Brass printing press part for local madman

Discussion in 'Sand Casting' started by Tobho Mott, Dec 15, 2023.

  1. Tobho Mott

    Tobho Mott Administrator Staff Member Banner Member

    Clay aka Cast Iron Machines on YT and IG is a local guy who restores old machines. He's converted the old pig sty on his family farm into a 1930's style forge and lineshaft-driven machine shop. Collects and restores circular sawmills, has a Model A Ford that he got running, makes his own maple syrup, and smokes a tobacco pipe as naturally as anyone I've seen do it. And he is just 24 years old!

    I discovered him because he set up the lineshaft & machines (power hammer, drill press, bandsaw) at the new location of Van's blacksmithing school, where I used to work part time. Seems like he knows half the guys who took my class there, small world.

    He's working on this antique benchtop printing press and it is missing the frame that holds the type in place, which is where I come in.


    He made the pattern, he'd done some reading and I talked him through the basics of draft and radiuses/fillets etc. to give us a shot at having something moldable for our first in-person meeting.



    He did ok, adding wax fillets on the 4 inside corners once he arrived last night was easy and expected, but the pattern didn't quite sit flat on the molding board, and the inner walls had very little draft. Clay assured me the draft was there, but it was... real hard to see.

    So I tried twice to get it to draw clean, but in the end had some breakout along the parting line almost all the way around the inner perimeter. That'll get machined anyhow, so it is what it is. Can't blame the patternmaker for the runout though, lol. Forgot to add a mold weight. D'oh! Good thing the whole part was in the drag I guess. It ain't pretty (yet) but hopefully it'll clean up nice enough.


    After we were done he told me he didn't add any shrink allowance. Not sure why, since he was also able to quote me the allowance for brass from memory... We may have to try again if it's too small after machining.

    He said he might make a new pattern and get me to make several more of them anyhow, apparently it's nice to have extras already set up, and there are also a good number of these same presses still out there in the wild...

    I didn't get any video this time, but Clay did. I guess it'll show up in longer form on his YT soon but for now he posted a sneak peek on his IG:
    (I don't believe you have to sign up to view the clip)

    AND I got a 26'er of his maple syrup! :D

    Also learned my casting shed's ventilation can't quite keep up with brass fumes. But I had a respirator on for most of it. First time casting brass and it wasn't an issue at all other than the fumes. Bullets do seem to make a lot of dross though.

  2. Petee716

    Petee716 Gold Banner Member

    Don't believe your lyin' eyes!
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  3. Petee716

    Petee716 Gold Banner Member

    These small format Kelsey letterpresses were ubiquitous in churches and funeral homes in the 19th through later 20th century (which are good places to find them today, unloved and covered in dust and grime in their basements). If you’re lucky you might find one for $0, but more likely from $100 to thousands (depending on model, rarity, and sellers abilities (lol)). There is a large community of collectors as well as those still using them as hobbyists and artisans.
    The part you are posting about is called a chase. I’ve only ever seen them made out of steel or possibly cast iron and for good reason I think. It’s certainly possible that some were brass, but I’m no expert. Lead type is laboriously set either as individual tiny letters, precast lines, or a combination thereof, with wooden spacers called furniture, and then clamped in very tightly with quoins (google it) against and within the chase. Then you lift it off the table and place it into the press. If the chase flexes or is bent or twisted, you get what is known as “printers pi”. We sandcrabs know it as a dropout. Bad ju-ju, as sometimes many minutes or hours end up on the floor with all of the attendant weeping and gnashing of teeth.

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  4. Jammer

    Jammer Silver Banner Member

    I used to have all sizes of Kelseys, I restored them and sold them for quit a bit of money. The chase size should be fine, they fit kind of loose anyway. The chase is usually cast iron, well the whole press is. Brass should hold up as long as they don't crank the type too much.
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  5. Tobho Mott

    Tobho Mott Administrator Staff Member Banner Member

    Interesting details Pete & Jammer, thanks. I'll pass it on. Brass was Clay's idea, surprised he wasn't looking for something closer to original. Although he didn't seem fussy about what alloy was used, said the bullet brass was just what he had.

  6. rocco

    rocco Silver

    My first job after high school (early 1980's) was a place that, among other things, made printing plates. Letterpress plates were a VERY small part of there business, they stopped making them a few months after I started there and, to make room for an expansion, they disposed of all of their letterpress related equipment except for a press, it was a drum style press, very different from the one in Tobho's first post.
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2023
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  7. Tobho Mott

    Tobho Mott Administrator Staff Member Banner Member


    Looks a bit hideous to me, but he called it "reasonably nice" ;)

    In any case it's not finished, the pic just shows that it's about 1/8" too narrow, now that he's cleaned the casting up enough for a test fit.

    Now that he has a better idea of what can be done with Petrobond he's talking about building some shrink factor plus the alignment/retention notches into a v2 of the pattern. Plus a bit more draft on the inside walls.

    I'll stop by his place when I can and get some pictures of the lineshaft and machines too. :D

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  8. OddDuck

    OddDuck Silver

    Cool! Thought I saw this on Instagram...
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  9. Tobho Mott

    Tobho Mott Administrator Staff Member Banner Member

    Clay came up with a 2nd pattern. This one has shrink allowance included (plus a little more draft on the inside). No radiuses on the top edges of it though.

    I used aluminum bronze this time, what I had around and he wasn't fussy about the alloy. I know that stuff can take a beating. Came out a little better the second time around, as far as being fairly smooth and without the crazy excessive breakout from v1. No shrink holes in the ingate. But now I see why those radiused corners are important o_O




    He says those funny looking corners are going to get machined off anyhow, so not a problem. Something to fix in v3 if there is one though.

    You can sort of make out where he stamped 3x5 on the cope side of the pattern (2nd pic lower left corner on the long side). It wasn't stamped very deep, probably he worried about damaging the wood if he'd hit them a little harder.

    Here's a peek at his forge and machine shop, with the lineshaft and a couple of his machines. Not quite steam powered yet but he's got engines, and a pad for the boiler paved and a trip to Montreal to buy the refractory planned.

    And an old pattern in his collection

    I'll update when/if there's more to say.

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  10. Tobho Mott

    Tobho Mott Administrator Staff Member Banner Member

    Casting handed off. Clay seemed happy with the result, said he'll probably get his old shaper up and running to do some of the machining. Looking forward to seeing that! If he sends any pictures or posts anywhere about the printing press restoration or the machining of this part, I'll pop something up in here for anyone following along.

    Here's what I got out of the deal... :D


    Really glad to get my hands on (in?) this. I plan to use it for facing, in the hopes it'll gradually breathe some new life into my existing 300# of sand, which seems to be starting not to quite come back to full strength when I mull it anymore. (The 77 casting production job for the school and using it for ingot molds on top of my hobby stuff might have been a bit much to ask of a 300# heap?) I've already used about half of my 40# of K-bond that way. Hard to say for sure but I think it's helped a little more than just the wishful thinking factor can explain.

    Kinda funny, but this is the second time this bag of Petrobond has passed through my life. Clay got it from the blacksmithing school that I ordered it for a couple years ago when I was running some classes there. Small world! IIRC we had 5 of these bags shipped and only opened 2 or 3. Now this unopened one has finally made it home. :)

  11. Tobho Mott

    Tobho Mott Administrator Staff Member Banner Member

    Couple more pics of the v2 pattern:




    Plus some showing the part (minimally) machined, drilled & tapped, and fitted in the press:


  12. Tobho Mott

    Tobho Mott Administrator Staff Member Banner Member

    The rollers came in, now he's just waiting for the ink to arrive. Sent me these pics.



    Finally got a bunch of clips cobbled together:

    This just followed Clay home too... He said I can borrow/try/use/copy them sometime & he'd let me know if he ever finds duplicates or another set. :D





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  13. Tobho Mott

    Tobho Mott Administrator Staff Member Banner Member

    Clay got his press finished and working and uploaded a video on its restoration, including some footage from the first mold and pour at my place. I'm still having fun with the leftover brass from that pour.

    He also just picked these up. 16x22 by about 12 deep...


    If/when I get a chance to see these flasks in person I'll try and get some close up pics of the alignment hardware and other details (and try to figure out if it's possible to convince him to part with some of his treasure one day). :D

    If you watch his video and feel like commenting, tell him I sent you ;)


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