Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Kluge "Open" Press

Our newest press is a 10x15  "Open" Kluge Letterpress,  Attempting to find information on the "Open" variety of the Kluge line of platen job presses has proven quite difficult.  Canvasing printers on the various Letterpress web and listgroups proved just about as futile.  In the past I've heard many an old hand - at - the - board comment about this very unique press.  Oddly enough, when approached individually, these printers had to confess they no longer had theirs, and all admitted they regretted not keeping them.  The comment most heard was "wow, you found one??"

In other words, this press is very elusive.  And fairly rare.

So, I thought that I might do with my Open Kluge what I did with my Pearl OS Model 3: post a continuum of articles and photos dedicated to the Open Kluge, if no other reason than to provide at least something for the next fella that wants to find out any sort of definitive information about it.

First of all, my Kluge bears the serial number of MD 105649, which places it's date of manufacture at 1965.  In terms of Letterpress years, this press is just a baby.  In terms of the Kluge (Brandtjen & Kluge began life as the manufacture of platen press automatic feeders in 1919, introducing their first models M and N sheet fed automatic feed letterpresses in 1931), it's a mere adolescent.  By far, most Kluges out there seem to predominate in the 1940s and 1950s vintage.  

Probably the best way to describe the Open - is to talk a little about Kluge's primary "Automatic" platen press  first.

The "Automatic" Kluge

Kluge Platen Job Presses were manufactured to be automatic-feed presses, the ubiquitous compressed air feeder being a signature example of early 20th century 'robotics'.  Because Kluges were manufactured to be automatically / "robotically" fed, certain unique features were built into these presses.  Unlike their hand-fed C&P, Colt Armory or Golding cousins,  The automatics were equipped with a self registering side gauge that slid about half an inch out, so that when the feeder placed the paper on the tympan, it could slide in, pushing the paper a half inch to the right, making positive contact with the left sliding gauge and bottom gauges.  It was a clever system that yielded tremendous consistency.  Also, because the automatic Kluge is fed by a mechanical air-suction feeder, not by hand, the platen could close quickly.  This speeds up the impression rate, making for a very fast press, with a high IPH [ 4000 impressions per hour!] rate.  Of course, having an automatic feeder, the Kluges came equipped with an elevator, mounted where a feed-board would otherwise be mounted for any hand fed press.  These elevators are belt controlled, the elevators lifting the feed stack for the feeder, the receiving elevator lowering for the retrieved print.  The elevator mechanics are sequenced with the feeder, although from time to time I have had to manually lower and raise the elevators.  Even though the Automatic Kluge is . . . automatic, an operator must supervise the process, and from time to time intervene with the process.

There might come a time when the operator must hand feed the Kluge Automatic: that is done by opening up the feeder, which can be swung like a door to the right, exposing the elevators.  The press is slowed down to it's lowest speed, and if the operator is careful, the press can be hand fed, but since the Automatic is not geared or cammed for long dwell time (the time the platen is open so the operator can feed and draw, and still pull hands and fingers out before the platen closes), this can be a tenuous maneuver.  I've done it many times, but most of the time I would "double roll" the press, throwing the impression lever off for the feed, on for the impression, and off for the pull, which means the die gets two passes of the rollers. Once I get my cadence, then I can feed each impression without manipulating the throw-off lever.  To make up for the lack of a feed board, the elevators are cranked up as high as they will go.  All this to say, the Automatic Kluge is a clumsy hand feeder.  And a dangerous one at that.  You can see me hand feeding the 12x18 Kluge Automatic at Mama's Sauce here.

Probably the most reputable feature of the Automatic Kluge is it's ink distribution system.  At first glance, one might think it's really no different than any other rotating disk platen press.  And up front, it is basically the same.  What Kluge did was keep four form rollers on all their models (the M models correspond to 10x15, N corresponds to 12x18).  That alone makes for a superiour inking system, but added to these are two 'vibrator', or oscillating ink rollers, which fit atop each pair of form rollers (see photo of saddle, above).  The purpose of these oscillating 'vibrator' rollers is to spread out the ink directly upon the rollers themselves.  In action, the form rollers slide over the disk.  As they pick up ink, each roller pair transfers the ink to their respective vibrator rollers, which oscillate from side to side, further dispersing the ink over each roller that comes into contact with them.

The Automatic Kluge is a heavy, stout framed press with a very heavy platen that is designed to make linear contact with the type bed.  Unlike the Goldings or the Heidelberg platen presses, which have a platen that opens and shuts like a door, or "clam shell", via a 'rocker' upon a stationery type bed, the Kluge shares the same basic design concept as the Chandler and Price presses, where the platen rotates to meet the type bed.  The rear of the press whereupon is the type bed, is hinged at the bottom of the press, and is pulled toward the platen which is positioned to receive it.  The Kluge, being a heavier press, is capable of bringing  much more impression pressure to bear owing to its casting size. 

Mind!  No letterpress is designed with deep punching or debossing!  But since today's letterpress is almost defined by deep deboss, it is good to have a heavy machine.  But even with the Colts Armory presses or the heavy duty Kluge, deboss must be judiciously executed.  No casting is impervious.

There is more detail, but I think you have a pretty good picture of the standard Kluge Automatic. Heavy press, great inking, and fast.  The feeder, with the air valves alternately opening and closing, sound not unlike a locomotive.  Lots of levers and cams and gears going.  Vintage robotics. A veritable mechanical Smorgasbord!

The frame of the Kluge changed with the newer "D"  models, going from an open frame to an enclosed steel frame.  This is not just a sheet metal covering: the body you see in the above photo IS the frame, and is quite thick.  I did not mic the thickness, but it "eyeballs" at about half an inch.  This harkens to the old Laureate and Half Laureate Colt Armory presses, which were also heavy bodied, not open framed.  My suspicion is that Kluge saw this organization called "OSHA" on the horizon, and saw the handwriting on the wall: get those gears and cams and levers covered!  Hence, the latter-day Kluges came with fendered flywheel/ motor assemblies, solid-hubbed flywheels (no spokes), skirted bull gears, enclosed bodies, oil ports circled in red, warning labels, &c.

The Open Kluge

  There were, and still are, circumstances where an automatically fed press is not practical.  In cases like these, Brandtjen & Kluge provided a hand-fed version of their standard automatics.  I believe these "open" presses were not considered a standard line item, but were special order factory custom machines.  A number of features were required to change, to accommodate hand-feeding.  This is where information was hard to find.  I discovered from my press' prior owner,  the late John Moran, that Kluge did not, apparently, print an "Open" Kluge manual.  The "manual" supplied with my press by Kluge is the Automatic manual, and it is not really a service manual so much as an inventory list.  None of the printers I spoke or wrote to recall seeing a specific Open Kluge manual, neither have I found one in my research (which is ongoing, btw.)  I believe that if this is the case, the owner of the custom ordered "Open" simply used the Automatic manual as far as the press systems and process went, disregarded the part of the manual regarding the feeder, and went from there.  This is purely my speculation in the absence of documentation or other authorative information.

The systemic differences between the Open and the Automatic Kluges are really few, and obvious.  The first difference is the dwell of the platen.  It stays open about twice as long as it's automatic counterpart, at least as long as a standard NS or OS C&P.  The second difference is the absence of the sliding side gauge, which would be superfluous, really.  After all, when we make ready with a hand-feeder, we set our side gauge pins, right?.  The other obvious differences are, of course, the swivel and front feed boards.  There is also a bracket beneath the main feed board which holds a utility table for oil cans, solvents, &c. 

What is retained are the high rails which extend to the top of the ink disk, the ability to carry an ink fountain, the ink disk engage/ disengage lever, and that tremendous roller/ vibrator system.  The same positive-grip flywheel belting system (the flywheel is grooved to receive the drive belt, which sinks into the groove and becomes flush with the flat edge of the flywheel) and braking system is employed (see below).

The Flywheel is grooved to receive the drive belt.

The brake shoe makes contact with the inside edge of the flywheel.

 From what I can tell, the remainder of the press is the same as the Kluge Automatics.  Newer model Kluges have some design changes over the older Kluges, but these changes correspond to the Open Kluges as well.  Below are some features of the "new" Kluges of the 1960s, which differ from the '40s era Kluges I have known.  These are all photographed from my Open Kluge.

The photo above shows the ink disk cam lever, which rocks the lever you see at the end back and forth which alternately lifts the ink disk to make contact with the rollers - or allows it to rest against its bottom retainer, which causes the ink disk to lower, so the rollers do not contact the disk.  The adjustable ink disk is a standard feature on all Kluge Platen Job presses.

The newer Kluges went to Delrin cam rollers. One explanation was that it lessens wear, and also quiets the press considerably.  I can't argue: just cycling the press by hand shows this press to be virtually noise-less.  I might point out the oil port.  All ports and wicks are marked in red.  I might also point out that the main bearing (flywheel shaft), which my paperwork calls a "Dodge" bearing, is actually greased, as is the Bull Gear. This shaft incorporates pin bearings through the journals. The journals are oiled, as are the wicks (large oil ports containing a cotton-like fiber which serves as an oil regulator of a sort.  Instead of just globing oil in the large port, the wick absorbs the oil, which eventually drains through the wick, and into the port.  Clever, no?  This is a feature on all Kluges of any vintage I have had party with, and I suspect the Heidelbergs and Craftsman presses have a similarl feature.

This is an interesting bit of engineering. At least, to me.  I am used to the pawl and ratchet method of advancing, or rotating the ink disk. The Kluge, at least of the latter era, uses a cam and roller system, shown above.  The cam is attached to the roller harness, or bracket which swings up and down, causing the rollers to roll correspondingly. As the rollers move, the cam slides up and back against the cam roller, which toggles the lever arm it is connected to from one side to the other, left to right to left..  The end of the lever (which has the oil port marked in red) makes contact with the base of the ink disk.

You can see the thumbscrew adjustment screw to the right of the bracket.  I am not sure, but I believe this controls the advance, or degree of rotation of the disk.

It looks like the toggle lever is in contact with a rotating bracket, which rests upon a set screw, which, in turn,  seems to determine the drop of the ink disk.  The ink disk itself appears to rest inside this rotating bracket, more than likely held in place by a key and slot.

Here you can see the toggle moved from left to right, advancing the rotation about two degrees or so.  There is also a spring retainer which appears to provide counter pressure, so the disk cannot free-wheel. 

The motor has yet to be mounted.  I have to wait for the doctor to give me an "all clear" to lift anything over ten pounds.  I am still recovering from surgery.  But hey, I can still press the button of a camera!  Here, the motor is mounted on top of the assembly (1 hp), and is belted to the lower shaft which holds the pulley bearing.  The base contains a threaded journal which, when turned, slides the assembly back and forth. This, in turn, is connected to a long rod with a crank handle on the end, which protrudes under the feed-board.  This is the speed control.

A closer look at the pulley section of the drive box.  This unit is bolted to the front left foot of the press.  I will learn more about how this system actually changes speed when I bolt it up.

Here is another close up of the bottom bracket

As you can see, the motor rests on a hinge which raises and lowers via a set screw.

Well, folks, this is all I have for now on the Open Kluge.  I hope this provides at least a little information and insight into this rare but exceptional press.  And thanks to Mr. John Moran, who spent a life as an exceptional printer of note, well known among the printers of Michigan, for enabling me to "pass the torch", with this press.  I will endeavor to take as good care of it as you did, John.  And thanks for the kind words from Mary Amy, who might be sending a photo of John, so I can have it in the shop as a memorial.  I must say, Dave Seat mentioned to me that a member of the family commented that one of the last things John did in this life was finish up the inventory list of this press and associated apparatus for me.  Thanks also to Dave and Beth Seat for rigging and hauling this press down for me.  Wow, we have a great bunch of folks in the Letterpress community!

Good Providence in all your Letterpress Endeavors!



  1. Thanks for sharing so many detail photos. I really appreciate the motor pics. I am working towards a similar setup for my Craftsman press.

  2. I'm really glad that you feel better after the surgery, Gary. Keep printing! dit-dit

  3. Gary - that's a really beautiful machine. Wishing you many years of enjoyment with it.