N – No Motor…No Treadle

So, almost all C&P presses came from the factory with a foot pedal, called a treadle, that when depressed, turns the flywheel and runs the press. Foot power produced much of our texts for ages. Then, at some point a motor was added…which greatly improved printing efficiency. Treadle or motor…these were the methods of running a platen press.

For those of you picturing me gently pressing a treadle to complete my print jobs…one problem…I have no treadle.

Now, I could try to find a used treadle or have one manufactured, but that still would solve the problem. At some point in the past, the main drive shaft of the press was replaced with a straight shaft instead of one with a ‘u’ in the middle. This ‘u’ is where the treadle attaches…without it…no treadle.

There should be a ‘U’ shape on the shaft in front of you.

Okay, so use a motor, right? Well, no. Admittedly, the press came with a motor and belt. After some minor electrical work (thank you father-in-law), the black, grease-encrusted motor actually works! Two problems…it’s fast—too fast—and I have children.

ancient, grease-encrusted motor

I’m sure I could get used to the speed…it’s just a matter of practice, but I can’t get the image of little fingers getting too close to spinning wheels and gears. With two little boys, it’s a recipe for injuries I’d rather not contemplate…so, no motor.

How, then, do I operate the press?

I spin the flywheel by hand.


It’s not the easiest thing in the world to do, but it’s not bad. It does allow for a lot of control…I kind of like that. The hardest part is feeding (usually a two-handed job). While my left hand spins the flywheel, my right feeds places the paper on the platen and takes is off after the impression and puts another into place.  Timing is everything.

There are printers out there, who, if they ever had the chance to read this, would groan. Consistent speed means consistent impression…treadle and motor allow far more consistency than turning the wheel by hand.

At this point, I’m happy to give up a little consistency for control and peace of mind.


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