Sunday, April 29, 2012

Adventures in typewriter restoration

Do you know what typewriter this is? 

Racer? No, it's a Smith-Corona Skyriter, 2Y series. It's was my last few weekend's restoration, or perhaps more accurately, revival project.

I was toying around with my two different Skyriter models (in the dueling skyriters blog) and thought it necessary to get the third and earliest Skyriter model, the 2Y, to complete the comparison. So out of curiosity,  I looked on Craigslist and found one available. I quickly contacted the seller, made an offer and he accepted. The only catch was he was 60 miles away. I decided it was not a problem and headed over that evening after waiting out Los Angeles rush hour traffic. Now is that an obsession or what?

My pimped out Skyriter
Of course, I didn't really think about it too clearly and after I got there, realized I also had to get back. Two hours and 120 miles. It didn't seem as good of an idea anymore, but like a junkie's addiction, I didn't see that far ahead. 

I found the address and the man greeted me at his driveway after a few lost phone calls. He had the typewriter out ready for me. I took a look. It was in bad shape but I knew it would be. In the ad, it said it needed TLC, but it also said it worked but it didn't. Not really. A few letters I struck didn't reach the platen. I already knew from my first glance the handle was broken and three rubber feet were missing. Did it really matter if it worked or not at this point? 120 miles, empty handed? I think not. I paid the man and got going. There was no point staying or haggling. I knew in the back of my mind when I contacted the seller that this could be a parts machine. I found myself a nearby In and Out Burger and had myself a late dinner before jumping back on the highway. By this point, it was late late in the evening. I would make it back home before midnight.

I should've went straight to bed when I got home, but of course, I didn't. I had to check out the machine more closely. It was one dirty grimy machine. In fact, when I first put it in the car it stank like smoke. I had to stop a few blocks later and remove it from the backseat and put it in the trunk. It was by far the grimiest machine I ever brought home. Oil and grease plastered everything. I never understood why anyone would want their typewriter this way. The internals seemed like they were soaked or sprayed entirely with oil. The machine seemed like it was dripping, but it wasn't because the oil and grease had frozen mid-drip and caked up, forming dropping-like crude all over the bottom and structural skeleton. I struck a few more keys and discovered it was only the left side that didn't strike the platen. It was being obstructed by a metallic arm of some sort. Luckily, I traced the problem to an unhooked spring behind the type bars which pulled this arm back away. It was an easy fix without taking anything apart.

So three missing rubber feet, a few dents in the case, a broken handle and a major cleaning. Not bad I thought. I could work with that I guess since I had gained a little confidence with semi-repairing my Underwood. With some experience with my two Skyriters before and a working guide, I easily unscrewed the two screws to take it apart. Everything was fine still until I pulled out the internal skeleton. The felt lying at the bottom was disgusting! Half a century of grease and oil and who knows what else. It was still moist and held a noisome odor. I had to put the machine down and called it a night. Tomorrow, I decided, I would need to give it a major soap bath.

I didn't get to it the next day, and a few days later, I gave it the promised soap bath.  It had worked well when I gave it to the Underwood Golden Touch. Cleaned it right up. But it the mean time, my mind was wondering what I could do with the felt. I knew it had to go. During one of my walks, I spotted a Alfa Romeo convertible parked street-side in my neighborhood. I had to take it's picture, it was too pretty. Forest green with an off-center yellow racing stripe!

As I was photographing it, I saw the yellow fan behind the grill and then it came to me. Why not custom paint the Skyriter like this car. A yellow felt underneath would pop out the green keyboard. That became the plan.

After the soap bath with some rigid scrubbing all around, I let it dry overnight. When I came back the next morning, to my horror, all the type bars were stuck frozen. I forced the bars forward and realized it had all rusted over. I guess they call it flash rust. I didn't notice any rust in prior inspection, but now there were spots all around. Maybe I shouldn't have given such an old machine a soap bath. Now I need to use the bath sparingly and with more prudence. I went to the hardware store and bought rust remover. I brushed it on and rinsed according to instructions. Some of the rust went away but now I was getting sticky keys on more than a handful of type bars. I thought I ruined this one. I didn't really test this machine with paper and ink so I never knew if it worked properly, but one thing I did not want, was to ruin a working machine.

I was a little upset with myself but I tried my best to resuscitate it. I rinsed off the rust removal and waited another day. Rust came back. I repeated. I believed I had to wait a full day to let all the hidden moisture evaporate. So days started passing. At this time, I started gathering material for the cosmetic surgery. I made my first ever trip to Michael's. I had no idea craft stores could be so big. I collected the yellow felt and two cans of spray paint. I knew the yellow felt would be impractical for a typewriter, but I had to see how it would look. I wanted to replicate the yellow fan behind the grill detail of the convertible. 

I began disassembling parts that would need to be painted. I choice to use the stencil method of spray painting so I had to strategy what colors needed to be applied first and masked. While doing this, I realized I was missing the upper back panel which was also it's name plate - the green plate that says "Skyriter." A which point I decided why not try to stencil letters in also. I came up with the simpler "racer" to test. I was also always a big fan of Le Mans racing stripes and I preferred the double thin off centered ones so I changed that. 

As I banged out the dents in the case and sanded down chipped areas and the space bar, it occurred to me that I should probably wear a mask. Given the dates of these machines, they probably used lead paint. I didn't have one and didn't want to stop, so I didn't. 

Finally, the rust no longer appeared and I no longer wanted to apply and rinse for fear of triggering more of it. I gave it a little oil to the type bars and it seemed to help. So I gave it some more. More strikers didn't stick. I read online this is one thing you shouldn't do, but what do you do when it's the only thing working? I let it sit, hoping some of the oil would evaporate, but it didn't. I could see the oil turn brown in time, dissolving, I assume, the rust inside. I kept wiping off  what I could, hoping I'd get all the excess, but days passed before I finally gave up. It seems like this machine was made or meant to be dripping. At least now I've contained it to one place. The typewriter was back typing and ultimately, that's what I want. I do fear that one day it will conk out on me in the future due to this application, but for now, hooray for the sweating type bars. 

Spray painting proved harder than I thought. The half-size yellow can was causing me all sorts of problems. Crinkle paint didn't cooperate well either. I didn't have as much a problem with the regular size green can though. I suspect the smaller can had less pressure or throw to the spray so I couldn't cover as much area as I would like. If I sprayed too close or if there was a recess, paint would gather in little pools, creating uneven patches or losing the crinkle altogether. I didn't have a brush handy to try to even it (but I would later discover it wouldn't have worked anyhow). On certain patches I would try recreating the crinkle, but that just made things worse. I had never used spray paint before and quickly discovered it did not work like oil or acrylic artist or house paints. That's my biggest complaint of the paint job, it's uneven and patchy. If I had my chance to do over, I'd hand paint the stripes over rather than have it sprayed as an under-paint.

Of this process, the most rewarding part was finding rubber feet substitutes. I made a couple trips to the hardware store and Home Depot and discovered grommets and bushings. I had no idea they even existed before I visited this section. I bought a few sizes and they worked out. The grommets were perfect from the inside, but they worked more like protecters because they were a millimeter or so thin. I eventually chose to use the bushings because they were more like feet. However, there was about a millimeter gap as you'll see in the photo. I chose to use a rubber washer in between to fill the gap and stop the wobbliness without it. I painted it yellow for kicks.

When I put the whole thing back together I discovered the bunny ear paper holder was bent out of shape, probably from sitting in it's case for so long without the upper panel. That was an easy re-bend.

Overall, I liked the concept and effort, but I think I could've done a better paint job. Maybe stripping all the crinkle away to a smooth surface would've helped. I still need to do some touch-up and clean ups. The space bar and ruler I left unpainted for now. The Smith-Corona logo needs a redo (not pictured). I need to sand away more rust on certain areas.  I still need to figure out something for the handle. And mechanically there are still some issues with it. Alignment is not great, caps aren't imprinting clearly and it likely needs a new platen. So there's still plenty of work to do, but I'll let it stand as it for a bit. I need the break.
The Skyriter Racer welcomed into Typebarhead family
This is how she types.
On the flip side, this project has kept me occupied for a few weeks and lessened my typewriter hunting and ebay trolling. The addiction is taking on new forms!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Typewriter Review : Dueling Skyriters

HipstaPrint by soho/prince
I decided to have a shoot out, or type off, between two different models of the Smith Corona Skywriter. On the right corner, we have a grey skywriter 4Y series. On the left corner, we have a tan skywriter 3Y series. I think both machines were manufactured in the 60s by their serial numbers, but the 3Y is from the 1950s design.

HipstaPrint by soho/prince
The 3Y won hands down. It invited me to type more, and I like that quality in a typer. I wouldn't have stopped if I hadn't reached the end of the paper.  I can't wait to actually write a few pages on this at a later date. And I did find myself a 2Y, but it was a fixer-upper and it's proven harder than I imagined. I'll post more on that as I figure it out!
HipstaPrint by soho/prince

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Typewriter Review: Royal Quiet de Luxe x110

IMG_0214.JPG by soho/prince
Meet Rusty, a Royal Quiet de Luxe
Since I mentioned Rusty yesterday, I thought I'd introduce him to the Typoshpere. If the Consul 232 was my Garbo, then this is my Bogart, rough and tough. I can't really explain what happened at the estate sale. There were around 200 machines filled in four rooms, most all had fresh ribbons and paper in them from people testing it all weekend. I bounced around all the rooms looking for the perfect typer, but wherever I went, I saw this guy being moved from room to room, table to table, table to floor, corner to corner. No one wanted it and it kept getting shuffled from one place to another as things were being sold in the room. I finally went to it when I found it on the floor after the desk it was on was sold and carried off. It was like that stray dog hiding in a corner at a rescue. I lifted it up on to the table and examined it. The ribbon was missing and the vibrators were rusty. I turned it over and there were some rust spots but nothing that looked like destruction. I tapped all the keys and it seemed to work. Then I decided to find a ribbon and test it out. It typed. There wasn't much time left in the sale so I decided to buy it even though it had no case. I thought the worse case scenario, I could put it on my bookshelf as an ornament. But when I got home I actually really enjoyed typing on it. I could live with the extra help it needed to feed the paper. Of all my typewriters, I have the most bond with this one. Maybe because it sits in my room without a case so I see it everyday. The initials J.D.N. (or J.O.N. ) is carved into the space bar. And there is a Walker's Office Supplies label underneath it based in Fairfield, Iowa. I know I can date the machine with the serial number online, but what gets me the most, is the label's telephone number. It's two digits: 73,  which reminds me how old it actually is.

IMG_0184.JPG by soho/prince

Monday, April 23, 2012

Typewriter Review: Consul 232

HipstaPrint by soho/prince
This is the portable Consul 232, light aqua blue. A purchase I probably shouldn't have made but you can read about it in the typecast. It's definitely eye-candy, the super model of my bunch. I'll include more of a review below.

   Firstly, I should type up my criteria for reviews of all my typewriters at one point as a page (I'll work on that). But mainly, I'm looking for the perfect typewriter. Of course this is subjective, so really it's a search for the perfect typewriter for me. I'm not a real collector since I do not look for collectibles of the antique variety which I'll categorize as the pre-war machines (at least not yet), but I'm a journeyman in the vintage type, which I'll categorize as post-war ones. Collecting was really a by-product of this search. The main objective of the search was to get me to write again, write more, and more consistently.  
HipstaPrint by soho/prince  I had suffered a long writer's block, one that spanned a few years. This was the longest drought I had ever experienced. I thought I needed something to entice me to sit down and write again. When I was at the desk, I could write (mostly), but getting me there and committing the time was getting harder and harder.  I had adopted various tricks, mostly all self-deceits, but many of it worked. In 2010, I decided that a typewriter may just be the right "toy" to get me at the desk since a year or two delving into fountain pens seemed to run it's due course. During one odd night of insomnia, I wondered if old Selectrics were still around. I had always wanted one as a child. I checked on Craigslist that night and found one. I emailed the seller and got a response the next morning, and owned it by the afternoon. This idea and the typewriter worked well for me, but then I started wondering about manual typewriters and started looking it up on the internet and ebay. That's how I got hooked and the obsession started.
HIP_356651755.006173 by soho/prince   I like the relationship with a typewriter. It brings me back to how I started writing (or maybe just of my youth) and I had forgotten the interaction one has with the machine. I feel it responding back to me as a writer with it's clacking, as if we are trading bars in music, improvising in jazz. It is tactile and responsive, both I found missing on the computer (and I went through a whole keyboard searching phase also!). When you're on a mental role, and you hear your typer clacking loudly and speedily behind you as if it's chasing you, it gives the writer in me a little excitement and momentum to keep pushing forward at an heightened pace. I forgot about this feeling. I don't get this from a computer. And besides, the computer screen was giving me brutal eyestrain.  
   Anyhow, that is a little backstory to my typewriter addiction. Maybe more bits and pieces of my strange writing process and experience will trickle down into this blog, but let's get back to the Consul 232.    
HIP_356651742.218130 by soho/princeYes, it was an "anger" purchase from a lost auction, but I do like the thing. It is in good to great condition. It is very... how do I say this... womanly? The color of course leans that way I think, but it's also very delicate and possesses beautiful curves.   It's very compact with a bottom panel which I like so I can type on my lap. The carriage is extremely light. I don't know if it's specific to this model or just to this machine. It's almost disturbingly too light for me because I don't feel any weight with the lever and fear I may swing it too hard to the right and damage the thing. Is it fragile? I'm not sure yet, but it isn't sturdy like the Royals and the Rocket. The keys and the touch is very light. I was very surprised how light it was, but unfortunately it uses carriage shift. Wicked heavy! But let me say, I've discovered I have a very weak or lazy left pinky (or both).  Here's where complete research could've saved me some money. I had read on Will Davis' site that Consul were early adaptors of basket shift for their portables so I jumped at the chance for this machine. But since I do not necessarily read in chronological order and finish reading everything completely, I didn't catch the later part where he points out that the ultra portables, which I call the laptops over the desktop portables, used a carriage shift. I only read that after I won the auction as the poor student I am!
   The keys are made of a light plastic with a wrinkles on the surface. I prefer smooth keytops. The alignment is straight and I do prefer a 12 pitch size. It has, however, a rather high pitched clack which I'm not a fan of. It isn't as bad as my Olympia SM 7 which literally pierces my eardrum. However, I'm starting to suspect the cause of such high pitchiness from a hardening platen. Please let me know if my hunch is correct.
   But like I said, she's the looker of my collection.  I do like photographing her. In fact, I realized this weekend that I may like photographing my typewriters more than I like typecasting with them. :) 
IMG_0245.JPG by soho/princeIMG_0246.JPG by soho/prince

Here's a comparison of the Consul next to my weathered Royal Quiet de Luxe. The b/w for the design lines and color, well... for color! The blue really pops, doesn't it? His name is Rusty. She's not named yet.

HipstaPrint by soho/prince

Here's a close up with Garbo soft lighting and another for moodiness. There you go, maybe I'll name her Garbo!

IMG_2008.JPG by soho/prince

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Adventures in typewriter repair #1: Underwood Golden Touch

My first typewriter repair (kinda). I had reconnected a drawstring once previous on a Hermes Rocket but that didn't count. And this, well, this was only semi fixed. It's an Underwood Golden Touch.

This is what I saw once I pried the case open.

Half the keys did not strike the platen due to this crooked typebar basket in photo 1. I played detective with a flashlight, turned the typer upside down, and discovered the left side support had been dislodged from it's hole in photos 2 & 3. The 4th photo shows the right side and how it should be. I was able to relodge it back and realigned the basket as seen in 5th photo.


The keys now all typed, but the carriage was still scraping and bumping into "things" as it moved. I thought maybe it could be caused by loosened screws within the rail system, or it got unleveled or crooked like the basket was, so I decided to dig deeper and take it apart. The paint job got chipped quite a bit also that I thought it would be easier repainting the whole body rather than retouching. The back upper panel where the paper insert had a crummy red hand-painted-like "Home-Mark" label on it. I didn't really like it so a fresh repaint was called for.

I thought I'd try giving the machine a soap bath. Here you see it drying next to my new Lexikon 80.
I went to Home Depot and asked an employee how to strip paint off metal. "What's it for?" The older gentleman asked. I'm trying to restore a typewriter I told him. "A typewriter?" He asked twice as if the first time wasn't enough. He shook his head and lead me to a paint remover, a scrapper, sandpaper, brushes, gloves, paint, etc. I bought all the necessary supplies which ended up costing more than the typer.

I started stripping the paint and was planning to leave it bare aluminum to see if that would look good before repainting it pearly white like a mini cooper. But I decided to stop mid-way. I kinda liked the beaten up aged look. I figured why not leave it like this for a bit and see how I feel about it. It somewhat fit the machine since I couldn't figure out how to take apart the carriage and as I examined it more, it looked like the rail or carriage had been bent or the ball bearing could be broken cause it felt like the carriage was hitting speed bumps as it moved left to right. The first bump I could figure out was the carriage cover hitting the rail, but the subsequent ones I have no clue. I'm open to any suggestions. I decided to put the machine back together before I forgot how to since I had other new purchases that I wanted to play with.

I'm still undecided on the final appearance, but the beaten look is growing on me. Right now it only types on the right side of the platen as to avoid the carriage/rail problem on the left. So it works well for my quarter sheet typecasts. I figure if I don't like this, I can finish stripping and sanding it down and eventually repaint it. I got this white Underwood originally to install the usb-ipad connection kit. If I did, it would look like this now.

Battered Clunker Clacker by soho/prince

Monday, April 16, 2012

The big week

It has been a big week in my typewriter world. I started this blog, purchased two machines from eBay with mixed results, and decided to take one apart in my first attempt to repair a typewriter after it arriving inoperable due to shipping damage and poor packing.

If that wasn't enough, I descended on an estate sale this weekend at the home of a former typewriter collector and a continuation of the estate sale at his office a month earlier. It was a bit messy and unclean, numerous signs of possible clinical hoarding. Most of his machines here needed some work unlike the ones I saw at his office which seemed to all function and had working ribbons, all 200 or so it seemed. This bunch looked like his to-be repaired batch.

I could only imagine why this gentleman collected hundreds of typewriters. And I do believe there is a fine line between hoarding and collecting, and he bordered right on that line. I didn't really see myself a collector before, but perhaps it is the byproduct of looking for my perfect typing machine. Since there is no store like Best Buy to try all the models first hand, eBay, yard sales, estate sales, and thrift stores seem like the only means to come across them if you're lucky. It usually takes me a four or five pages in to know if I like that typer or not, so most of my review of the machine happens when I take it home and can sit down quietly with it and clack away.

I quickly realized this process would take a while and discovered that I really couldn't let the "reviewed" machines go. I kept them around to compare to any newcomers that I may come across. It was fun and I got into it. I also loved physically hunting for typewriters around town over eBay mining (which I do plenty of too). I also enjoyed looking the machine and models up on the internet and discovered numerous scholarly resources which have provided endless joy and instruction. But as I start my first real repair, only having reconnected a carriage drawstring once on a Rocket, I wonder if this old collector did likewise. Perhaps it was his hobby to purchase old typers and fix them back up. The idea appealed to me and maybe this old ghost paid me a visit because I ended up adopting many of his typers, albeit still only a fraction.

I purchased four on that day. I great haul IMO. Two I had been hunting for a while, a Hermes 3000, and Olivetti 32. Both have rave reviews on the internet of how well they type. I can't wait to give them a real sturdy test now that they are in my possession. But there was one standard typer that caught my eye all morning. It was underneath a table filled with portables and shoved way back against the wall, surrounded by three other heavy standard machines. I had already picked out four and thought I must pass on this. I don't need another standard since I own two. But I had to check it out. I knelt down and pulled this machine from under the table into the dim light that was available. It was a heavy bugger. I examined it. It was fairly dirty and had cosmetic damage. That decides it, I thought. I only buy functioning machines with decent cosmetics. I typed on it and it was a bit sluggish. There was paint discoloration on one side. I rejected it and put it back underneath the table against the wall.

I left the sale and came home to give the newly bought machines a cursory clean. I was happy to obtain two on my wish list.  But after surfing the internet in the last month, I had discovered a machine I had never seen before on Richard P's Writing Ball, the Lexikon 80. I thought it was beautiful and it immediately rose to become my dream machine since I had gotten into desktop standards this year. So it killed me that I walked away.

I slept on it and the next morning I decided that I should go back and see if it was still there. If I was spending the time repairing a clunker right now, why not try on one that you like. I seem to be enjoying the process so far. Besides,  if it was still there, then it was meant to be. And low and behold, it was. I didn't think I would find this machine so quickly having only learned about it last month, but serendipity struck again. I've had a few such occurrences ever since I started hunting for typewriters which I'll blog about another time. I'm very happy I got this machine. It's one of my pride and joys now, but it needs quite a bit of work still, but hopefully I'll be ready for it when I get to it!

My score, Lexikon 80

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The ebay disappointment

I thought I'd squeeze a last hour blog before the end of the day.

I received two boxes today at my doorstep. What a surprise because I was expecting them to come later. And two at the same time. Double surprise! But my excitement was quickly dashed away. I opened up the first box and it was a complete mess. I knew it would be bad news. When I picked it up, I could hearing banging inside the box. I opened the box and saw the typewriter case wrapped with one thin layer of 1mm bubble wrap. I knew it wasn't going to be good, but I was hoping otherwise. I pulled it out and the corner of the case was a little crushed and I had a hard time getting it open. When I finally did, the ribbon lid had swung open (culprit of the banging) and the spools popped out, entangling the ribbon all around the keys. It took me a while to unstring it from the keyboard. I was quite surprised how knotted it could get.

Needless to say, I was extremely disappointed. Too depressed to talk about it more. There were many many issues with it. I forgot this was why I stopped buying typewriters on ebay because sellers didn't know how to pack them and ignored polite reminders of how to do it.

Then I opened my second box which was packed even more poorly but it was in a stronger box. It barely had any padding and the case was a soft cover. However, nothing happened to this typewriter! Fortunately this was the more valuable of the two so I got lucky, if you can call it that. One out of two!

It's probably a good thing 'cause this will slow my obsessive browsing on ebay and stop my online buying for a while. The last time this happened was in September of last year, I vowed never to buy typewriters on ebay. I may have to resort back to that rule. It's such a crap shoot to begin with if you're not dealing with a reputable seller of typewriters or a seller with a modicum of care and accountability and then the shipping compounds the issue. Too many variables!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

IBM Selectric Typeball Fonts

I decided today to inventory my IBM Selectric type elements and scan them for display here so I have a reference to what each type looks like so I don't need to keep changing them to see. Maybe it'll be useful for others searching for what some of them look like. If anyone has any to share and would like to add the image or url here, please let me know. It might be informative to create a centralized source for Selectric Fonts if there isn't one already online. I'm sure some book or brochure has them all but I've haven't found it yet.

It was good I went through the batch because I discovered some damaged and chipped and some yellow ones for  Selectric III's in there also. I think my alignment is also off on my typer since it seems to be cutting off the bottoms of letters occasionally.

Update: After posting I decided to do a little research on the Selectric. It's funny I never did it when I first purchased it. I bought it so I could use it and it didn't even occur to me to look it up on the internet. I wasn't a typebarhead yet. That came after getting my manual typerwriters.

I did find a few useful sites. One displayed some of the typefaces, another was a great general resource, and the third interesting find was about the Selectric Composer which I had known nothing about.  I've included the links below for anyone interested and who like the scour the internet. (Part of the purpose of this blog is for me to keep my typewriter bookmarks in one place. I manage them horribly).