Electric Ladyland: The Olivetti Praxis Experience

I got it into my head that I really should bring home an electric or electronic typewriter.  I suppose the hysteria of Baby Wedge Week got to me, but what really tipped me over the edge was the family blender repair.

Our Osterizer gave up the ghost a couple weeks ago after 20+ years of hard service and instead of chucking it and picking up a new blender, my husband and I decided to repair it. A coupling attached to the motor had broken in two, so we ordered a new one and installed it.


Watch your fingers.

All fixed and cleaner than it has been in years :


This past week I spotted a broken Olivetti Praxis 48 electric typewriter on Craig’s List for $10. I thought, “This will be sort of like the blender, right?”

I just love the look of the Olivetti Praxis 48 – the touchable fungal key tops, the mod cantilevered keyboard, bright green accents, and the corrugated side panels – it’s all good. The only problem / great thing is that this Praxis 48 doesn’t work.

I picked up the Praxis in San Francisco. The seller was a super nice guy. He’d had it for a while, but he never was able to get the machine to turn on.  He thought perhaps it had a motor problem.


I brought the machine home and took a good look at it. The serial number is located underneath the machine by the left front foot: #5060685. It appears to be a 196X Olivetti Praxis 48.


The machine was made by Olivetti Underwood Limited at Don Mills in Canada:


It’s a very cool looking 60s time machine.  It takes me to days of future passed.


Oh, those wonderful, weird, squishy keys:



The Fallingwater of typewriters


The guy I bought it from said that it just wouldn’t turn on.  The motor switch felt strangely loose.  I popped the hood and saw a broken piece of plastic:


I manually flipped the switch inside the machine and plugged her in. Hallelujah! The motor started. I will repair the plastic switch with a patch of JB-Weld epoxy. At least the motor works.

Unfortunately, the carriage wouldn’t move.  It was stuck in the dead center of the machine. It moved a single space backward or forward, but that was all.  The carriage release buttons wouldn’t free it.

All the keys worked and the platen rotated when I hit the carriage return button.

I removed the shell from the machine so I could clean and get a better look.  I removed four screws from the bottom:


I then tried to lift off the shell. No good. I then removed a couple screws from the sliding ribbon cover that seemed to be holding the shell on:


There are hex-headed screws that hold the ribbon cover on each side. I used a small wrench.

Not yet. I loosened a couple screws under the keyboard and and slid the keyboard cover off.


It had foam padding that disintegrated into a fine dust when touched lightly:


I removed two screws in front that held the ribbon cover on and took off the ribbon cover:


I was then able to lift the machine guts out of the shell.


I plugged it in to make sure everything still worked. Even in this basic nonfunctional state, I sort of love this thing already.  The motor is very quiet and the keys are so sweetly responsive. I love the *splack* *splack* *splack-splack-splack* electric typing sound.

The carriage was stuck in dead center and the carriage release buttons were not freeing it.  I carefully blew out the insides of the machine. There was plenty of disintegrated foam padding debris and dust inside, but it cleaned up nicely.

Around back, I poked and prodded as I depressed the carriage release button. I jiggled the plastic piece noted below and suddenly the carriage was free:


I do not know the name of this piece, but jiggling it freed the carriage. Lucky.

I had a new problem, though, once the carriage was able to move:


This piece of cord attached to a spring seems to be part of a very elaborate draw string set up – it’s probably all tangled up under the carriage.  I need to figure out how to get the carriage housing off so I can get a better look.

I feel like I made good progress today. If I can straighten out the spring + cord situation, I think I might have a completely functional Praxis 48.