Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Catalogue giveaway

Free to the first person to e-mail me: the catalogue for the November 5 Breker auction, featuring rare typewriters and many more mechanical antiques.

Update: TAKEN! The catalogue is going to R.R.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Changing the carbon ribbon on an IBM Model B Executive typewriter

It's ribbon-changing time!

I thought readers might enjoy seeing this process, and the documentation may be useful to some as well.

The white line on the right housing for the ribbon is near the top, indicating that the ribbon is almost used up. 

When you pull the housing cover open, you can see that the indicator is actually in the red zone (which was hidden in the shadows in the photo above).

On the left side, the take-up reel is getting very full.

The Executive waits for a fresh ribbon with open arms.

I happen to have a pack of a dozen IBM Electric ribbons which I picked up on eBay a few years ago. To judge from the markings on the cardboard box, these were produced for the military in the 1980s.

Let's remove the used ribbon.

The ribbon passes between two rollers that can be held apart using the switch I'm pointing to.

The ribbon pulls off.

This is not a private means of communication. The typing is clearly visible. Some business documents were typed on this ribbon in 1984. I bought the machine last month, and I've been using it for letters, brainstorms, typecasts, comments on student papers, and more.

I insert the new ribbon through the ribbon vibrator and guides.

Then it goes onto the shaft in the right-hand housing. This is a little tricky because the ribbon is slippery and wants to get tangled if you're not careful. Note that the indicator is now down at the bottom. On the far side of the ribbon, not visible in this photo, is the other end of the indicator piece, which is pushed out by the fresh ribbon, causing the indicator to move down.

Note that the ribbon should go under the wire that is sticking out in the photo.

I thread the ribbon between the rollers and onto the take-up spool. 

And we're back in business. Now you just close the left and right covers, and you're ready to type.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

A New U: Replacing a key legend on a Royal KMM typewriter

As most readers know, I volunteer as a typewriter repairman to support a local nonprofit, WordPlay Cincy. When a customer asked me to "refurbish the keytops" on his KMM, I knew I had a big job ahead of me. Fortunately, fellow typospherians Greg Fudacz and Rich Mohlman came to the rescue, as I said yesterday. Greg provided a set of vintage key legends, and Rich lent me his key ring tools. I thought readers might be curious to see how the procedure works.

In case you need key legends, I've created a PDF that includes both white-on-black and black-on-white legends. The PDF is 8.5 x 11 inches, the standard American letter size. If you print it on a laser printer (using "actual size," not "shrink to fit"), you will have your own legends that you can cut out and install in a typewriter. The image is high-resolution (1200 dpi), but the quality of your printout  will depend on your print settings, the capacities of your printer, and the nature of the paper used. Just click the image below to get the PDF.

Now, let's take this letter U as our candidate for refurbishing:

First we need the key ring removal tool. It is designed to pull the ring up while holding the center of the key down.

The Royal KMM uses key rings that are held on to the key by three little tabs. Some other typewriters don't use such tabs, but simply fit the rings tightly onto the circumference of the key.

If you look closely at the image on the left below, you will see that there are areas on the tool that are meant to accommodate the key ring tabs. The assumption is that one of the tabs is more or less in front of the key, facing you (so always replace the key ring the same way). By turning the piece in the right photo below 180º, you can also use this tool on key rings that don't have tabs.

The tool is positioned over and under the key:

With light pressure, this key ring came right off. There was no need to unbend the three tabs first. It doesn't always go this smoothly!

The key ring often gets stuck in the tool and needs to be coaxed out with a little pressure from a screwdriver or such. Then you want to make sure that the tabs are fully unbent, so that the ring will fit easily back onto the key. Don't overdo it — the tabs will break if they are bent back and forth too much. (The ring will probably still work with two tabs.)

Under the ring is a plastic disc. The top is concave, for a pleasant feeling on your fingertips. Older typewriters usually have flat glass discs.

Under the disc is the old key legend, which I'm prying up with a pin. Probably this Royal was dipped in a cleaning solution that seeped into the keys and discolored the legends.

Here is the naked keytop. In the center is the tip of the key stem, which has been flattened out to hold the keytop in place.

We insert the new key legend.

Now it's time for the key ring replacement tool:

Again, there are two settings for the tool, depending on which kind of key ring you're working with. It is currently set to deal with rings with tabs. The bell-shaped piece squeezes the ring downwards, applying equal pressure all around, forcing the tabs into the curving sides of the lower piece and bending them around the base of the keytop.

We position the disc (concave side up) and the keyring over the key, put the tool in position ...

... squeeze ...

... and voilà!

Just repeat that fifty times (for the 42 character keys, two shift keys, shift lock, tab set and clear keys, backspacer, tabulator, and margin release), and your KMM has a bright new keyboard. Isn't typewriter repair fun?

Saturday, October 1, 2016


I got a repair job replacing the key legends on a Royal KMM. But where would I find fresh ones? Leave it to Greg Fudacz to send me a set of original, unused legends from the great Ames Supply Co. Thank you, Greg! Thanks as well to Rich Mohlman for lending me his tools for removing and reattaching key rings.

The legends were probably designed by Ames to fit a variety of typewriters. You'll notice that there are several versions of the shift key, tab key, and others. The bottom row of legends seems to be designed for British machines.

Here is a 1200dpi scan of the key legends in case anyone would like to have it, along with an inverted version in case you want black on white. (Click on the images for full size.)