Building the Freedom Press

Craft & Design

I am totally in awe of The Press, an amazing printing press creation by Oakland, CA, artist Shawn HibmaCronan. Made from steel, bamboo, oak, cork, and rope, Shawn built almost every aspect of The Press himself:

I cut the bamboo gears with a CNC router. A few of the steel parts — namely the counter weight and head arms, as well as the FREEDOM text — I waterjet cut from 3D SolidWorks files. (I like SolidWorks because it lets me run the gears and get the tolerances perfect.) The steel frame is made out of 3″ I-beam that I cut and welded together in my studio. I had to buy a bigger saw and a nice welder for it.
This build was great. Problem solving and finessing things into place for months = happiness. One of the toughest things was keeping all of the components aligned, greased, and square with all of the welding I was doing. Welding and heat makes steel move and do weird things. There are so many tight tolerances and chunky pieces of steel that had to be spot on. It made for lots of fun moments with a big mallet.

Nothing like a cute boy and a welder, eh, ladies? The Press was commissioned by Compass Books to celebrate the reopening of Terminal 2 in the San Francisco International Airport, which is where you can find it on display for the next 10 years (until 2021)! Read more on the making of and see extra photos after the jump.


The key elements for this piece were the size and the space that it owns. While it was very important that it be operated by a single person, it needed to be big enough to hold the massive wooden ring and gears. The 68″ ring gives the operator a great deal of leverage, which is then geared down three times for more torque. This high pressure is critical to making a clean, crisp print over such a large printing area.

How it functions:

Turning the big wood ring clockwise raises the head up to eye level with the operator, who then cleans and hand-inks the FREEDOM block. Just the right amount of ink is crucial. The paper is placed on the bed cradle. Then the wood ring is turned counter clockwise (pulling towards you). The ring turns a 1″ solid steel axle that runs through the frame to the far side. That turns the gears in opposing directions, slower and slower as the energy transfers through each gear. The last gear slowly winds of a spool of 1″ rope. The rope runs up through the press arms to the top pulley, then down to the counter weight. The weight is just heavy enough to offset the press head and the steel FREEDOM block. Pulling up the counterweight arm lowers the press head down on to the page.


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