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Mr Stavros M. is a diligent amateur bookbinder and a frequent visitor of my studio. Apart from that however he’s also a keen searcher of anything related to bookbinding and always comes up with interesting findings! One of those was quite remarkable, a unique press he discovered at an antiquarian shop downtown…
Update; Jeff Peachey notified that this is a woodworker’s press called “miter jack“. For once more it is very interesting to see how the same tools and equipment can serve different crafts. The design is in all aspects ideal for spine work to the very last detail.
The press has one cheek fixed in place and the second free to move on two rails. The single screw makes clamping and releasing books much faster than the double screw system while at the same time reducing the number of parts/points that undergo friction. In contrast with standard table finishing presses this leaves the cheeks practically unharmed from the wear brought by use, the screw is the only component that has some amount of wear and jerks slightly if left to rotate freely.
The cheeks themselves are also noteworthy. Some time ago I had to do a great deal of decoration for a commission and faced back, neck and arm pains. By chance I met a physiotherapist soon after and described to her what I do and the symptoms that usually follow. She advised me to find a way to have the bookspine always at an angle. While you can do that at some extent with the usual finishing press part of the spine is not accessible between the cheeks or the book is not held firmly since one has to clamp small part of it to have the spine all at hand and also at a big angle. Well, the cheeks of the press are cut at an angle thus allowing good clamping with the bookspine fully exposed and, most important, being able to work in a more upright posture. Excellent.
The press’s feet are equally noteworthy; They too are cut at an angle in the back, allowing the tilting of the press in an instant which brings the book in horizontal position without having to remove and reposition it. What more can a finisher ask for?I gave the press to an excellent carpenter and woodworker, Antonis, for some minor restoration. He is the person making the handles for my tools- if it’s wood related Antonis is the man for the job! He took the press apart and replaced some cracked small parts that were not visible, as well as the wooden end the screw pressed against. The cheek faces were straightened, they curved in slightly, most likely from the clamping of books through the press’s long use. The rails were smoothed and oiled. Although we don’t know the press’s age it’s apparent it is quite old so Antonis decided against removing the patina.
I noticed that the press tilted too easily, so the previous binder must have either worked with his bench against a wall and pulling the press when he desired to alter its angle, or had some wood block tucked under to prevent it from constantly tilting. I asked for Antonis to think of some form of convertible supports that would also prevent the press from tilting but could be easily pulled if Ι wanted to move the spine to a horizontal position. He came up with this clever design based on hinges and magnets, you can see its function at the photo sequence. An interesting note- Antonis used the same kind of wood for the added/replaced parts. Time has its (charming) way with materials… Last but not least I did a small alteration; The screw pushed the moving cheek but didn’t pull it when rotated for release. The face of the screw end, which has certain marks on it, and the piece of wooden protrusion it pushed against allow me to assume that there was some kind of metallic component/s in place that made the cheek move in accord with the screw, much like in backing presses. I constructed and installed some brass components to make this possible again.
Now the press is finally ready to serve the craft for another lifetime, till its next owner…
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