Power Inking for SP-15

This past January, we took a three-day letterpress course from Frank Brannon at Bookworks in Asheville, NC. The letterpress bug bit and we bought an SP-15 at auction from Boggs Graphics in Ohio. The press was very clean and in excellent shape, but it had manual inking. After some tries to use the press without power printing, we contacted Fritz Klinke at NA Graphics to see if we could buy the parts to add power inking to our SP-15. Fritz had some of the parts and had some fabricated. It took a while, but Fritz shipped us nearly all of the parts and blue prints of the assembly.
To install the assembled inking system, I removed the solid cover that is to the left of the press cylinder assembly, the back panel from the press frame, and a small decorative panel from the front. With those out of the way, the assembly is installed from underneath and bolted into place. The decorative plate that we removed from the front had to be shortened because the inking tray prevented re-installing without modification. The back panel re-installed without a hitch. The cover plate no longer fits because of the inking drum. We are yet to have it modified, but when that is done, the power inking modification to our SP-15 will be complete. In the meantime, it’s useable now without the cover.
Many thanks to Fritz, who made this possible. He’s a true treasure for the letterpress community. Also, thanks to Frank Brannon for lighting the fire, to Jack Boggs for being easy to deal with when bought the press, and to Paul Moxon who helped with some of the technical questions when I was unsure what to do. The folks at Penland School in NC let us inspect and take pictures of the inside of their SP-15. It really helped to see how the inking assembly should look when installed. Thanks to Penland as well.

8 thoughts on “Power Inking for SP-15

  1. Paul Moxon, Moderator - August 29, 2012

    “A Short History of Vandercook” by Harold E. Sterne appeared in The Printer, September 1998. It’s also available on this site at https://vandercookpress.info/vanderblog/literature/articles/stern-history/

  2. Gerald Lange - August 29, 2012


    Sorry. This wasn’t attached. I ask because the only true historical account of this seems to be reporting in of all places, The Printer, and my copies are all in storage.


  3. Gerald Lange - August 29, 2012


    Wasn’t there someone who had the post-Vandercook artifacts before Sterne?


  4. Paul Moxon, Moderator - August 27, 2012

    Fritz, thanks for the opportunity to make a correction. Hal Sterne created the original timeline and serial number tables. That data is the foundation upon which the rest of this site has been built.

  5. Fritz Klinke - August 27, 2012

    Just for the fun of it, I looked up the first SP-15 shipped, and Paul has the serial number listed incorrectly in his timeline. SN 21500 shipped 5-12-61 to Brian & Ralph in San Jose, Calif. and it was equipped with Power Ink Distribution and Automatic Washup. The next three SP-15s all had power ink distribution,then 2 without, then the next five with power ink distribution. In fact, the majority of the SP-15s sold were with power ink distribution.


  6. Ladboyle - August 27, 2012

    Hand inking has romantic overtones of the past, a simplier life, and how things used to be, but in the spring, I developed arthritis in my hands and can no longer turn the crank without a lot of pain. Electricity and the 20th century to my rescue.

    For those who yearn for the past, it should be relatively easy to convert an SP-15 to hand inking. You will need to “adjust” the ink drum so that it doesn’t engage the rear roller and you will need to add a crank handle. Thats it. You should be able to find a handle at your local industrial supply store or online somewhere. I would look at Grizzly.com. They carry a lot of supplies and parts for machinery. I am sure there are others.

  7. Gerald Lange - August 26, 2012

    Just a further note, I am still very careful to know where the oscillating cylinder roller starts its travel across the form on both trip and print and to modify that as need be, even though I now use presses equipped with a motor to drive the roller mechanism.

    This is important as hell IF you want absolute control over your inking.


  8. Gerald Lange - August 26, 2012

    Hi Ladboyle

    I saw this on Briar Discussions where you are registered as LetterpressDad and I replied.

    Just for the fun of it, here is the reply I posted there.


    I hate to have to tell you this after all you went through but the SP-15 without the motor was considered the more precise press. You have far more control over the inking.

    The primary advocates of the Vandercook way back when, Claire Van Vliet and Walter Hamady, to whom we owe everything, both purchased the non-powered press for their work. Some of the early practitioners actually pulled the power unit. The renown printers Lewis Allen and Harry Duncan were none too fond of it. But they were primarily practitioners on the iron hand press and thought ill of the Vandercook anyway.

    Vandercook eventually switched to the power model as the primary offering and the manual became a secondary offering, because, well, power sold better. Who gives a crap about precise control over inking anyway when the press will do all the work? Probably not as good but, well, good, that’s just old school thinking. Forward.

    I actually learned on a manually operated roller system and I am grateful that I did.


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