My first SP-15…

Hello, fellow printers. After years of searching for an SP-15, I’ve finally acquired one from Kurt Hansen in Auburn, California.  It has been sitting for some time, however, and needs some service before it’s ready to roll. Though I am familiar with the operation of the press, I am not trained in how to restore or maintain it.  It appears to be in very solid condition, it looks clean, but does have a bit of surface rust.  Also, the press did tip over at one point during the move, but I believe that fall was absorbed by the sheet metal backing on the back of the press. Anyone who can offer some kind of checklist on how to get this thing fully operational would be much appreciated! I look forward to participating in your community of letter-geeks like myself. Thanks in advance.

Press # 25159 inspected by H.L. Keller

10 thoughts on “My first SP-15…

  1. Paul Moxon, Moderator - June 15, 2010

    Gerald–As a Northwesterner living in Dixie, I sympathize with your outsider status.

  2. Nicholas Portalupi - June 14, 2010

    Gerald, I just saw your blog and noticed that one of the images looked a lot like a Horkey, and, sure enough, it is. We screenprinted the covers for a little zine that he did the art work for in 2008 for a show with a bunch of metal illustrators. I’m just kinda excited to see that you’re into it.

  3. Gerald Lange - June 13, 2010


    I’m not sure why California is resistant. Not sure it is the economy. I have campaigned for you, to no avail. It took a good decade for California to accept me. When they did my lecture/exhibition was appropriated titled A Midwestern Printer in California. Of course, some still won’t accept me but that is probably a different story altogether: Vandercooks, photopolymer, and opinionated. Ye gods.


  4. Gerald Lange - June 6, 2010

    Hi Paul

    News to me that Rust Bomb was discontinued. Checked the Orison site and it is no longer listed. Good thing I bought a bunch of it. Works great.

    Looks like they are selling a similar as “raw materials” but you can just get that as “Naval Jelly” at most grocery stores or hardware stores. Works the same, except it is a bit nasty. It will eat you. Rust Bomb was much nicer.


  5. Paul Moxon, Moderator - June 5, 2010

    Nicholas: I see I forgot to fully answer your first comment. Before adjusting the carriage bearings read Gerald’s article about it and do the blind impression test as he describes:

    A durometer isn’t an essential tool. One can reasonable determine whether rollers are too hard by feel. Dial indicator gauges are much cheaper than digital one. Calipers to measure roller diameter are more practical and can be used to measure anything.

    Also I don’t have a contact at either institution. I’m open to the idea., but my cold calls rarely pan out. This weekend I’m teaching a the Museum of Printing (N. Avdover MA) and next weekend at the Center for Book Arts (NYC).

  6. Nicholas Portalupi - June 5, 2010

    I wonder if CCA (formerly CCAC) in Oakland would host something. Maybe at the international printing museum in LA?

  7. Paul Moxon, Moderator - June 4, 2010

    Gerald: My approach to chemicals is to start non-toxic and step it up if warranted. Mineral Spirits doesn’t get crud up as well as SG. I will look into CP90. I like EvapopRust, but could never find RustBomb. I believe you wrote somewhere that it was discontinued.

    Nicholas: I’m due to return to the area, it’s been two years. I made an inquiry at SFCB but never heard back.

  8. Nicholas Portalupi - June 4, 2010

    Thank for you suggestions, guys. I’ve cleaned the steel rollers and all accessible moving parts with WD-40 and oiled them. I’ve also ordered a manual from NA Graphics. Also, the bearing block assembly on the far side of the press was bent when the press tipped, so I ordered a new one of those. Hopefully that was the extent of the damage. There’s nothing obviously wrong when I move the carriage along the bed at this time. The bed bearers, cylinder bearers, and under rails all seem to be in good shape- flat and straight. All the carriage bearings roll except for one, which I am including a picture of here. Will this affect printing? Should I adjust it? Also, is a durometer something my shop should have? They seem to be really expensive.

    PS – Any plans for Vandercook maintenance workshops on the west coast in the near future, Paul? I know, you just had one in Oregon that I couldn’t go to… :(

  9. Gerald Lange - June 4, 2010


    While I do keep WD-40 around, mainly for quick fixes of electrical switches, a much better and similar product is Carwell’s CP90 Rust Inhibitor. Really great stuff. It’s oil based and it sticks around rather than evaporates like WD-40. It’s distributed by the same folks who provide Evapo-Rust and Rust Bomb.

    Simple Green, hmmm. Good product, but hydrophilics aren’t the best to use on iron based material. They tend to stick around and encourage further rusting.

    To really clean a press you need some nasty stuff like toluene or xylene. Takes the ink off but leaves the original paint alone. The printing industry used to supply these in various products but no longer. Still in most hardware stores though.

    My usual 2 cents. Take it for what it is worth.


  10. Paul Moxon, Moderator - June 3, 2010

    Congrats on the new press. Most of what you need to know is in the manual. Don’t have one? Order it from NA Graphics. Can’t afford one? Boxcar Press has a crappy photocopied PDF at

    Meanwhile, clean:
    1) bed bearers–the raised rails flanking the bed
    2) cylinder bearers–outer part of the cylinder that rolls over the bed bearers.
    3) under rails–underside of bed bearers
    4) carriage bearings–large steel wheels rolling on under rails and small wheels on top of bed bearers.

    Clean these surfaces with solvent and a synthetic scouring pad (i.e. Scotch Brite). Some will tell you to use mineral spirits, I prefer Simple Green quickly followed up with WD-40. I’m sure more opinions will follow.

    Run finger along under rails feeling for wear. If none is apparent, then you’ve avoided a big issue. Otherwise read Gerald Lange’s article “Adjusting Cylinder Carriage Bearings Vandercook SP-15, SP-20, SP-25, Universal Models” Then think long and hard before doing anything.

    Also clean the oscillator, drum and impression cylinder but be careful not to scuff their surfaces any more than they already are.

    Add Vaseline to the worm gear on the oscillator.

    The rollers will likely need to be replaced. The rubber will be too hard and shrunken. They should be pliable (20-25 Duromter on the A scale) and be 2.5″ in diameter.

    Post more questions here. Having been tipped, photos would help determine if any damage occurred to the far side of the carriage.

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