This year I wanted to do something different for Xmas gifts. I hate just buying gifts to buy someone a gift. I want my gifts to be unique and hopefully liked. I decided that I was going to make my own gifts this year. And after watching this video, I decided that I was going to make stationery for people.

The first thing that caught my eye in that video is that the press the guy built is pretty simple. My goal was to build something using only materials I already had in my house. I didn’t succeed with this part. I ended up buying a 3′ piece of black pipe and some cork. But everything else in the press was found in my basement.

All the pictures that I took throughout the process are here.

The first thing that I knew I needed to do was to buy a plate with everyone’s names on it. Since I wasn’t sure how long this would take, I submit the order before I built the press. I ordered from Boxcar Press. They have a lot of helpful information on their website for how to submit your design and I didn’t have any problems with them. However, my design was pretty much a crapshoot as I didn’t know how big the text should be or what fonts might work well. I decided to get two different fonts for everyone, hoping that one of them would work. Then I got started on building the press. The type of plate I got was KF152. This was suggested somewhere on their website, so I went with it.

My first design was basically all wood with one 1/4″ steel rod. This didn’t work at all as the wood handle was too heavy. Design #1 was quickly dropped. My next design used some black pipe that I had laying around with the steel rod. This didn’t work either as the steel rod was too skinny and flexed. Design #3 used two pieces of 3/4″ black pipe connected with the pipe clamp. This rotated really well. Now I just needed to figure out how to hang a board on the handle so that I could push down with it to make the print.

My first attempts used bolts to sort of clamp two pieces of plywood to the handle. Here I was trying to duplicate the youtube video where his top piece rotated. I tried to use some plain steel hooks and loops to get the same effect. This sort of worked, but the prints didn’t seem to be offset much. After talking to a coworker, I increased the length of the handle by screwing another 2′ piece of black pipe to the one I already had. This should allow me to press down a lot harder, which I tried to do. Now I ended up breaking one of the pieces of black pipe and bending my hooks that were holding the top plate in place.

This is where I ended up buying a 3′ piece of black pipe to use as the handle. Then I also found some conduit clamps that I used to attach a top board to this new handle. As long as the two pieces of wood were parallel to each other when the handle came down, I was good. I ended up not needing to worry about it always pointing down. I then drilled two holes through both boards and put dowels in the top board. This would make sure that the top plate always came down in the same location.

The last step was to get some thin cork that I stapled to the top board. Once I had that installed, I set up some guides to hold the paper in place and made some prints. The press seemed to be working ok. Now it was just a matter of me putting the right amount of ink on the name and pulling down hard, but not too hard, on the handle. After about an hour or so, I was making some decent prints and knew that things would work. It was just going to take a little time for me to get good at it.

Here are some things I learned. You have to roll out the ink to have a very thin about on the brayer. Too much ink makes a mess and the only way to fix it is to take everything out and wash it. I bought water-based ink for block printing, which was a good choice as it cleaned up easily. The one drawback though is that it dried really quickly. I could get, at most, 10 prints at a time before the ink on my glass dried up. Fortunately, since everything cleaned up with water, it wasn’t too much of a chore to just clean it all off and start again. This gave me the advantage that I could change colors a lot. I also learned that I have no idea how to mix colors. Pretty much anything I tried turned into brown. So I just stuck with the red, green and purple that I bought. I also bought yellow, but you couldn’t see it on the paper. Lastly, the plates can be reused. After I was done printing with them, I’d just wash them and put the paper backing back on. I reused a few names about four times and could probably do some more with them.

I have to say that I was pretty pleased with how everything turned out. I did end up having to buy a second plate because the fonts I picked for a few of the names (Ted, Annie and Shadla) on the first plate just didn’t work. This wasn’t so bad. I missed a few people on the first plate because I thought I ran out of space. So I got to get them on the second plate. I’d also like to improve on the design so I could do some more printing. I’m not yet sure what I’d do, but I might come up with another good idea.