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.


20th Century Fox: Fox No. 24 Typewriter Reassembled

I have been cleaning and tinkering with my Fox No. 24 typewriter for the past few weeks.

Sugru for Key Letters

It look like someone – in a fit of boredom – took a ballpoint and scratched out a couple of the letters on the Fox’s keys. I got some white Sugru at Target for the key tops where the lettering has worn off.  Sugru is a self-setting rubber product that is removable. I pressed it into the key letter depressions and scrapped away the excess.  It sets in about 24 hours.  If I change my mind about the letters later on down the road, I can peel it off.



Not too shabby; now the letters are readable. The letters are a bit white; I may tone them down a bit with a yellowish glaze.


A testament to her true grit, the Fox was able to type with two broken shifting arms. The broken arms were causing typebar alignment problems though, so they needed to be re-secured. I initially tried to re-attach the broken back corner, front frame section and broken shifting arms with J-B Weld SteelStik. Unfortunately the SteelStik was not “tacky” enough and wasn’t adhering to the pieces of broken cast iron (despite sanding and cleaning), so I used J-B KwikWeld metal epoxy adhesive which is a bit stickier.


Foxini supervises the work

I had to remove the shifting arms to glue them because there was considerable sag in the adhesive – the pieces needed support while the adhesive dried.


Done broke


Broken ends sanded with rough sand paper and cleaned with denatured alcohol before the epoxy applied – it’s a little gloppy.

The rear left corner was a crumbled mess – it’s a bit better now after some J-B Weld, but it could use a good sanding to smooth out irregularities.


The Rust Blackened

There are many areas of bare metal on the painted surfaces.  I was torn.  Should I use Testor’s model paint which is a great match and very permanent, or should I go with India ink (encre de Chine) which is a great match and less permanent?  I went with the India ink and a light coat of Renaissance Wax.  Some future owner may want to undo what I have done.  I want to be sensitive to the history of the machine and preserve as much vintage authenticity as possible.


Finally, I flushed out the metal internal guts with mineral spirits and compressed air. I was worried about excess PB B’laster attracting dirt and gumming up things down the line.

I mixed myself a stiff drink, fired up a cigar, leaned back, and drank in the physical beauty of this 100-year-old vixen. Make no mistake: this is a 100-year-old typewriter that has suffered catastrophic neglect and damage. However.  She is still very fine indeed.


American Fox-es! (spoken with Festrunk brothers’ emphasis)


Model number 24 – somewhat hidden behind the keyboard:


I wish I had better luck removing the cracking layer of yellow varnish/lacquer/shellac around the decals.  I tried to Soft Scrub it off, but I wasn’t successful.  I will leave it to some future restorer with better products and methods.


The back decal (“The Fox”) has worn off or been painted over:


Lots of luscious curves in back though:


Baby got back

The decal on the left side of the machine is in good condition:



What Does the Fox Say?

The darn thing types like the proverbial champ:


It’s got fun special characters: manicules, pilcrow, section sign and degree characters.


It has a double row of staggered type bars. These are called pin-mounted slugs, right?


The carriage comes off with four loosened screws.  You loosen the carriage scale pointer screws, slide the carriage scale pointer over and off; loosen the carriage screws, secure the draw string to the hitching post, and the carriage lifts off.


dismantled prior to de-rusting

What a wonderful machine. After spending some time in genuine appreciation, I got down to typing.

Fox on the Run

Here’s a looping six second video of me typing away happily on my quick black Fox.


How about another six second loop?


To Do List

  • Continue polishing rusted and corroded parts – there is still so much to clean up. I hope I get that high-capacity ultrasonic tank full of solvent for Christmas 🙂
  • Try heat shrink tubing for a couple of the feed rollers which are a bit brittle and disintegrating.
  • I need to figure out the line lock set up. My Fox keeps typing at the end of the line, and I think there may be a rust problem that prevents the line lock from engaging.  I am looking at the patent documents for clues.

Crumbly feed rollers and surprise! more rust

This is what I want for Christmas.  Friends and family, please take note:




Typewriter Drawband Repair on a Shoestring

It is Labor Day holiday here in the US, and I labored happily over my typewriters.  I tinkered with the Fox No. 24, got stuck and decided to wash my collection of typewriter rags while I thought through the problem.


Clean and ready for typewriter duty

I then read Richard Polt’s very interesting post on his Adler Universal that shows the ease with which the carriage is removed – and that jogged my memory. I needed to take my Lexikon 80 apart and fix the drawband.

The drawband on my Olivetti Lexikon 80 had slipped off recently while I was moving it.  I had replaced the drawband with fishing line not too long ago after it broke, and I worried that the slippery fishing line might slide off the mainspring drum at some point since the drum had no lip to hold the draw string on. Well, it did just that when I was moving it inside after the block party.


Replacement fishing line draw string that slipped off

I decided to try my luck with shoelace since it would be a bit closer to the original draw strap material.  I bought some flat black shoelaces at the grocery – $1.79.


I cut a piece of shoelace about 17 inches long – which is about the length of the original draw band:


I had held onto the Lexikon 80’s two original drawstrap hooks for sentimental reasons. I found them and pried their little jaws open – these secured the old drawstrap.


I made sure that the sharp triangular teeth were poking up – these grab the draw band. I inserted my shoelace and tapped the hooked retainer closed. I repeated this on the other end of my shoelace draw band.

I then removed the cover and carriage from the Lexikon 80 – see Rob Bowker’s great tutorial – and pulled off the old detached draw string. Using a bamboo skewer (I will always be indebted to Robert Messenger for his documentation and use of the bamboo skewer in drawband replacement) and fed the shoelace through to the mainspring.

Here is my shoelace hooked on the right side of the carriage:


And here is the shoelace hooked onto the mainspring drum (I wound the mainspring about 3.5 rotations before attaching the draw strap:


Super classy!  We’ll see if it holds up and doesn’t slip off.

While I was replacing the drawband, I reflected on the typewriter drawbands that I have known:

I like junkier typewriters, so many of my typewriters have had drawband problems.

The Lexikon 80 is happy to be functional again – the new shoelace drawband is very handsome. I had hoped to make more progress on my Fox 24, but overall it was a pleasant holiday spent tinkering with typewriters.

Total Fox: Fox No. 24 Typewriter

My new Fox No. 24 typewriter is a total fox – or a totaled fox. When I took it out of the shipping box from the eBay seller, I found the back left corner (cast iron) had broken off in shipment.



It wasn’t typing, so what mysteries lay within? I felt that it could type since hitting the keys was causing a flicker of movement in the carriage as if it wanted to type. Time to take it apart.

Words Are Winged has a great photo spread on the dismantling of the Fox typewriter which was very helpful.  Over at Google Books, The Expert Typist by Clarence Charles Smith (1922) is newly found resource for me. It has information on the general use and operation of Fox, Multiplex Hammond, Noiseless, LC Smith, Remington, Smith Premier, Royal and Underwood typewriters as well as more advanced typing such as stencils and mimeograph operation and the preparation of statistical reports.  It’s a window into the world before word processors, spreadsheets, and printers.

The dedication of The Expert Typist is heartbreaking:


The Expert Typist has a section on how to remove the carriage from a Fox typewriter on page 12:

“Carriage. – Carriages of the Fox typewriter are interchangeable, and different lengths can be kept on hand and used as the work requires.  To remove the carriage, first remove the carriage scale pointer (No. 2312), unfasten carriage drum strap (No. 189) and attach it to hook (drum strap post, No. 133), then take out, or nearly out, the two screws (No. 558) found near each end of the carriage.”

The Expert Typist
By Clarence Charles Smith
Google books

Following the carriage removal instructions, I took off the carriage scale pointer:


I removed the two rusty screws that hold the carriage scale pointer in place

I was unfastening the carriage strap and the draw strap done broke.


Oh. Heck. The ancient draw strap disintegrated when handled

Carry on. Backed out the two carriage screws on the back on the rear left and right:


Check out the green corrosion. There is a matching carriage screw on the left that I backed out enough to removed the carriage. This photo was taken just before I lifted the draw band (drum strap) from its anchor.  As I moved it to the drum strap post,  it fell apart in my hands.

I then lifted up the carriage to reveal large pieces of broken cast iron on both sides of typewriter. Good. Golly.

These two pieces should be one:


And the other side was broken too:



Well. Heck.

It appears that those two cast iron bars are part of the shift mechanism though I am not sure of their purpose. They seem to support the basket during shifts. If you know the name and purpose of these broken parts, let me know.  I’ll be using JB Weld SteelStik or an epoxy adhesive to re-secure them.

Onward: the platen pops out after you loosen a screw on either side and move the platen slide back:


Here’s the machine dismantled (I re-attached the carriage scale pointer after I cleaned it because I was worried that I would lose it).


Fresh Hell: then the front bar fell off. I hadn’t noticed that it was cracked and broken as well:


First thing first: I blew out the inside of the machine with my small air compressor.  It wasn’t terribly dirty – just very rusty and corroded.


The front carriage rail was rusted and the carriage moved with a painful screech. The escapement wheel and pinion wheel were moving but stiff with rust. Many of the typebars were paralyzed with rust. The ribbon vibrator was rusted into an “up” position. Everything that should move smoothly was crunchy.

I saturated everything with PB B’laster Penetrating Catalyst, let it sit for a few hours and then began to move the parts gently with my hands.  They started to loosen up.

The detached carriage was stuck at certain points along the rail – a star shaped wheel on the rail was not moving smoothly along the rail so I doused everything in PB B’laster and moved the carriage back and forth manually until I felt something akin to a gliding sensation.


Carriage - upside down: star shaped wheel that moves along the carriage - there are small ball bearing in there too.

Carriage – upside down view: star-shaped wheel that moves along the rail was sticking.

I got the feeling that this thing might type since hitting the keys was moving the parts of the escapement assembly attached to the machine (the loose dog and rigid dog?). Cleaning and lubrication had freed those parts up nicely.

loose dog, wild dog, stray dog, hot dog

View with carriage removed: cleaned and lubricated loose dog (?) now moving and able to slip in and out of teeth in the escapement wheel during typing.

The escapement wheel looks battered – the beveled teeth are a bit chipped and worn.

chipped tooth

Chipped tooth

I made a new draw strap out of 80lb fishing line and set the carriage back on the body.

I need classier drawstring material. The fishing line works but it's a little hillbilly

I need classier drawstring material. The fishing line works but it’s a little down-market.

I tested typing. The carriage advanced one space for each key struck. I burst into song.

I spooled new red and black ribbon onto the old spools and tried her out.


Looks like my Star of David is indeed an asterisk. Sometimes an asterisk is just an asterisk.


The Fox has a beautifully simple ribbon color switcher: a red key for red typing and a black key for black typing. Even I can figure this one out.


Once I had the machine typing, I began cosmetic improvements. I took my bell and carriage return lever over to Good Neighbor Brian’s shop since he wanted to get in on the fun. He got to work right away.


Brian used a slow buffing wheel (about 1800 RPM) and pink buffing rouge to polish the bell. It cleaned up beautifully.


I was amazed at what he did with the carriage return lever.  I had gotten most of the green corrosion off, but it was dull. He polished it to a mirror-like finish with a small 4″ diameter buffing wheel at 1800 RPM and pink buffing rouge:


Remember – it was really bad before:


This makes me want to get my own variable speed bench grinder and buffing wheel.

I had removed some of the old brass / nickel / chrome pieces that were easy to detach and soaked them first in Evapo-Rust and then in Lime-A-Way.

The Evapo-Rust took off surface rust but did nothing for the green corroded parts. I had tried chrome polish on the greenly corroded pieces, but it wasn’t doing anything. I dug around in the garage and found Lime-A-Way which has a list of powerful acids in it.  It was the Lime-A-Way that removed the green corrosion. Unfortunately, it also turned some of the pieces slightly pink after a prolonged dunk. The acids in the Lime-A-Way are a bit much for the metal I am dealing with here and caused copper leaching/displacement that was then deposited on the surface of the metal (I am guessing here).


I found an interesting post on a home barista website that described the chemical reaction and fix, so I started polishing to remove the copper deposits with my Dremel and a polishing disc. There wasn’t much shiny chrome on the paper fingers to begin with and less after my polishing.  I may walk it over to Brian’s and see if he can put a shine on the metal. I’m planning to wax all the parts to prevent future rust and corrosion


Onto the rusty typebars: they look bad but don’t really affect the functioning, but I wanted to clean them up anyway. I drenched the typebars and their joints with PB B’laster Penetrating Lubricant. While it doesn’t make rust disappear, it seemed to loosen up rust for removal. I scrubbed the sides of the rusty typebars with super fine Scotch-Brite and super fine sandpaper to get the worst of the rust off them. I followed up with my Dremel, polishing the sides with a 512E Finishing Abrasive Buffs 320 Grit and a 442 Carbon Steel Brush.  I scrubbed the type itself with denatured alcohol and a toothbrush and got century-old ink out of the crevices.  The typebars are still looking “vintage”, but a little less rusty.


I am still perfecting my methods – though trial and error is not the best way to go about dealing with a fine old machine. I’m a little worried that my very liberal use of PB B’laster will come back to haunt me in the form of solidified gunk and dirt attraction.  I may follow up with a flush of mineral spirits, a blow-out with compressed air and then very targeted lubrication. I would love to dunk the metal machine guts into a high-capacity ultrasonic tank full of kerosene or solvent – though it sounds like the makings of my very own Superfund site.

Coming up next: gluing her back together and taking glamour shots of the foxy lady.

Grimy Whale: Olivetti Lexikon 80

The 1952 Olivetti Lexikon 80 that I brought home from Goodwill looked pretty bad on arrival. It was covered in grime and dings and scrapes and sticky tape residue. To me this is evidence of a very hard worker who really used his/her typewriter – and who took lunch breaks at the desk (bologna sandwich, a cup of black coffee, and a cigarette) .




Scaly grime

Fortunately I had come across Typewriter Heaven’s post on Lexikology which details how to remove the cover and carriage from the typewriter so that I could pursue a good cleaning.

I followed the steps and pretty soon I had a neked typewriter.

Carriage off - woofie


There was a lot of debris behind the segment – including a shard of white pottery.

Pulled out the blower and cleaned things up

The stripped-down machine innards are pleasantly alien. I have been submerged in pre-war cast iron for the past few weeks and the Lexikon 80 is a blast of fresh modern air. I would assume that for 1952, it was very cutting edge.



I scrubbed the type slugs and type bars with denatured alcohol and the grease dissolved beautifully. I was careful to drape plastic and painted areas.

I cleaned the segment with denatured alcohol first and because the keys still felt sticky, mineral spirits afterwards. The keys on the right were particularly sticky. Did someone spill a Slurpee® into the segment?


The margin release key was sunken – I followed the connector down and found that the lever had migrated out of its slot – popped it back in and all was well.

I don’t understand the tab mechanism very well. While cleaning the keyboard, I pressed on the tab key and it got stuck in a depressed state. I found that a small metal piece attached to the tabbing mechanism in back was bent to the side. It didn’t look right, so I straightened it out and it seemed to be work better.  However, the tab key still felt gummy and the tabs weren’t working reliably.


“Not working reliably” is an understatement. After I put the machine back together, I tested setting and using tabs. It seemed to be working gummily but OK.  Then I made the mistake of clearing all the tabs and hitting the tab key. Bad idea. the carriage whirled to the end of the line and upon return, did it again and again. I ended up manually lifting up on the gummy tab key and that seemed to correct the problem. I immediately set a tab so it wouldn’t happen again.

After the fact, I stumbled across Rob Bowker’s post on Graphika and Lexikon tabulator eccentricities.  Good to hear that I’m not the only person to experience the strange tab behavior. My tab key felt stiff and gummy, so maybe gunk was causing a problem.

So I took the cover and carriage off again and examined all the moving parts of the tab mechanism. I applied PB B’laster Penetrating Catalyst to all the areas below and worked the tab mechanism with my hands. The gumminess receded and the tab key began to move freely.

No set tabs – no problema! Works great now that it’s a bit cleaner and lubricated.

I applied PB Blaster to these area. I had to hold a flat plate down so that I could freely work the tab bar

I applied PB B’laster to these areas. I had to hold a flat plate down with my finger so that I could freely work the tab key.

And more cleaning: I cleaned the cover with a little Soft Scrub – it’s a mild abrasive.  It did a great job on the scaly grime, but I found that it was the Scrubbing Bubbles that really tore through the discolored dinge-colored grime.  The hard enameled paint withstood the Soft Scrub and Scrubbing Bubbles treatment. I was cautious because some typewriters have very delicate paint. I used Goo Gone for thick areas of rubber and tape residue. Areas of the cover that I thought were scraped and damaged were actually just scaly with grime. After cleaning, the Lexikon looked a little vulnerable and naked without her covering of scaly grunge, so I gave the cover a good protective coating with Renaissance Wax. I love the pretty greenish-taupe that was hiding under the dirt.

I think I see a shine there!



The originally washers were sticky globs of melted goo – a horrible mess.  I scraped them off and cleaned the areas with Goo Gone and denatured alcohol.

I found replacement rubber washers at Home Depot that were sort of hard to the touch, but they did the job.



I was able to reattach the carriage without much drama. A good wiggle and it was back on. I inserted a new ribbon and fired up the machine.

Cleaning products


I wanted to give the keys some exercise and began a letter to a fellow typospherian.  I got halfway through the first page when I heard a snap and a zing and found the draw band snapped. Good Grief, Charlie Brown!


I sighed, pulled out my 80lb fishing line (suitable for deep sea ocean fishing and typewriter repair) and got to work.  I decided to salvage the end hook that attaches to the carriage frame.


Salvaged hookSalvaged hook


Bamboo skewer to feed the line through to the mainspring


I wound the mainspring 3.5 rotations and tied the fishing line to the mainspring. I did it by myself, but it would have been easier with a second pair of hands. The typewriter is happily typing again.

This Olivetti Lexikon 80 cleaned up so nicely. I swear I didn’t put Vaseline on the lens.


This typewriter has some special keys I haven’t had the pleasure to possess before: accents – acute and grave – umlaut, and circumflex.

Here are some things that I couldn’t type until now:


Addendum: a family member requested that I include this sample of the creative use of the umlaut:


One final note: be sure to check out Vintage Technology Obsessions’ post on Olivetti Lexikon 80 production lines. There are some fascinating images there – I love the Lexikon 80s rolling along on a conveyor belt. I went to the Italian site referenced in the post and found this great image of Enrico Fermi inspecting the innards of a Lexikon 80. I may hang it above my Lexikon 80.

Ivrea, Italy, 1949: Enrico Fermi's Nobel-caliber mind is blown as he examines a Lexikon 80 carcass.

Ivrea, Italy, 1949: Enrico Fermi’s Nobel-caliber mind is blown as he examines a Lexikon 80 carcass.