it out.


13 thoughts on “How Best to Clean Dried Ink Buildup on Ink Drum

  1. danielschneider - September 9, 2015

    The ink drum on the old-style Vandercook No. 4 I am working on has the same kind of ink build-up Sally describes, plus a host of other issues. In the photo below, the ink is visible on the outside edges of the roller. Much of the brown staining visible in the photo is surface rust but some is drippings from melted rollers. There are several apparently minor scratches around the surface of the drum, but it will be hard to assess their severity until the drum is clean. I have tried Simple Green, WD-40, and Anchor Type Wash with little success (I only used a little of the Anchor type wash, but am hesitant to use a lot of it as it seems like quite a nasty solvent). Finally, I can hear something small rattle inside the drum when I turn it by hand.

    Any suggestions for getting the surface clean will be greatly appreciated. I am not averse to removing the drum (I found some excellent step-by-step photos for ink drum removal posted elsewhere on this blog). If it comes to removing the drum, however, are there other maintenance tasks I should plan to do as long as I have the drum off?



  2. Fritz Klinke - February 10, 2011

    I’ve never seen chrome on any Vandercook blueprint. Tolerances were within machine shop practice for these like +/- .005 for diameter end for end, concentricity in about the .003 range, even beds were not required to be dead on like a surface plate (typical for these is +/- .0005″) and I recall seeing something like +/- .002 side to side on a bed. Add up all the +/- figures and then maybe a problem–I don’t know.

  3. Mike - February 8, 2011

    You should avoid sanding chrome, or any electroplated surface. Chrome plating deposits a very thin layer measured in thousandths of an inch. When used for wear resistance, chrome plating leaves a very hard, durable finish with reduced friction.

    Your drum is not and never has been chrome plated. I think emery cloth might be a good choice to polish (90 grit or higher, just to be safe) your drum; however the only thing I know about presses is how darn heavy they all seem to be.

    Can anyone comment on allowable tolerances for an ink drum? If polished correctly, circular runout and concentricity should not be a problem. Rather the issue of polishing lies with a cylinder that is no longer flat in its face as it meets the (rubber rollers?).

  4. Eric Holub - February 7, 2011

    Well then. are the oscillators sometimes chromed? I could have sworn I’d seen a Vandercook with peeling chrome somewhere. If not I just have too many cylinders kicking around in my memory.

  5. Fritz Klinke - February 6, 2011

    Yes, just take off the material that is above the cylinder surface. These were machine polished, not chrome plated as they do a nice job of rusting. With the ink drum turning, it is a slow moving lathe situation with a sanding block as opposed to trying to buff out the ridges as I think that would promote an irregular surface.

  6. Eric Holub - February 6, 2011

    Fritz, are you just talking about removing the burrs thrown up next to the grooves? Trying to remove the grooves themselves would mean removing the surface of the cylinder in irregular ways, and large areas of chrome plating. Rubber rollers can conform to some irregularity, but a small groove is less of a problem for inking than a larger low spot. The distributors should work out any minor scratches from the drum before the ink makes it to the form.
    If it just a burr I would take a very good file and carefully remove it, followed with block and fine grit paper as suggested.

  7. Fritz Klinke - February 6, 2011

    This press had an ink fountain, and I could verify that with the serial number. The bolt hole for one end of the fountain shows in the photo, and the bracket and bar was for the ductor roller. It can be removed. I would not try to buff out the grooves showing in the ink drum, but rather turn the ink drive on and with the drum rotating, use a small block of wood with some wet/dry fine grit sand paper and sand out the worst part of the grooves as the drum turns. A little bit of oil with the sand paper will help smooth things out. My SP-15 had terrible grooves from the ink washup mechanis and I used this method to rehab the ink drum.

  8. kyle van horn - February 4, 2011

    Ah, yes – good point! The steel wool I was using was on the other side of the room, in my sink. You’ll be happy to know it’s persistent fibers are now simply clogging the sink.

    Sorry for the scare there Paul.

  9. Eric Holub - February 4, 2011

    If it is the well area that needs cleaning, then remove the washup tray and supporting parts. That gives relatively easy access. The tray probably needs much attention anyway; any press so neglected by previous users must have a hell of a tray, and when they are neglected they can scratch the drum.
    Personally, I don’t have any problem working with traditional solvents but Simple Green makes me gasp. It does contain some nasty volatile hydrocarbons.
    I also avoid steel wool because of the persistant presence of abrasive fibers longs after use. Synthetic steel wool is the only way to go.

  10. Sally Gardner - February 4, 2011

    Thanks– Most of the built up ink is (or was) rubbing against the drum, although the drum itself has some dried ink on it. There are also grooves in the drum. I’ve been able to clear away a little space between the drum and the housing for a bar that I think must have been part of a missing inking system (?). There is only a tiny clearance now between the drum and that housing:
    Questions: Can I completely remove that bar and its housing? And can I or should I buff the grooves in the drum? Will small imperfections in the drum seriously affect my inking?
    Thanks for the help!

  11. Paul Moxon, Moderator - February 4, 2011

    Sally–do you mean that the drum itself is clean but the surrounding area on the bottom is filled in? I’ve dealt with that scenario by inserting an old ink knife secured to a length of wood that I repeatedly tapped with a mallet. Keep the blade a low as possible away from the drum. As you loosen the mounds you may uncover goopy ink. Clear it out, but don’t expect the area to be like new. Drag out what you can, then use a shop vac (not you household vacuum) to get the rest.

  12. kyle van horn - February 3, 2011

    I’m doing the same on my SP20 right now (finally). I had already removed the drum to clean everything else.

    Simple Green can go a really long way with ink, but it is water based, so you want to be sure to dry up everything as you go.

    I just completely dismantled my drum to clean it, and had to resort to a metal putty knife to scrape out the majority of it, and finish with some steel wool (as Eric said: only on the ends can you be this rough). I couldn’t use the nasty solvents in my shop.

    You can see it recently cleaned and half reassembled here: – The end of this probably hasn’t seen daylight since the 1960s.

    If you have ink on the face of the drum, I’d use paint stripper, and then finish with no-scratch scrub pads and a little solvent –

    Good luck!

  13. Eric Holub - February 3, 2011

    Removing the drum would be a last resort. Tried type wash yet? Acetone? Paint stripper? This is not a job for crisco and salad oil.
    If solvents aren’t enough, I would start with razor blade, ink knife, utility knife on the ends of the drum (not on the face of the drum, but off the ends), and reveal how deep the ink incrustation is. If really deep (though hard to imagine that), maybe chipping off flakes is possible with a hard plastic scraper. A fine rotary wire brush in a power drill or palm sander are mechanical methods to be tried, carefully. Scratches are to be avoided, but many of the scratches I have seen may be from a poorly maintained washup attachment.

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