Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Starting the year off : a little press maintenance

Well hello! Happy New Year, Australia Day and all the rest! I’ve missed you, my dear friends in the blog-o-sphere, but resisted the urge to jump back online early in order to give myself a really good break from “commitments”.

It’s been a long, hot summer and there’s still a month to go officially, but we all know that the weather pays the calendar no attention, and it will be hot here for a few months more. The humidity really saps my energy and I am forced to take a break from ceramics during the summer months, but even my “inside” studio has been pretty hot lately (it faces west, a no-no in Queensland, and has to rely on what little air-conditioning can be sucked in from the living room.) By about 3.00pm the sun starts baking me through the window and I have to wind up for the day. Even sun-loving Mia opts for the shadier end of the window sill.

Of course I haven’t taken a break from doing art for all this time (I would become pretty unbearable after a couple of weeks if I did) and I have made some progress with the Book/Art/Object project. I am getting close to having a completed artists proof, just a few more pages to finalize.

I wanted to include at least one page of embossed imagery, which I see as an effective way to communicate “trace”, absence or the remnants of what is no longer. This was the perfect motivator to do some work on my new press, preparing the roller so that the rust didn’t transfer to the blanket.

Etching Press Maintenance
I did a bit of “googling” and found quite a bit out there, including one very interesting pointer. Apparently most rollers have a sort of “thread” which assists the roller to “grab” the blanket. It’s important in cleaning the roller, not to remove the thread or you can have trouble with the blankets slipping. So this means that sandpaper is not the recommended method for removing all-over rust. Based on my reading, I came up with the following approach. It’s pretty gentle, but I thought it best not to over-do it straight up.

  1. I started with a soft wire brush. It’s important not to brush horizontally. Hold the brush in place and spin the roller by hand.
  2. Once most of the surface rust was removed, I splashed some white vinegar on a rag and held it in place, spinning the roller again. There is also some stuff called “Naval Jelly” used for removing rust and which you can get from the hardware. I might try that in the future.
  3. A second go with the wire brush, and while the rust marks can still be seen on the roller, nothing was coming off easily.
  4. I took a dampened rag (water only this time) and made sure to wipe over the roller thoroughly to remove any traces of vinegar (which is a mild acid).
  5. Finally I used a clean, soft rag and gave the roller a good dry.
That was enough to be able to print without any rust coming off onto the blanket, so I left it at that. The frame and wheel still have rust, and this can be attacked with sandpaper or steel wool. Once that is done, I can’t really see why a rust-resistant paint couldn’t be used on the frame, although it’s not recommended to put anything on the roller as it will more than likely interfere with its action.

Living in such a humid climate, I expect I’ll have to do some rust removal on a fairly regular basis. You also need to oil the bearings and grease the pressure screws, maybe about once a month, but really I’m amazed at how simple it all is.

After all that was done, I was ready to test out my first plate. You can see how it turned out below.