Saturday, June 13, 2020

Guest post: Disassembling a Smith-Corona Zephyr

The Smith-Corona Zephyr, introduced in 1938, was the company's response to the Hermes Baby — a light, compact typewriter that could easily be taken on a trip. The design was a success, especially in its postwar incarnation as the Skyriter. The basic mechanism continued into the 1970s, with Skyriter descendants manufactured in England and electrified adaptations made in Singapore.

Although the Skyriter is very easy to disassemble, the Zephyr is definitely not. Its streamlined body fits tightly over the mechanism and keyboard.

A solution comes from Garrett Lai of Time Travel Typewriters in L.A., who is the author of today's post.

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"How do I remove/replace the Zephyr from its body?" seems to be a perennial question.

The felt liner inside the body easily gets torn up when extracting the works. It also tends to catch and hold the front of the chassis as the metal digs into the felt, making extraction difficult. You end up plowing a furrow into the felt. Damage from a previous extraction below:

So I butcher up a plastic lid (any semi-slick plastic will do, such as a plastic milk jug, this is a yogurt tub lid). Dimensions not important, the parts you want are the two larger, middle pieces, which just need to be wide enough to hold the front edge of the chassis and be about 3-4" long:

If you slide the plastic under the front edges of the chassis they'll act as skids, and the whole works slides right out once you compress that top row of keys.

Here are the skids, positioned for replacing the chassis. Notice they're slightly wider than the chassis front lip, which is the only critical dimension:

The lip from the edge of the lid sticks up, and makes it easier to grab the things with pliers when you want to remove them.

A thickish piece of card stock works as a shoehorn for compressing the keys for extraction. When inserting the works it's important to make sure your cardboard shoehorn covers the entire upper part of the body, to prevent the top bank of keys from catching on the edge of the felt glued inside the top, and the front lip of the body itself. Here I'm using a thick piece of glossy card stock I found in the mailbox, advertising a home for sale that I can't possibly afford:

Chassis partially inserted, skids and shoehorn in place:

Here's another view with chassis partially inserted, shoehorn and skids in place.

Once you get the chassis situated you just reach between the keys with needlenose pliers to remove the plastic skids (here's where that lip sticking up comes in handy). Then carefully slide the cardboard out from the top before securing the works.


  1. I've done very similar with mine using thin plastic sheets for sliding the machine on the felt and to squeeze the keys under the cover, but I don't know that I ever posted on it.

    Garrett's advice will save others a lot of frustration working on their Zephyr.