I’ve been spending a lot of time lately trying to hone my bookbinding skills. It all started last summer when I was talking to my friend Tom (who likes to buy and sell antique documents) about trying to make prints somehow. I asked him if he happened to know where to get an antique bookbinding press (aka pinch press). I was thinking this might be a better option for printing than the jig I made for my wedding invitations using my woodworking vise. He said he saw them all the time. I told him I’d get back to him if I thought the idea would work.
I didn’t think about it again until about a week later when Tom suddenly presented me with a press he’d gotten for me for $100! I told him I’d have the money in a couple of days.
These presses start at around $400 in good condition, but they haven’t manufactured them in cast iron since before World War II. During the war, of course, they needed the iron to make cannons and battleships and the like, and afterward the manufacturing of most anything had changed quite a bit. This one was a bit rusty but Tom had hit the screw threads with some WD-40 so it was in sort-of working condition. In a worst-case scenario, I figured I could always sell it again.
Once properly purchased, I put it in my studio and forgot about it for a couple of months.
Then I attended an open house at the North Bennet Street School and found out about their workshops. The North Bennet Street School was the first vocational school in America teaching subjects like piano tuning, lock smithing, and jewelry making. They are the the top Boston-area institution for education in bookbinding. I had learned the basics of bookbinding in high school and saw an opportunity to improve my knowledge. Plus, I now had a pinch press waiting to be used!
After registering for a class, I pulled the press out onto the back porch and blew the dust and cobwebs off. I knew the abundance of rust on it would only get in the way, so I got out the appropriate tools.
After a few hours, I’d made some headway. Below is a shot of the bottom of the press. The lower half of the photo is what the underneath looked like when I started. The “4” and the “Z” were completely obscured by rust, but after working on it with the hand grinder I started to see bare metal.
I continued until my hands were tingling from holding the hand grinder.
Once I’d gotten the worst of the rust off, I masked off the screw with some newsprint and making tape. Then I applied a couple of coats of good RustOleum primer.
By this time the sun was starting to set, but I pressed on. I started on the bottom, spraying about three coats of black gloss enamel.
I finished at about seven in the evening after working most of the day.
It now occupies a proud spot in my studio.
I cut some plywood sheets and wrapped them in silicone release paper so as not to mar any work I put into the press.
I have taken 3 workshops so far at North Bennet Street and learned quite a lot. Maybe soon I will try using the press to make some prints, but in the meantime it has proven quite useful for making books.