November 29, 2008
Heidelberg Envy (Part 2): Brandon's Heidelbergucation at Hello!Luckiversity
I am about a half-second away from giving an historical "thumbs up."
Let's begin this blog with an answer to a question that came to me in response to Part 1 of this Blog, that came from one of our readers in Lyle, Washington, Kyle Durrie:
"Hello Lucky sounds pretty rad - was that guy really a hunchback?"
Yes! Real hunchback! He lifted his shirt and let us have a touch. Bubbled flesh and extra bones, as one might expect. And ladies, despite the deformed backside, in the front you will find an irresistible blend of mustache and spectacles that will make you wanna say, "Come hither, James Tucker, come hump my back."
A photo of James Tucker from his
High School Yearbook, Freshman Year
To quote the lad (without the spit and gurgling), "Ees up front wot matters." Word to your Mother Tucker, Mr. James.
Getting to the point
To continue the tale from where we left off in Part 1, the pressman three of H!L and I drank many a pint of PBR and geeked-out on the subject of letterpress. As the gathering of press nerds dwindled down to Aaron and myself, I learned that just like the BBH studio, the H!L crew was allowed access to the letterpress equipment for their own stuff after hours. At some point I mentioned that I was on a quest to find someone who could show me the ways of the Heidelberg, to which he replied "Train you, I can."
Following that fateful eve, on two separate occasions I served as Padawan to Hello!Lucky Heidleberg Master, Aaron Cohick, on a 10x15 Heidelberg Windmill.
Readers Be Warned
I am about to get nerdy on some technical letterpress stuff, and this next section is intended for folks like me trying to educate themselves about an art that hardly anyone is teaching anymore. If you are not into this stuff I encourage you to skim right along to the next post and look at the pretty pictures.
Day 1) How to NOT use a Heidelberg
After a thorough training session on feeding paper and setting up the plates, we were pretty much ready to roll, but were having trouble getting a discernible impression on an A6 sized design. We pretty much maxed out the amount of impression the press could take, and when the press grabbed two sheets at once it caused the press to seize up in the closed position.
This phenomenon is something we experience with the C&Ps at BBH-- where if you are printing with too much surface area and are trying to get more than just a kiss of impression, you know you've gone too far if the platen closes and doesn't open again, and you have to force the flywheel back and ease up on the impression.
This is the image that gave us a hard time. It's difficult to get much more than a kiss impression with a solid image this size (4"x6.25") on our 10x15 C&P, and unfortunately it doesn't get much better on our 12x18. The lesson here is your chase size does not equal total printable area, if dealing with images that take up alot of surface area. I thought that a powerhouse like a Heidelberg would have a larger printable area but it seems that the problem is universal. I talked to the expert, Fritz Klinke of N.A. Graphics, who informed me that a 13x18 Heidelberg has about 4 times the impressional strength of a 10x15. I may go this route when looking for a new press, but may not be able to get something that big into my shop.
Most of the Heidelberg's mechanical guts are hidden, and when the press froze up on us, there was nothing on the outside we could tinker with that would free it up. The place we needed to get to free up the platen was guarded by a plate in the back of the press and the plate was held in by a number of bolts that refused to turn. We spent two hours trying to loosen the bolts using an inadequate array of tools in a variety of combinations before we decided to call it a night. The following morning Aaron was able to loosen the bolts using a breaker bar borrowed from the auto repair shop next door. As soon as he had the plate removed he was able to free up the platen. We agreed to retry the lesson after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Take 2) How to use a Heidelberg
Start with something small and easy!
So the second go round we spent about six hours in the H!L studio- we went through a single round of printing & scoring, and then finished up with some oiling and general maintenance.
At first the press can be pretty intimidating. When operating a C&P you pretty much have four tasks, putting the press in motion, throwing your trip/print lever, watching and adjusting your ink, and feeding and retrieving paper by hand.
The automatic feeder of a Heidelberg adds a complete new array of tasks that have to constantly be monitored, all of which are variable according to thickness of the paper you are using, and need fine tuning throughout the print run. The list of a pressman's duties while operating the press includes watching your feedtable height, controlling the speed at which that feed table raises, adjusting the angle at which the suction feeders hit, turning the suction feeders on or off, engaging and disengaging the clutch lever, adjusting speed, starting and stopping both the swift moving windmill arms and roller action in crucial positions, watching for misfeeds, and monitoring the quality of your prints. It's not the added functions that are intimidating as much as it is the speed of the press while you have to perform these functions, and you have to quickly rifle through a mental checklist before performing pretty much any task.
But the payoff is huge: Automatic roller cleanup, automatic inking, lightning quick & precise printing, adjustable roller bearers, lever controlled impression; on some models you can lock the roller movement at the top so there is no need to pull them in and out (or clean them, for that matter) when die cutting and scoring. The list of bells and whistles on this thing is pretty endless.
I've been mulling over in my mind for the last few years as to whether automating the letterpress process takes out the human (i.e. love) element but after racking up some hours on the Heidy, it's quite apparent that if anything the amount of care and human involvement is amplified. I'm really excited to take it to the next level. I have a long way to go with this press, but I think with a general understanding of all of its features, I'm pretty confident I'll be a whiz at this in no time.
As a closing note, while Aaron was out having a cigarette I played around with the Hunchback's press- and almost immediately realized why the pressman three of Hello!Lucky keep to their own presses. Who knew he was contagious?