Anatomy of a Travelling Press

Common Press of 17th Century

This illustration of the common press appears in Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises.

I mentioned before in this blog that Press Genepy is built to the plans of the Franklin Press, but that the wooden parts were modified by Paddy Murfitt so that it could be partly disassembled for travelling. Here are some pictures of how the components look.

Main part

The skeleton of the wooden press before the components are attached.

1. The core of the press is this chair like structure, consisting of the head, feet, cheeks, hind posts, summer(above) and winter(below). All the other parts fasten on to this base. The winter lower down the body has a dovetail joint which means it can come out as well, although in practice we have left it in place.

Carriage and ribs

The carriage showing the rounce and girths

2. The ribs and carriage. The rounce is attached underneath; when the leather ‘girths’ are attached to the press, and the handle is turned, the stone in its coffin is pulled in and out.

Tympan and frisket

The tympan and frisket here are closed. When open, the frisket leans on the gallows

3. The stone, coffin, tympan and frisket. The tympan and frisket also detach by means of wing nuts. This part is the heaviest after the main body. Underneath the coffin are metal pieces to assist the ribs on the carriage side, they are short strips.


The clamp is an un-historic compromise. It’s lined with leather to protect the wood.

4. The clamp which secures the carriage to the hind post, thus avoiding constant re-nailing.

Spindle hose and platen

The heart of the press.

5. The spindle, garter, hose and platen. This was the hardest part to make and is the hardest part to get into place. In the summer is the ‘female’ counterpart of the spindle, and it’s necessary for one person to assist in holding the spindle & platen, whilst the other gets it connected to its housing.


Wrought by a blacksmith, a very tactile bit of iron

6. The handle attaches to the spindle once it is ‘home’, and you can test for correct height. Either your forme or a plain type high block should be placed on the stone to test this.


Till pieces at rest – in use, they fit around the spindle and hose

7.Once it’s looking good for height, the two parts of the till slide into place and are secured by the till blocks, to stop the garter and hose swinging about.

Once these steps are followed, more or less, you should be ready to go to the next stage, taking a proof, cutting the frisket to make a mask. A minimum of an hour I think is what it takes to set up.

2 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Travelling Press

  1. Wonderful photos and descriptions. It’s clear that presentation of your Common Press and limited edition printing are a labor of love.

    I notice you include a great deal of art in your prints. Franklin used his presses primarily for type/text as that was his largest market for government documents and his own Gazette and Almanacs. Your press seems very able for wood cut prints and the like. I’m interested in pursuing both.

    Any comments on your selection of items to print?

    • My interest is in ballads and ephemera, so woodcut illustrations are a big part of that. Id like to try my hand at a booklet, but I need more type and the quality of my printing has to improve!

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