Beefchicken Industries

Basic Mechanics for Letterpress: Moving Machinery


Letterpress equipment is very heavy, not just heavy. What is the difference? A sack of concrete is heavy. A hide-a-bed is heavy. A printing press is very heavy. Things in that are very heavy can't be safely moved without the help of equipment.

There are some basic truths about moving very heavy things that must be accepted: If you don't have a truck, expect to beg, borrow or rent one. If you don't have a trailer, expect to beg, borrow or rent one. There are no substitutes for proper chains, straps, come-alongs and jacks. Chains, straps, come-alongs and jacks are expensive. Be prepared to pay for them. You will need help.

Doing things safely costs money. It's not terribly expensive, but for your first machine move, expect to spend at least $300 on moving supplies. When you're moving a machine on a budget, this can really throw off your budget. The silver lining to this cloud is that you can re-use these supplies every time you add another machine to your collection. Don't try to work around the need for a fork lift or crane. If there isn't a machine there to put the machine on the trailer for you, plan on either spending at least 4 hours doing it the hard way, or plan on paying someone with a machine to do the hard work for you.

Site Survey

You will need to have a good understanding of the machine where it sits. If you're buying something from afar, a co-operative seller can make a huge difference. If the seller isn't cooperative, find someone that can go check things out for you. You will need a good understanding of where the machine is situated before you can commit to picking it up. I've found myself under-prepared for unexpected conditions and having to back out of a sale. It's not fun.

The ideal situation would be to find a machine that is already through-bolted to a sturdy skid, on the ground floor of a building with a forklift at the ready. Regrettably, most machines are not stored in these ideal conditions. Most machines will be found in basements, or on the second floor of buildings without an elevator, or at the top of an ice covered dirt road, or in a shed surrounded by a moat of mud. They will be sitting flat on the floor with not enough headroom to get skids underneath. The more you know before hand, the more you can come prepared.



Forklifts are designed to work on flat ground. You can get away with driving a loaded forklift up a hill, or backing it down one, but I wouldn't take one for a spin on your front lawn. Any kind of soil is like a platter of peanut butter to a heavy forklift. Poorly done asphalt acts like a thin crust on this peanut butter. A loaded forklift will find the week spots in your landscape and driveway. If your plans include the need to traverse soft ground, you'll need to look into renting a telehandler. This machine is best (yet poorly) described as an off-road duty forklift on a stick. They are expensive to rent, but can present the only solution to tricky machine moving problems.

Pallet Jacks

I always extoll the virtues of the pallet jack. On flat, smooth concrete floors, they are miracle machines. They are very handy as portable machine jacks, and they're helpful when repositioning machines on trailers, but only when the trailer is blocked up at the front and back, and level. Bubble level level. Do not attempt to ever use a loaded pallet jack on a slope, it will find a way to run you ove, or to dispense your load at a hight velocity at the bottom of the slope. Pallet jacks come in two widths, 27 inches and 21 inches. The 27 inch units are more common, but sometimes they're too wide to fit under a machine, or between skids. Keep this in mind.


The most basic tenet of moving very heavy things is that a car, or car-like vehicle, isn't going to cut it. You're not going to be able to get the thing in there in the first place, and the suspension and tires aren't going to hold out for very long if you do. You're going to need a truck, but trucks have a problem: the box is primarily there for decoration. So that means that you will need a trailer.


Trucks that are rated for towing actual loads are of the 3/4 ton and 1 ton variety: the Ford F250/F350 or GMC/Chevy/Ram 2500/3500. While trailer hitches are available on all kinds of vehicles, they are only there for decoration, or dragging around tiny U-Haul trailers full of dust or dried lawn clippings. When towing a big trailer, a big truck is needed. Because they're really good at it, a truck with a diesel engine is preferred. They have much better fuel economy (especially true when pulling a big trailer), much better performance in hilly country, they smell fantastic, and have a beautiful sound.

The other benefit to big trucks is that they simplify matters of figuring out maximum loads. Most of them are well equipped to haul the biggest ball-hitch equipped trailers, and come equipped from the factory with a Class III hitch. This overabundance of towing capacity is a fairly recent innovation, so your proverbial mileage might vary.

If you don't have a Big Truck™, don't fret. It's my experience that it's often cheaper to rent a nice crew cab diesel pick up truck than it is to rent a mid-size SUV, especially if you can rent it when demand is low. Make sure that the rental company permits towing (Enterprise, for example, does not) and make sure that the truck has a brake controller. Most modern trucks come with them straight out of the factory. Also, if you're a Canadian like me, make sure to ask about international rates, as there is typically a different rate structure if you're leaving the country with the truck.


From my experience, the second best trailer is a flat deck car hauler style trailer. The best trailer is a mythical beast with a deck that drops down to ground level, but there appears to be maybe only two or three places in North America that rent them. Car hauler trailers come in two varieties: lowboy and highboy. Lowboy trailers have the deck placed between the wheels, allowing it to to be closer to the ground. Highboy trailers have a wider deck that clears the top of the wheels.

Highboy trailers are convenient because they can be accessed with a fork lift on all sides. Forklift access on lowboy trailers is limited by the wheel fenders that are present on either side of the trailer. Ideally when you load the trailer, you want the majority of the weight over the axles, so some shifting is needed after the forklift work is done with the lowboy trailer. Lowboy trailers are also easier to unload manually using ramps and a come-a-long, given that the load is usually 10 or more inches closer to the ground than on a highboy trailer. The best variety of lowboy trailer is the beaver tail trailer, which has a downward kink in the deck near the back of the trailer. For reasons that are difficult to describe, this little kink takes a lot of the stress out of dragging a load off of a trailer by hand.

I wouldn't recommend using covered cargo hauler style trailers for moving letterpress machinery. The lack of access from the sides, and presence of a very weak ramp at the back make them very difficult to load. In addition, there isn't much inside that you can chain or strap machinery down to. They really aren't made for moving heavy equipment.

Truck and Trailer Combinations

so complicated

Hitch Weight Ratings Brakes & Brake Controllers

From my experiences, these things are invaluable:

  • Pallet jack
  • Big pry bars
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