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Cleaning the Ink Disk

So, you might notice a theme developing on this here blog... things about the press I didn't notice when I went to look at it. The subject of this post is the result of one of those things - the ink disk had a thick layer of old, dried ink on it.

Looking at the positive side of things I think this layer of ink stopped the ink disk from rusting (which is a common problem when these old presses are not used for a long time) but I had to clean it off before I could even think about printing. Jeremy from the removal company gave me a couple of pieces of copper rule and suggested that the best way to clean off the ink was to scrape it off with the rule. I tried that for a few minutes without much success and so I turned to the Briar Press forums, the fount of all letterpress knowledge. Most of the suggestions said that lacquer thinner would be of great help in the process but it's not available in the UK, so I did a little googling and it seemed like cellulose thinner was the way to go (I still don't know whether it's the same thing with a different name, or just a good substitute).

Once I had all the supplies - cellulose thinner, rags, copper rule and heavy duty gloves - I spread some cardboard out in the backyard (don't want to be working in an enclosed area with the chemicals) and got to work. I put some of the thinner on a rag and held it on the plate for a few seconds and then scraped away the softened ink.

Even with the help of the thinner it was a slow process. After about an hour, frustrated by a particularly thick area of ink, I decided to try a different tactic. I laid the rag over the whole ink disk and poured a bit of the thinner over it, thoroughly wetting the rag. I let it sit for about 10 seconds and then I lifted half the rag and scraped under it while the other side continued to soak then re-covered the first side and scraped the second, repeating a few times until I wasn't able to scrape any more ink off. That little moment of genius saved me *so* much time (although I will apologize to mother earth because it probably wasn't the most environmentally friendly way to go).


In total, I probably spent two and a half hours cleaning off all the ink, and ended up with this beautiful, shiny ink disk.

I finished cleaning up this disk a few weeks ago but was waiting for my rollers to be recovered. The great news is that they arrived last Thursday so I was finally able to start printing! I hope to have some pictures of some of the test prints I'm doing soon.

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