A Belated Happy Typewriter Day: L.C. Smith No. 8

I am a little late to the Typewriter Day party, but I did religiously observe the holiday by bringing home a new typewriter (as is customary I understand).  This 1922 L.C. Smith No. 8 was on Craigslist, described as “a hobby project to rebuild”. I liked the big cast-iron machine with its beautiful decals and the weird squid tentacle of a right carriage return lever. It looked pretty dusty and rusty.  It apparently needed repair, but it still had a ribbon in it.  I always take the presence of a ribbon as a hopeful sign.  Things can’t have been that bad for that long a time if the ribbon remains. Right?

I carefully compared the Craigslist photos with other L.C. Smith 8 examples on Typewriter Database and determined that as far as I could tell, all the pieces were there except for the ribbon spool lock screws.

I drove over to look at it and was relieved on two counts.  One: the seller was a very normal person and extremely nice.  Two: the typewriter didn’t seem to have anything more wrong with it other than rust, dirt, and gunk.  Though the carriage wasn’t moving and it really wasn’t typing, if I pulled hard to the left, the carriage moved with typing.

The seller, for his part, seemed very happy that I was going to try to fix it and clean it up.

I brought her home.  The typewriter and I had drinks together out on the patio and got to know each other.


The horsey paper table decal is in good shape. The insane surrealist horse legs in this decal are The Best. Is that top horse trying to type with its hoof? Trying to stomp the typewriter?


After a long search I finally located the serial number on the inside of the right front frame behind the back space key under a thick layer of grime and determined that I had a 1922 L.C. Smith No. 8:


L.C. Smith No. 8 serial number located in front right frame area right behind the back space key

It was pretty rusty, especially underneath the machine.  It may have sat in water at some point in time. One foot was missing and another foot (probably a replacement) was hideously swollen and deformed.


I dusted the typewriter first with a soft brush to loosen the debris and then blew out the insides.


I cleaned and lubed the carriage rails with PB Blaster and the typewriter’s carriage began to move on its own with typing.   Everything seemed to function, albeit slowly, screechingly and rustily.

The one thing I had problems with was the ribbon carrier/vibrator – it wasn’t moving at all.  I did some research on the mysterious “Ribbon Key” in the L.C. Smith No. 8 manual I found in the manuals archive of The Classic Typewriter Page.


It was in the “stencil” position and once I switched it to a regular printing position, the ribbon vibrator began to move. Whew. I was also happy to find out that the “Ribbon Key” has high and low positions for red or black printing.  I love those red and black ribbons.

During the time when I was trying to figure out the ribbon vibrator problem, I poked around in back.  I saw a loose piece of metal wedged under the universal bar.


Here I am pulling the piece of metal out with my dental pick

Oh no, I thought.  Is it a broken piece of the ribbon vibrator mechanism?  I pulled it out.


It looks like a typewriter part, but stamped on it are these words:

CLIPRITE, 37 Maiden Lane, NY USA

I did a quick Google search and found that it was an antique cigar cutter similar to this one. The image in my mind of someone smoking cigars and pounding away on this old typewriter Back in the Day gives me a chuckle. “Dammit, where’d my cigar cutter go?”

Here is 37 Maiden Lane in New York where the Cliprite company used to be headquartered:


I am going to de-rust, de-grease and clean the typewriter over the next few days. One aesthetic issue is the areas of flaking black paint.


Should I stabilize those flaking areas or remove the flaking edges of paint?  Should I cover bare metal areas? Sharpie or Testor’s black paint pen?



A Lady in Peril Rescued: Royal Aristocrat

I was out and about today and stopped in at a few town thrift stores looking for brown plastic cases for Operation: SCM Datecode.  I  didn’t find any, but I did run across this lovely but very dirty Royal Aristocrat.

My collection is a little Smith-Corona / Corona heavy and I have been thinking I should branch out and see what all the fuss is about other typewriter brands: the Royals and the Underwoods etc.

This Royal was filthy. Not a problem – I like to clean things up.  The draw cord was broken.  I can fix that (probably).


Uh oh.


What is wrong with people?  You know, we are living in a SOCIETY.

I left the shop feeling irritated not just at the key-chopping but at the sheer half-assedness of the evil doing. It appears that the chopper took a few keys, got bored and quit. And they took the Shift Freedom keys.  So mean.

I thought about the typewriter all day. Its ultimate fate would probably be to have the remaining keys clipped off and the body dumped in a scrap heap.  NO. IT SHALL NOT BE. Not while I have $30 in my pocket!

I went back and took the Royal Aristocrat into protective custody.

1939 Royal Aristocrat
S/N B-889364


About those missing key tops:  a clever typospherian at Typewriter Talk salvaged a key-chopped typewriter with faux craft keys.  I swung by my Joann Fabrics and picked up similar items for $5.00:


I’ll clip off the loops on the faux keys, print out Royal Aristocrat style letters and attach the faux keys to the broken stems…somehow.

Last thing: did I mention that she is really dirty? I had problems finding the serial number because it was under a layer of filth.  Anyhow, while I was turning her over trying to find the serial number, a piece of metal fell out. Oh lordie – where does that go?  Fortunately, it wasn’t a typewriter part, but an old watch face that fell out.  What other secrets do you hold, Aristocrat?

Not a part of the typewriter.  Whew.

Not a part of the typewriter. Whew.

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:

The Hot Mess: Corona Four

While doing research on my Oliver No. 9’s problems, I came across an entertaining post about a Remington Travel-Riter DeLuxe by Robert Messenger. He described its ribbon vibrator and the spool capstans as “banjaxed”.  I thought to myself: I will add that word and all its imaginary variations to my vocabulary.

My Oliver No. 9 isn’t the only train wreck in the house. While undeniably sexy, our Corona Four is thoroughly banjaxed. She has lived hard, but has obviously had a grand old time. I have photographed her in all her magnificent banjaxment.  Here we go:

The Toll of Hard Living

  1. Frozen carriage.  I had hoped that it was just a case of the carriage lock being on, but I really don’t think so.
  2. Ribbon vibrator in permanent “up” position – gives her a bit of a surprised look
  3. Broken space bar
  4. Sunken keys with missing linkage
  5. Bent typebars
  6. Deceased ribbon
  7. Rust
  8. Generalized grime
Go home, Corona Four, you've had too much to drink.

Go home, Corona Four. You’ve had too much to drink.

Here’s some more pictures of her in alluring disarray:

I can clean her up – she has the potential for stunning looks.  However, I don’t want just a display specimen. I want the Corona Four working and earning her keep in my stable of machines.

I am going to take the Corona completely apart. After I finish the Oliver.

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: