Take Cover: making changes to the tympan

Press Genepy has been out for the first time this year, at friendly Forty Hall Farm where we were one of the ‘attractions’ at an open weekend. It was my chance to road test an improvement we had made to the press.

We’d learnt from the experienced printers of the British Printing Society that our impression was way too soft. If we wanted to print books (and printing a booklet is my goal this coming year) then we had to tackle the emboss problem we had.
The paper to be printed in the press is held within the hinged fold up mechanism called the tympan. The traditional covering is parchment, but that is hard to come by in the size needed, and very expensive. A book I have that gives advice about the iron handpress* , says that kraft paper can be used instead, so that’s how I rolled for the past 6 years. It was cheap, but tore frequently and had to be replaced several times a year. So I decided to try canvas instead.

The old paper cover being used as a pattern

The old paper cover being used as a pattern

The old paper cover was removed to use as a pattern.

The new cover cut out and ready to go on

The new cover cut out and ready to go on

The flax canvas was cut out.

Wheat paste

Wheat Paste

Then I prepared some wheat paste. The first lot was hopeless – like trying to glue with custard. But the second batch was OK.

Stretching the canvas over the tympan, we pasted the linen and the wood, then stitched it in place with a big running stitch. Then the other side, then the short sides.

Then we did the same for the inner tympan and put new, tougher blankets inside.

Then we left it to dry…about a day.

The frisket remained covered with paper, since its function is as a mask.

For the trip to Forty Hall, I revived a work that I’d done previously – the old song “The Owl”. I’d also changed the forme a little since I’d cleaned up the white spaces on the block and also put in some “long s” to be truer to the 17th century. Here’s a comparison of the 1st impression (done with the old tympan) and the 2nd impression (done this weekend with the new arrangement). These two examples are the best of the bunch in both cases, but what we were happiest with was, that the number of good prints we pulled was so much higher. So yes! Success!

The Owl - Before

The Owl – Before

After the improvements

After the improvements










I did do a test on a tiny picture frame with a sample sheet of parchment. No doubt that this way is the best. The parchment was put on wet and proved flexible, surprisingly strong and dried as drum-tight as a tympan should be. However, I am not quite ready for that investment. I know I have a good alternative with the canvas now, so I can move on with other improvements and return to the parchment in the future.
*”Printing on the Iron Handpress” by Richard-Gabriel Rummonds. A really excellent book but what goes for iron, it seems, doesn’t necessarily go for wood.

3 thoughts on “Take Cover: making changes to the tympan

  1. Now that is very useful!! As you said the original material is “like gold dust” expensive and rare. By canvas what do you mean? As in tent, painters canvas?? Regards Nicholas Cleeve Presss

    • I used flax or linen canvas from Russell and Chapple in Store Street WC1. They specialise in artists canvas, it is sold on huge rolls. The one I chose was about ¬£35 – not too bad.

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