Printmaking is considered one of the more democratic methods of making art, thanks to the ease of making multiples. Many types of printmaking can be done using basic household items, but etching has remained an outlier because you really need an etching press to do it, and etching presses are very expensive.
In this Instructable, I show you how to make an inexpensive etching press using a sheet of plywood and a pasta machine.
Step 1: Materials and Tools
1 x pasta machine
1 x 6.5mm sheet of plywood
1 x piece of perspex
PVA or wood glue
Contact adhesive for sticking metal to wood
4 x L brackets
Saw (I used a circular saw for speed and ease, but you could also use a hand saw)
Glue brush or spreader
Paintbrush or roller
Step 2: Cut List and Basic Measurements
This build uses an additive method of construction, so I started by cutting my sheet of 6.5mm plywood down to size using a circular saw.
The frame is made from two side panels with two full length shelves and some shorter shelves around the pasta machine.
Each side is made from two pieces of the plywood glued together, with smaller pieces added to the inside to make some sturdy feet and panels to hold the shelves. I haven't included specific measurements, as you can make this any size you like and customise it to your particular pasta machine, but mine measures 40cm high, 30cm wide and 50cm deep. My outermost panels measure 40x50cm, and I used that as a starting point to generate the rest of the measurements.
The sides for the cover are made from two pieces of plywood glued together, and the top is made from one piece of plywood glued to a piece of perspex (acrylic sheeting).
Step 3: Preparing the Pasta Machine
Your pasta machine will need a couple of small modifications before you mount it in the plywood frame.
You can technically print an etching or drypoint with the machine as is, but, as shown in the first picture, you would need to insert the plate and paper vertically, which gets awkward and uncomfortable, and also restricts the length of the print you can make. It's also very difficult to print off etched metal plates this way, as you can't bend them to take them out from under the press.
To make the pasta machine function like a normal etching press, it will need to be mounted on its side, so you'll need to remove the base with a screwdriver.
Step 4: Preparing the Press Sides, Shelves and Feet
You will need to glue and clamp your pieces of plywood together to make the component parts of the press frame. Use plenty of PVA/wood glue to do this, and use clamps to hold the pieces together as they dry. If you don't use clamps, your plywood will warp and not stick together well. I clamped several shelves in a stack to dry, so used waxed paper to stop the glue sticking multiple pieces together.
Each press side is made from two large sheets of plywood (in my case, 40x50cm) glued together, with some extra pieces glued on top which are shown in the next step.
My press includes two full length shelves (in my case, 30x50cm) which are made by gluing two sheets of plywood together. I also made two small shelves from my leftover plywood to sit either side of the pasta machine once mounted.
My press feet were made by gluing three narrow strips of plywood together. These are 50cm long, running the length of the press.
Step 5: Preparing the Shelf Insets
Place your feet strips flush with the base of each shelf side, then use a shelf to measure out where you will need to glue the insets that they will slot into. Glue everything except the feet, then clamp together to dry. When dry, you can glue on the feet (doing this last makes it a little easier to clamp and weight the shelf inserts evenly).
Varnish all your pieces now, as it's easier to do this before everything is assembled.
Step 6: Working Out the Pasta Machine Placement
Dry fit your sides and shelves together so that you can figure out how you will mount the pasta machine and where you will need to drill the hole for the handle, then take everything apart again.
Drill a hole large enough for your pasta machine handle to pass through in the appropriate side panel. I drilled a pilot hole with a regular small drill bit, then used a spade bit to make it larger. To avoid tear out, I drilled through half way on one side, then flipped the panel and finished drilling from the other side.
To mount the press, I traced the outline of my machine in position, then placed some screws for the pasta machine to rest on.
Step 7: Assembling the Press Frame and Pasta Machine
Mounting the shelves:
Squeeze a line of glue into the recesses where the shelves will sit, then put the shelves in place, applying a little pressure for a few minutes to help with initial adhesion.
Mounting the pasta machine:
Apply contact adhesive designed for sticking metal to wood liberally to the screws you will be mounting the pasta machine on top of, and also to the contact areas on the machine itself. Allow these to air dry for around 10 minutes (or according to the instructions on your glue), then mount the pasta machine in place on the screws. I glued a scrap of plywood under the other side of the press to support it from that direction, then squeezed out more adhesive around all the contact points between the machine and frame for good measure before leaving it to dry.
Step 8: Making the Lid / Inking Bench
The cover for the pasta machine press doubles as an inking bench when the press is in use.
Preparing the top:
The top of the lid is made from one piece of plywood, painted white with acrylic paint and covered with a matching sized piece of perspex. The white paint makes it easier to see and mix colours when you're inking up. The perspex can be cut to size at a framing shop, but I cut a piece I already had to size by scoring it on both sides with a blunt scalpel blade, clamping it to my table, then snapping off the short edge. My plastic didn't snap cleanly, so I filed back the sharp edges then made them smooth and safe by sanding back with some very fine sandpaper.
Attaching the sides:
Each side of the lid is made from two pieces of plywood glued together. Using a butt joint, I glued the sides to the top, then added some screws from the top (countersunk and filled with white filler). Inside the lid, I glued four L brackets with contact adhesive then added some screws through the brackets into the sides. I couldn't screw into the top of the lid as it the plywood wasn't thick enough, and if I'd had more plywood, I would have added an extra layer to the top for stability. As is, it works fine but is a little shaky.
Attaching the perspex:
When the top and side pieces of plywood are ready, glue the perspex to the outer top using a few drops of contact adhesive in each corner.
Step 9: Printing on the Press!
To print, remove the lid and place it beside the press.
Ink up on the lid, then run your plates and dampened paper through the press between a sheet of felt and newsprint for packing. You can adjust the width of the rollers on the pasta machine as necessary using the knob on the side. While printing, I use the shelves to hold my dampened paper (I spray it with water in advance then stack it between blotting paper in a plastic ziplock bag: using this method, I use a very small amount of water and only blot as necessary), and when not printing, the shelves can hold all your ink, tarlatan, scrapers, felts, and the handle for the machine.