Vandercook Universal III Repairs

Learning more about mechanics has been one of the surprising and wonderful aspects of working to get my printing press operation up and running. If I’m not actually able to practice printing, I’m at least learning how to repair and maintain the presses.

One day in May when I was pulling a print on the Vandercook, I heard the inking roller disengage and the rollers stopped turning. There was no loud or sudden noise, just the sound of something lightly scraping metal inside the press and the rollers were still. I turned the press off and opened up the back door where the motor is housed. The drive chain that runs to the inking cylinder was off the rails. But when I tried to put it back on, there was too much slack as you can see in this photo.


Upon further inspection, the entire motor which connects to the chain was hanging a little forward and not tight back which would have kept the chain tightly on the rails. Further investigation showed that the plate where the motor is mounted was cracked at two of the bolts. With the plate loose, the motor was hanging forward with its weight, making the chain fall off the rail.

So what caused this? Was it wear and tear over time on the plate, the bolts?

I read several posts online and reached out to Paul Moxon who led me to William Abernathy who provided me with several suggestions. I also reached out to Chad Johnson at the SF Center for the Book and Ted Salkin who helped me acquire the press. I also read online that sometimes people drop things down the press which can get stuck in the drive chain and cause damage. That wasn’t the case here. More questions seemed to come up as I went along trying to figure out why the plate cracked and how to fix it.


There is some question about whether or not the plate that cracked was the original Vandercook Universal III part or if it had been a replacement from previous owners. In any event, this has meant not being able to practice printing in several months. The pandemic has slowed down the process as well because I’m having to email photos back and forth and there are more limitations to my ability to drive over the to studios right now. Working with someone to make a replacement plate to hold up the motor is on the top priority list for now.

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