Tuesday, January 21, 2014


The L.C. Smith Number 8 has become my first tinkering project. I confess that I may have dove into this without having the foggiest clue what I was doing. I approached it with the childlike wonder that says, "Let's take it apart and see how it works." There is nothing wrong with this, but it may require a great deal of patience to see it through.

The first step to getting the Smith even functional was finding a ribbon. Through asking around, I found a stationary supply and print shop hidden away in an unmarked building in a seldom seen corner of the city. It is the kind of shop that doesn't really need to be seen because it generally serves businesses rather than walk-in customers. I came out of there with universal calculator spool. It seems to be inked a little too well as the type is readable but blotchy.

The simple act of winding the ribbon onto the old metal spools was surprisingly relaxing. Apparently, without even realizing it, I had become so caught up in the high speed world of the digital age that my mind longed to be grounded in physical reality.

The next flaw I found was that the carriage bell often dinged randomly during typing. Having never tinkered with a typewriter before, I had no idea where the carriage bell was actually located. So I began removing tiny screws, removing the back panels and gazing into the guts of the beast.

I found that Hoppe's gun oil worked like a charm in cleaning and lubricating the metal pieces. This should come as no surprise since several companies manufactured both typewriters and firearms over the years, Remington being the most well-known example.

Putting it back together by memory wasn't as easy as I thought. I recommend taking notes, labeling parts and even taking photos at each step. Unfortunately, by the time I had any of these bright ideas, I was already further into the project than I had anticipated.

In the meantime, I had given the Remington to my girlfriend as a Christmas present, leaving me without a functional typer until I got the Smith reassembled. This served as powerful motivation to get the Smith at least partially back online so that I could type. Luckily, I found the Royal to satisfy my addiction in the meanwhile.

The Smith is now partially back together, to the point where it can be used ... somewhat. I now know how Geordi La Forge feels when he says that the Enterprise's warp engines are only at sixty percent. Everything seems to work somehow, but Geordi is nervous.

The Smith is serving me well as a self-paced tutorial for the tinkering aspect of my hobby. Now that I've connected with the Typosphere, I have other minds to help me along the way. In a way, this hobby is self-supporting. As long as I have typewriters to tinker with, I'll always have something to type about.

Friday, January 17, 2014


The act of typing on a typewriter has become like a form of meditation for me. It inspires creativity on a level that is difficult to achieve on a personal computer. Don't get me wrong. I love modern technology. The computer is a wonderful telecommunication device. It is an efficient tool for the storage and transmission of data. It is even my primary source of entertainment. A few years ago, I gave up a television subscription in favor of YouTube and Netflix. Online entertainment allows me to manage my time on my own terms rather than plan my activities around the television schedule.

But it seems that for every advancement, there is a setback. As we communicate with greater speed, communication becomes more careless. Language becomes less artful and more utilitarian. You becomes U. Sophisticated wit is replaced with a simple LOL. Spell-check and auto-correct point out mistakes that can be corrected with the delete key.

I appreciate modern conveniences as much as anyone, but sometimes there is more to consider than convenience. Fast food is tasty and convenient but not nearly as enjoyable as a home-cooked meal. CGI makes movie special effects easier ... and less impressive.

I believe that the creative process has a great deal of input on the outcome of the creation itself. On a typewriter, the writing process is slower and thus, more thoughtful. Words are not easily deleted, so they are chosen more carefully. The process is more painstaking and therefore, more rewarding.

The typewriter is a single-purpose machine. When I sit down at the typewriter, my mind is in writing mode. There is no temptation to IM, Tweet or get lost on YouTube with the click of the mouse. The sound of the keys drowns out the distractions.

Of course, I'm no primitivist when it comes to modern technology. As I type this on my Royal, my laptop sits on the other side of the table waiting for me to type the final draft into the blog. Just as there is room on my table for a typewriter and a computer, there should be room in our lives for the aesthetics of the past and the advances of the future.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A new hobby ...

My interest in the typewriter stemmed from an interest in the history of my profession. I would chat with a older co-worker at the newspaper office about the days of hot metal type, when cut-and-paste was literally cutting and pasting.

I really fell in love when I was out Christmas shopping and visited Shadows of the Past, a local antique shop. There I found a Remington portable and a L.C. Smith Secretarial Number 8. These two mechanical denizens of a bygone age speak of their purpose through their design.

This Remington portable model still works like a charm.
The Remington is compact and lightweight. I can easily pick it up with one hand. It was made for the writer or journalist on the go. It was made to accompany the writer to events, offices and hotel rooms as a faithful and functional companion.

The L.C. Smith Secretarial is a heavy stationary model from around
1934, if my research serves me well. This one has become my
tinkering project.
The Smith model is a heavy hunk of metal. It was designed to sit on a desk at a business. When I first put my fingers on the keys, I typed the first thing that popped into my mind. "Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise." It then occurred to me that the designers and users of this machine would not have recognized that phrase.

The Smith needed a few adjustments. First, I needed to find a ribbon for it and wind it onto the metal spools. Universal calculator spool worked, but it makes the type blotchy. It seems that the ribbon is too well inked for how hard the keys strike.

Another problem was that the carriage bell dinged at random while I typed. So I embarked on the journey of some learn-as-you-go repair work. Like any love affair, this led to a great deal of frustration and satisfaction. As I gazed into the working components, I felt like I was looking back through time. I wondered if the last person to service the machine was even still alive.

Those of us who take on this peculiar hobby take on a great challenge indeed. Typewriter repair was not a do-it-yourself project back in the day. Typewriters were expensive machines that required trained professionals for repair and maintenance. Those who performed this task were the forerunners of today's computer tech support.

Today the typewriters survive, but most of the experts and technical manuals are long gone. We typewriter aficionados are left to rediscover this knowledge through our own experience and learning from each other. My hope is that this blog will become one of those valuable resources for those who share my love of typing and tinkering. Unlike the disposable technology of today, these machines were built to last. Let's make sure that the knowledge and skill to maintain them last as well.