Been There, Done That: Oliver No. 9

My plan last week was to clean Moe’s Oliver No. 9 typewriter on Monday and Tuesday and get it back to Moe’s shop when she re-opened on Wednesday. I hated to keep the Oliver off her shelves longer than necessary, especially since it was getting so much interest even in its nonfunctional state.

Working against a deadline keeps me focused. I am not a perfectionist – not in the very least. My philosophy is “better done than perfect”, but wow, this Oliver was in rough shape.  Could I get it cleaned up and typing in two or three days?


Groundhog Day

Sizing up Moe’s battered No. 9, I experienced a palpable feeling of déjà vu. Moe’s No. 9 had the same problems as my own dear Oliver No. 9, Olive Dammit:

  1. Dirty escapement – check
  2. Rusty & corroded – check
  3. Broken mainspring – check
  4. Broken drawband – check
  5. Mashed typebars from a fall on the head – check

Dirty Escapement

I felt that this Oliver could type because the escapement was working when I pulled on the carriage gently to the left with key strikes. It worked in a gummy, dirty, erratic sort of way – and for good reason.  It looked like birds were nesting the escapement:


After removing the carriage, I blew out the insides with my DataVac Duster, doctored everything with PB B’laster and things felt a lot nicer.


Rust & Corrosion

I removed the rusty pieces I felt comfortable removing (typebar tower guards, pencil holder, bell and dinger) and threw them into an EvapoRust bath.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t much chrome left on the typebar tower guards and pencil holder, so I polished as best I could.

Broken Mainspring

I could barely get the rusty mainspring case open. Yes, the spring was broken:


I carefully removed the broken piece from the case and fashioned a new end for the mainspring center spindle. Here’s a post on how I fixed the broken mainspring on my Oliver a few months ago.

Broken Drawband

The little Oliver drawband hook was missing, so I opted to tie my fishing line replacement to the end of the carriage. I worried that any hook I constructed may not be 100% reliable and I didn’t want to risk it slipping off the machine. I  cleaned and lubricated the carriage rails and put the carriage back on. Here’s a post on how I fixed the broken drawband on my Oliver a few months ago.

Bent Typebars

So now with repaired mainspring and drawband, the typewriter could type – if its typebars could move, that is. The typebar towers were mashed, especially the left side.  Look at this squashed tower guard and imagine what the typebars looked like:


It should be U-shaped, not V-shaped.

This is a back shot:


I very, very gently re-shaped the bent typebars into their distinctive U shape. This was Uri Geller-level typebar bending: I closed my eyes, visualized a perfect U shape and then gently, gently bent the typebars with my mental powers (bare hands).

After I got the typebars into a rough U shape, I started fine tuning the text alignment. I first threw a clean ribbon on the machine and cleaned the slugs with a little denatured alcohol so that I could see what was printing out.  Olivers use little wooden ribbon cores and spool clips. Winding ribbon onto these wooden spools was slow going for me.


Once I had a ribbon running, I started with the letters in the middle of the machine – they would have suffered the least of the impact when the machine was dropped on its head and would have withstood it best since they are short and stout.

They were level-ish in a very Oliver-centric sort of way:


I used this as my baseline – the rest of the kids needed to fall into line!

I worked my way up each tower, gently, gently bending the type bars with my bare hands hoping to accomplish two things: typebars that cleared each other and straight-ish text. The typebars were initially all over the place – way to high and way too low and bumping into each other, but slowly they started to assemble in an orderly fashion.


Gosh – I love Printype

The letters L, P and the period/comma are still rubbing against each each other in the tower.  If the typewriter doesn’t sell this week, I’ll bring it home while the shop is closed and try to make those final adjustments.

The Lady Gorilla

The typebar towers were dragging on the carriage as it rode past, so in a move I call the “Lady Gorilla”, I gently bent the towers up and off the carriage.  I figured that if anything broke during this maneuver, I could give Moe my functional Oliver No. 9. Fortunately, nothing broke.

Typewriter Hygiene

Last, but not least, I scrubbed down the shell with warm soapy water, being careful around the decals. Afterwards, I waxed it up.  It’s cleaner now, but I preserved as much vintage “character” as possible.

True Grit

This Oliver is no fragile green flower: it has survived 95 years and all the abuse, disuse, rust, corrosion and catastrophic falls that could happen in 95 years – and that thing STILL TYPES! Cast iron twentieth-century Chicago engineering at its best! I can’t get over how adorable these things are.  Here she is posing cutely out by the woodpile out back.

The Return of the Native

I took the Oliver back to her home at Moe’s shop on Wednesday morning.  Moe was thrilled to see her again and even more happy that the Oliver was a little cleaner and typing.  I left the typewriter with care and feeding instructions attached to a carriage knob.

Yesterday, I brought the LC Smith No. 8 to my house for a visit.  It has a broken draw strap and other problems that I will try to straighten out over the next couple days.


Straightening Bent Typebars on the Oliver No. 9

I have been experimenting with Vine typewriter videos. Vine is a short-form video sharing service similar to YouTube, but the videos are a maximum of six seconds long. It’s a great format for me since I tend to be long-winded and it compels me To. Cut. To. The. Chase.

I described my Vine clips to my son as sort of boring.  He reassured me, saying that if they are boring, then it’s only six seconds of boring. So here is a loop of six seconds of typing ala Oliver:

I can’t tell you how much pleasure I get from typing on that rattly old thing.

A couple months ago, my Oliver arrived in a damaged box that had been sealed with a kiss from the eBay seller and not much else. The typebar towers were mashed so much so that the top 3-4 typebars couldn’t move – they were all tangled together and rubbing each other especially on the right. The pencil holder was crumpled down.



So I straightened things out. The typed text in the “before” shot shows the ransom note typed peculiarity of the bent typebars:


The “After” text is not quite straight, but I like the residual wackiness. It’s a 94 year old typewriter with its own personality, dammit.

The nickel plate on the tower guards and pencil holder was in bad shape – more rust than nickel plate on the back, so I threw them into an Evapo-Rust bath.

IMG_3257 IMG_3259

They came out very clean – a lot of bare metal but better than rust:


I bent the tower guards with padded pliers and worked on the typebars themselves with my bare hands. The typebars are very soft and with very gentle force + trial and error, I was able to disentangle them and straighten out the text. I took it very slow and made small, incremental changes.  Though I live next door to the Metal Master Good Neighbor Brian, I would really kick myself if I broke any of these old typebars.

Long story short: I can now type a fairly respectable letter.

Lastly, here’s a bonus Vine video clip.  In six seconds or less, I remove the carriage from my Oliver No. 9:

At Last: Oliver No. 9

Cue the Etta James: at last, my typewriter has come along. Thanks to help from friendly typospherians, this old green gal is typing. Check out my mad hunt-n-peck skillz:

I am very glad that I am not a touch typist because this three bank keyboard would really throw me for a loop.

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve posted details: initially her carriage wasn’t advancing on typing. Thanks to a suggestion from Tyler of Words Are Winged, I tightened a hooked nut under the machine and suddenly her space bar became responsive and the carriage advanced as I hit the space bar.

The carriage still wasn’t advancing when regular keys were struck, so I posted a request for functional Oliver No. 9 photos on the Typewriter Talk forum.

I was beginning to appreciate the subtleties of the machine’s construction – the tightness of a single screw or nut can mean the difference between a functional machine and a dead one. Perhaps that sensitivity was amplified by residual rustiness or gumminess in my outwardly cleanish machine.  For the last couple weeks I have been playing whack-a-mole: making adjustments underneath and improving responsiveness of the keys but losing the space bar and vice versa – or losing responsiveness all together. It was all blind fumblings. I needed pictures.

A helpful member of the Typewriter Talk forum posted photos of his functional Oliver No. 9 and I used them as a guide for making adjustments under my machine. My typewriter began to wake up.

I found that my universal bar (area #7) wasn’t close enough to the type bar levers. My space lever nut (area #6) was too tight. I loosened my space lever nut a tiny bit, adjusted the position of the nut in loop of area #1 and adjusted the height of the spring board in area #2 (“Supplemental Spring”). At last. The key strikes began to trigger the escapement and the carriage advanced.

UPDATE: On the advice of Martin Rice (THE Martin Rice), I increased tension on the spring under the universal bar (area #4) by first loosening the wingnut and then by turning the flower nut to compress the spring. This improved reliability.


I doused everything in PB Blaster (underside guts, key levers, ribbon vibrator, escapement) and set it outside for the night. The next morning it was even better – a cleaner crisper response and more reliable escapement trip. My conclusion: my machine was out of adjustment and gummy /rusty and once those two things were corrected, it began to respond.

Gary Bothe’s restoration of an Oliver 2 is an amazing read.  Of special interest, is the section on calibration. In it, Gary Bothe describes a “delicate dance”:

“The activation of the ribbon transport and triggering of the escapement is a delicate dance involving two things, the adjustment of the “hook” connecting the universal bar to the space bar levers, and (on my machine) the setting of the two “mystery springs” arching up under the universal bar from below. These springs are evidently there to cushion the blow of the type bars as they reach the platen, and their adjustment serves as a form of “touch control.” The only time they are activated is when the universal bar contacts them at the end of a type stroke. I found that the machine feels rough and clattery when these springs are adjusted down until they are out of reach of the universal bar, but the touch gets excessively heavy and escapement becomes unreliable when they are too high and are adjusted too tightly. I ended up setting their height so that the universal bar encounters their resistance when the type slugs are about one centimeter above the platen, and then setting the tension (via the bridge screw on the bottom of the frame) to give the best feel. Of course, not having access to the wisdom of the original designers, my approach is strictly trial and error. I encourage you to play with these settings yourself and come to your own conclusions.”

– Gary Bothe, Restoration of an Oliver 2 – Calibration

I still need to make some adjustments to my Oliver. The escapement is still not 100% reliable: it will fail to trip here and there.

I have been watching Words Are Winged’s re-assembly of an Oliver with great interest. I would like to see how he calibrates his machine for best touch and reliability.

I am thinking about getting another Oliver to take apart and reassemble ala Words Are Winged.  I love how open, visible and accessible the parts of the Oliver are – perfect for a novice tinkerer like myself.

Here’s a little Etta James for your Monday:

Progress: The Oliver Advances!

Yesterday I wrote about an issue I was having with my Oliver No. 9: the carriage wasn’t advancing on typing and the ribbon vibrator seemed limited in range of motion.

An eagle-eyed reader of yesterday’s post, Tyler of Words Are Winged, watched my long-winded videos and examined the pictures and suggested that I try tightening a nut under the machine – it seemed a bit loose to him.

Underneath the machine, near the center, is a hook with a tightening nut attached that adjusts tension on the space bar. I believe this is called the “Space-Lever Nut“. I found that tightening the nut (not too much and not too little) I was able to finally get a response from my space bar. It sounded with a satisfying thump and for the first time, the ribbon vibrator moved fully forward and fully back –  all by itself.

And the carriage advanced. Hurray!

Striking the regular keys does not cause carriage advancement – yet. When I strike a key, the ribbon vibrator gives a little wiggle but does not jump forward and back the way it does when the space bar is hit.

Here is another video of the Oliver’s current state. If you see something in the video that jumps out at you, let me know in the comments.

And more pictures:


View underneath from front to back – this is the hook – I tightened the nut attached to it and the space bar began to respond






Of note: here’s a little pin in the ribbon vibrator mechanism that migrates out slowly during typing – I tap it back in when it gets too far out.

The Printype Saga: Chapter Six

To be honest, I would have been disappointed if my Oliver No. 9 from eBay had arrived in functional condition – it would have deprived me of many hours of pleasant tinkering.  I chose this Oliver primarily because she didn’t work.

However. It does break my heart a bit that she was dropped on her head sometime during her trip from the Midwest USA to California.  She arrived in a loosely-packed and damaged box with a bent right tower.

Fortunately, her cast iron hide saved her. At the base of the typebar towers are cast iron pillars that I hope protected her delicate insides from harm.

I have gotten the Oliver to a point where she is almost typing. Despite a repaired mainspring and new draw cord, her carriage is not advancing on typing. I have noted that her ribbon vibrator does not freely jump forward and back the way the ribbon vibrator in this video does.

However if I manually nudge the ribbon vibrator forward and back during typing, the carriage will advance.

I made a couple long-winded videos documenting my problem. Here’s my video of my partially disassembled Oliver that describes the problem:

Here’s another video showing the under side of the machine.

OK – that’s five minutes of your life that you will never get back, but maybe you can help me. There’s an audible click when I push the universal bar up (and when the ribbon vibrator moves back).  What is the source of that click?

For reference here are two pictures of the Oliver’s original condition on arrival. Remember: she was really bad.


BEFORE: The ribbon vibrator and escapement mechanism were dirty, rusted and frozen

There's a fair amount of rust underneath and parts that seems like they should move, don't move.

BEFORE: There was a fair amount of rust underneath and parts that seemed like they should move, didn’t move.

After cleaning and de-rusting, the escapement mechanism seem to be turning smoothly. The rusty spots under the machine are cleaned up, but I am not sure how much movement I should expect under there.

Here are my two questions for the Typosphere:

  1. What is the most likely cause of the stiff ribbon vibrator problem: obstruction by dirt / grime / rust or a piece of the mechanics interfering?
    1. Could something important have bent or jarred loose when she was dropped?
    2. If you think it’s a gunk problem, which product should I use to get things moving?  I have been using denatured alcohol and PB Blaster.
  2. Where should I look for a culprit if my ribbon vibrator is not moving freely?
    1. What is the likely source of that audible click heard when the universal bar moves up and when the ribbon vibrator is pulled back?

If you have any thoughts, please let me know in the comments. I am determined to sort this out with help from the typewriter community.

And finally: I know that this is probably some form of typewriter abuse and that somebody will call the Society for the Ethical Treatment of Typewriters on me, but I threw a ribbon in the old girl and typed out a message by nudging the ribbon vibrator with each character:


Those are some very bent typebars.

Making a Carriage Draw Cord Hook & Reattaching the Cord to the Mainspring of an Oliver

My Oliver is a little miracle of Chicago engineering.  It has a very clever draw band and carriage set up that works like this: a small hook attaches to the end of the draw band / draw cord.  During routine carriage removal, this hook catches mid-machine on a little two-prong fork so that the draw cord doesn’t fly loose from the mainspring and cause the mainspring to lose tension.

I love being able to remove the Oliver carriage so easily – I’m able to brush out toast crumbs and candy wrappers easily from beneath the carriage. Many thanks to Martin Rice for his video on how to remove the Oliver carriage. Now that my Oliver’s carriage rails are de-rusted and lubricated with PB Blaster, the carriage slides easily along the rails and off.

My mainspring was fixed, and it was time to hook up the draw cord. First I had to address my Oliver’s missing draw cord hook.

Martin Rice has a good video that discusses the Oliver carriage draw cord hooks he’s made.

Tony Mindling has a close-up of a classy hook he fashioned from brass stock.

I started with a picture hanging hook like this:


It was lightweight enough for me to bend easily.

Below is the carriage draw cord hook I made from the picture hanging hook. It’s not pretty, very misshapen actually.  As my mother would have said, “That hook is from hunger!”


It works though.  It’s about 3/4″ in height – just tall enough to catch the carriage as it rolls by on the carriage rails.

I will probably make another one since this hook is a bit embarrassing; however, I was just so excited to watch the hook, the carriage and grabber fork all in action together that I eased up on my quality standards.

I made a drawband / carriage string / carriage return cord out of 80 lb fishing line I had on hand from my previous drawband repair. For the Oliver, it’s about 13 inches long. It has a nice big knot at one end and a loop at the other


The loop went around my homemade hook. I will re-fashion my hook with a hole so that the cord is better secured to the hook, but this works for now. It looks bad, I know.


Then it was time to reattach the draw cord to the Oliver’s mainspring. The idea behind carriage advancement while typing is that wound tension from the mainspring pulls the carriage along from right to left via the draw cord. So: when you reattach the draw cord you have to maintain good tension on the mainspring at all times

First I wound my spring barrel carefully 3.5 turns counter-clockwise,


Hand model winds the spring counter-clockwise

I then poked the end with the big knot into the hole with slot in the side of the spring barrel, being careful not to lose tension.


I used tweezers to poke the knot into the hole and pulled it to the right so that it caught in the slot next to the hole.


I then wound the fishing line counter-clockwise onto the barrel being careful not to lose tension on the spring inside.

I then passed the fishing line through the little pigtail on the two-pronged grabber fork and secured the hook to the fork in the center of the machine.


Here I come with the hook, Little Two-Prong Fork.

Here it is secured to the fork and pigtail:

Through the pigtail and hooked onto the fork

Through the pigtail and hooked onto the fork

Remember: you have to maintain 3.5 rotation tension on the spring at all times and keep your cord at the level of the spring barrel; otherwise, it will slip and unwind.

Let’s try it out.  Here comes the carriage flying down the rails:


The hook catches the carriage for a ride on the rails.  You can see the serial number in the foreground.

Perfect height! The hook catches onto the carriage as it rolls by down the rails.

Made it to the end of the rails

The end of the line

Made it to the end and holding up fine. I really admire the Oliver’s cleverly simple system.

This reminds me of a train riding down the rails and picking up mail:


Oliver Typewriter Mainspring Repair: AKA Insane Slinky Nightmare

Spring is sprung.

The mainspring on our new Oliver No. 9 was broken.  This is (unfortunately) the least of her problems.

How did I know her mainspring was broken? Because when I tried to wind the mainspring, it just gave a sad little snapping sigh and lost tension.

Thanks to a great post by Tony Mindling documenting his repair of an Oliver No. 9 mainspring, I knew all was not lost.

One thing that makes a mainspring repair on my Oliver doable is accessibility. The little spring barrel is sitting right out there on the back of the machine. The mainspring on my Remington Rand KMC was tucked into its inner recesses. I am glad that I didn’t have to fix that one.

Tony had mentioned in his post that I need to remove the back carriage rail to remove the main spring.  Fortunately I had a rusty little wrench that took care of the bolts that held the rear carriage rail. I had to treat the bolts with PB Blaster as they were frozen and rusty – like just about everything else on the machine.

The bolts were hard to access as they were under the rail - good thing I had that little wrench.

The rear carriage rail bolts were hard to access as they were under the rail – good thing I had that little wrench.


Back carriage rail is off – just need to remove the center screw on the spring barrel


Hand model pops off the spring barrel

From what I’ve been reading, you have to be very careful operating on the mainspring as the very sharp spring may leap out and injure you. I opened up the spring barrel VERY slowly and found what I thought would be there: a broken mainspring.


Ok – I just need to re-attach the end of the spring to the slot in the center spindle.  First, I wanted to replicate the broken end which was straight for the slot and with a little curve at the end.  I started fiddling around with needle nose pliers and a screwdriver and then – ZIIIIING – all heck broke loose as the spring escaped from the case.


Fortunately, I wasn’t injured – that spring is very sharp. I carefully rewound it back into its case and it managed to get tangled and twistedin on itself like a crazy Slinky. I had to unwind it and rewind it a couple times. It did NOT want to go back to its case. I bent it to my will with a steady stream of curse words.

I am being a bit melodramatic – it really wasn’t that bad.  It just would have been easier and safer if the spring had stayed in the spring barrel.

I placed the barrel back onto the machine, feeding the flattened end of the spring into the slot on the  spindle. I screwed everything back together and tested the  spring. It wound beautifully and then – SNAP – I had a broken mainspring again.

Sighing, I unscrewed everything and opened the spring barrel. Yup, snapped.


And then I thought about it. Which way am I supposed wind the mainspring? I had wound it clockwise. Could I have stressed the spring to the breaking point by winding the wrong way? Why, yes I could.

I went to YouTube to check out Martin Rice’s video on Oliver draw band repair. And he wound his mainspring counter-clockwise. OK then.

I carefully replaced the mainspring, inserting the flattened end into the center spindle slot.


I put the lid back on, wound it carefully COUNTER-CLOCKWISE. It worked beautifully. *ZZZZZIP* Lots of life in it and no breaking. It sounds beautiful, full of life and power. I live for these small victories.