Provisional Press

A (cheap) printing press kit you can build yourself…

Last year I bought a printing press kit from Provisional Press. I used to have access to a press when I worked at the museum, and I’ve also borrowed a press from a friend of mine in the past, but most of my “home made” prints have been done with a baren. (I even 3D printed one.) Can you do prints with a baren? Totally, but using a press does make things much easier and more consistent.

I got the base kit with no extras (more on that later) so that’s what you see in these photos. Once you do the assembly, which consists of gluing and screwing things together, you can add in the metal plate as the base. If you use letterpress the metal base comes in handy, and you can grab some galley magnets but honestly I’ll probably just make my own plates like I normally do.

It comes with two “galley high” blocks, which you use to square things up properly so the roller is consistent across the press. There a process involving adding tape under the inside rails before you screw them in place.

Here’s what the bottom looks like. You’ll see that some things are not jammed tightly together. Maybe because wood can expand and contract over time and based on temperature and humidity? I’m not sure…

Here you can see some (blue) tape sticking out a bit. You basically add strips of tape to get things level with the roller. It didn’t take long, but it’s one of those things you should take your time with and get right, since once you screw things together you probably don’t want to unscrew them.

The roller is a large piece of PVC or “Charlotte” pipe. I used a bit of acetone to remove the red “Charlotte” lettering on it. It’s still slightly visible though, which is fine.

My plates are typically made from 3mm (1/8″) Baltic Birch plywood. I have a pretty good supply of scrap due to the fact we use a ton of it at work and often get strips left over that are around 4″ tall by 24″ long. I tend to cut them into smaller pieces to fit in my laser cutter. Making 3″ x 5″ plates is quick and easy and I can probably make 50 more with the scrap I have on hand right now.

To get the plate to the right height I dropped in a piece of 3/4″ plywood I had lying around, with some old cereal box board and sheets of paper underneath to get just the right height. It works well and if I consistently use the same wood I shouldn’t have to adjust things too much.

Hey, I made a print! You can see I added two pieces of soft felt as my “press blankets” which seemed to work well. The one upgrade I’ve already added is the 9″x17″ Grid Base which I should have grabbed when I ordered but for some reason did not. It makes it much easier to line things up and to clean things up.

About the assembly… It went well, but it did take some time. I think part of it was that since there was gluing involved I really wanted to get things right. The other issue (for me) is that the last few things I’ve built have been CNC machines, where getting things exact and precise is extremely important. This press is… a bit less so in that regard. It’s all wood, but you end up shimming things to get stuff aligned, and it just feels like there’s some wiggle room. Having built one I’m pretty sure I could build another in half the time.

I will recommend this: Watch all the videos and read everything completely before you start the assembly. Some of the parts do not match up exactly, which was confusing for a bit. The videos are not professionally produced, but hey, it’s a DIY kit, so that’s fine. Watch them all before starting.

For the pins that keep the top roller from coming off, I did not glue them in place, as I wanted them to be removable in case I take the top roller part off for some reason. (Maybe for transport.) I just wrapped some tape around them to press fit into place. I did stain the side parts of the top roller section, and thought about staining more of the press, but you should do all that before assembly, and I didn’t want to spend the time doing that. I think it looks pretty good as it is. I mainly stained the side parts because they are 1/4″ laser cut pieces and I just wanted them to look a little nicer.

Oh, if you want to see a bunch of fun stuff from the Provisional Press crew, check out their Instagram account. Also, you can totally build your own! The plans for this press are open source.

I’ll probably do a follow-up post once I’ve got a bit more time into using it. So Stay Tuned!

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