Saturday, March 25, 2023

Spools and ribbon for an old Oliver typewriter

The early 1900s Oliver typewriters do not use the standard half-inch ribbon, but were built to take 7/16" ribbon on a wooden spool-core.

This machine as found had an ill-fitting standard ribbon (crumpling as it passes through the vibrator) and plastic spools that look out of place (and didn't fit the take-up pin).

Since the 1930s replacement spools and ribbon for Olivers have probably been rather hard to come by. However, enabled by the internet's global online-market, today these are again available. Amazingly, it is possible today not only to buy new, inked 7/16" ribbon, but even to obtain a correct ribbon with a new Oliver-type wooden spool-core.

If this machine had been in good condition, this is definitely what i'd have gotten for it. As it is, the ancient Oliver looks a bit of a wreck - splashing-out on new spools seemed 'too much of an honour' for it. More in keeping with the much mucked-about machine, decided to continue 'mucking about' by making some spools and a ribbon at the kitchen table.

Ingredients are a wooden bobbin from the craft-store, veneer salvaged from a French-cheese-packaging, 10mm satin-weave ribbon from the haberdashers and oil-based metal-stamp ink from an online store. Not in the group-picture is one extra hairpin clip, for making the spool-clip.

The Oliver wooden spool-core needs to fit over a capstan with ~5mm spindle and have a recess to fit over the ~16mm diameter spindle-base. Total height of the spool around 11mm. The central section of this bobbin was 18mm, with a 7mm diameter hole. That nicely gives some play and makes dimensioning less critical, so the bobbin was sawed into ~5mm thick 18mm diameter disks and an extra hole for the take-up pin drilled. The veneer was first placed in hot water for a couple of minutes and then wound round a cylinder to dry - this will reduce stress and risk of snapping when gluing as a flange around the wooden disk. With wood-glue, the now-curvy 11mm strips of veneer were wrapped around the disks (held in-place with some rubber-band to give time to completely set).

When all dry and hardened, only some extra filing for clearances to make sure the cores drop easily onto the capstans of the machine - result: a set of cobbled-up Oliver spool-cores. Not as good as cores turned-up on a lathe, but they'll do for this battered old machine.

Held in place with the clips, the ribbon was wound onto a spool. The first few inches were inked by running it over a pad, then the rest of the ribbon was inked by 'painting' the top of the wound ribbon from the bottle. The droplets of ink placed on top of the ribbon are drawn into the fabric.

First test-typing with the half-inked ribbon was underwhelming - this is certainly not as good as a proper, manufactured 7/16" ribbon. Then again, let's say it is good enough for this battered machine :-)

Giving it several hours to soak, the ink is nearly-completely drawn into the ribbon. Winding from spool-to-spool will further help distributing ink evenly over the entire length of the ribbon. 

Note by the way that the Oliver's ribbon-direction control is a 3-position switch. The L and R settings are for winding left / right spools, but the slide-switch also has a mid-position that leaves both spindles free. This allows winding by hand from one to the the other spool. 

When testing with the new ribbon, it was discovered that the spool-covers of an Oliver are not just decorative, but also a functional item. This springy satin-weave ribbon has a tendency to jump out of the guides and 'go haywire'. The cover is needed to guide and keep the ribbon on the spool. (That's why there's the paperclip on the cup-rim in the image further above of the half-inked ribbon.)

New, reproduction covers could be 3D-printed for sure, but again a more basic method was used by simply mocking-up spool covers from card. Printing the design on paper, glueing to thin card-stock and then cut out. Glue a ~4 mm card rim to the disk, let it all set and paint black - result: a set of cobbled-up Oliver spool covers.

Selecting two covers that were the best press-fit around the cups, this battle-worn old Oliver is a little more complete now with a narrow ribbon and lookalike covers.

Will be seen how this ribbon holds up, it types rather faint now so perhaps some extra ink needed. 

The ink also still needs more days (weeks) to completely seep in evenly - not an issue as this machine was going to be put in storage anyways pending decision what to do with it. This was nevertheless a fun thing to already do with it :-)

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