Friday, May 20, 2022

Carriage of the Synela - continuing the S.I.M. typewriter repair

The next step in reviving this machine was tackling the carriage. Having taken it off the machine, it was stripped down to its bare frame with only the feed-rollers left in place.

Noticed when taking it apart; the S.I.M. machine could also have been supplied with a line-release. This one does not have that, but the the rod and knob (left) are hollow so the carriage can take a platen with the extra parts for the form-fill / line-release function.

Another quirk during disassembly is that the platen-rod bearing on the right has an up-down adjustable bearing. The extra 'stop' allows taking off the platen and keep the alignment. In this case, everything was taken off for cleaning and polishing.

Overall, the machine started to feel very much like Royal portable typewriter. E.g. the return-lever and how it actuates the line-feed is the same, as is the basic frame construction of the whole machine. Comparing the two makes, it's probably fair to say that the S.I.M. typewriter is a 'knock-off' Royal. Their design copied from a 'P' in the early 1930s.

One thing they also copied was a very tricky carriage bearing construction. Taking the carriage off is a simple matter of removing the stop at an end of the rail. Then it slides out cleanly and four ball bearings drop out. Plus one little cage for every ball.

Putting it all back is unfortunately not straightforward. At least, it took several tries to get the cage+ball in - and get it in the right spot so that the carriage would do its full travel. Oh, and not lose a left-ball when you try to get in a right-ball. All very fiddly and confusing. It's all back on now, but I do wish I'd seen that straw-trick in this helpful video earlier (thank you!). 

In any case, taking it off helped with cleaning - it did need cleaning...

With the carriage finally back on its rails (and clean), also the body-panels were placed back onto the machine. More fixes and missing parts to be tackled, but it is starting to look like a typewriter again :)

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Monroe L 160-X; a very compact, very quiet calculator

This picture from a 1941 printing of a Monroe brochure shows the L 160-X calculator's small size - it even came with its own carrying case.

This specimen lost its carrying case, but otherwise has survived very well. A Monroe L 160-X (Executive) mechanical calculator. As the advertising text of the brochure notes; it really is amazingly compact, the main body measuring only 15 by 22 cm. (I.e. tiny compared to calculators of the time.)

This type was introduced in 1929, basically a half-sized version of their earlier machines. Around 1936 the pale green keyboard was introduced with the extra shadow-mask plate for better visibility of pressed-down keys. Probably around 1939 the handles were given a more modern, straight shape. This specimen still has the crackle-pattern black on green paint on the main body and the old style Monroe logo - by the late 1940s this was changed to a script logo and a plain finish.

As is noted by others, it's very light-running and quiet compared to other calculators, e.g. pinwheel machines. In some company advertising it was actually referred to as the Monroe Noiseless.

This particular specimen was originally purchased new by a building firm in Munich, where it was used in their office. With the advent of electronic calculators, the machine was put away with others in a storage room - and likely forgotten about. The son of the founder of the firm remembered seeing it being used when he was a child in the 1950s. He was now clearing out the old offices, found it again, and put it up for sale online. And there it was purchased by its second owner (me).

The Typewriterdatabase is also a great resource for calculators!; the serial-number resources of The Database (Nomda) confirmed that this calculator was made in 1946. This matches the start of the firm - who started doing work for the Americans also at that time. Buying an American calculator too - it fits.

It needed cleaning, some minor repairs and only small cosmetic touch-ups - repairs well worthwhile for this very nice and working calculator.

The calculator had evidently been used with care and stored well; a light wipe with a damp cloth was really all that was needed. Even on generally clean machines however, the keys accumulate dirt and 'gunk'. To properly clean that and stabilize any cracks in the plastic, the keytops were taken off. Many keys simply pulled off, the remaining keys were pried off with (curved) pliers resting on a strip of rubber for support to not damage the paint.

The keys can then simply be washed in warm, soapy water. Stubborn 'gunk' is loosened with a wooden toothpick. Where the deforming plastic was cracking, some cyanoacrylate was run into the cracks to hopefully prevent complete disintegration of a key. Then the clean, stabilised keys are ready to be pressed back onto their stems - the lettering on the red control-keys was refreshed with off-white paint.

Before re-fitting the keys however, the machine was taken apart a bit further. The disassembly of a Monroe is fairly widely documented on the web - there are even some original maintenance manuals on the Archive. The keyboard is a sub-assembly that can be lifted out, but in this case only the top-plate was taken off for cleaning it inside (dust and debris does collect over the decades). A bit of a bother to put back perhaps, as all 80 stems need to pass through the slots in the top-plate in one go :)

Underneath the machine, the long bars can be seen that are tilted/deflected by pressing down the key-stems. Their deflection then slides the stepped drums into their positions for the number that is pressed. Two bars per column, as it uses base-5 encoding so two 'digits' per column. The large disk-drum at the back of the machine (it's standing on its front) is the 10-s carry - so there is only 10-carry in the part of the register that is above the main-body. In use that generally isn't an issue, but something to be aware of.

The serial number on these machines is stamped on the inside of a frame side-plate. This can only be seen when the machine is taken apart, but it should also be scratched (by hand) on the inside of the carriage on the left-hand side. The stamping confirms it is an L160X, with serial number 374910 - a 1946 machine.

One broken-off pin in the carriage-mechanism meant the result-register would not clear - a new pin was shaped from a nail and was pressed into place. (It's not hardened steel, but for its future light use it should be fine...)

Another small defect was that the automatic keyboard clearing didn't work in addition, only when subtracting. This turned out to be caused by a stuck sliding cam on the first driving gear. The gear that is driven by the crank has a sliding/rotating cam that depending on the turning direction (addition or subtraction) must slide to the correct timing position. This cam was stuck solid in the subtract-position.

All the gears can be easily taken off by removing the spring-clips of their axles. Very helpfully, all gears are clearly marked for their correct meshing position to maintain correct timing of the mechanism. As is often the case with old mechanical devices, the problem was solved by a good cleaning to remove old grease. Everything then moved freely again and the keyboard cleared as it should for both 'modes'.

The lacquer finish was largely fine with only some minor scuffs and scratches. Using markers of varying shades of green to black and some experimenting, these scuffs were made much less obvious.

The paint-damage also confirmed that this machine originally did have a carrying case. The calculator is held with 'forks' that clamp around two feet and then it's locked with a clamp in this hole in the base-plate - when placing it back into the case it would be easy to scratch the paint around the hole (likely impossible not to do so).

With touched-up paintwork, polished nickel and all-cleaned; a very nice, compact, quiet and quite capable calculator!

Friday, May 6, 2022

A well-oiled segment and keeping track of where all the pull-rods go

The typebars of the Synela portable typewriter were very dirty. The slots in the segment also looked filled with dirt. To thoroughly clean these and make everything move smoothly again, the typebars were taken out of the machine. By pulling out the pivot-rod, the typebars can be slid out of the slots and manoeuvred out of the machine.

The typebars were heavily tarnished (black), but the bearing-surfaces also turned out to be covered in oil. The segment slots were filled with black 'deposits' and equally well oiled. This may have been old oil, but perhaps it was recent oil (or WD40...) - quite plausible that the segment was 'soaked' about 5 months ago to make the typebars move again when putting it on Etsy as 'working'. 

Keeping a segment oiled is generally a bad idea. It can give temporary relief and make everything move freely, but will attract dust and dirt and over years can harden to completely clog a machine (especially WD40 will harden). Creeping oil or WD40 can be excellent for freeing things up, but really has to be washed-out thoroughly afterwards. The oil in the slots confirmed that this machine really needed taking apart for cleaning.

The typebars are numbered, but the pull-rods that connect them to the intermediate bell-cranks are not. These 44 rods are also all differently shaped and need to go back in their correct position. To keep track of these, all were given a numbered tag the moment they were taken out of the machine.

The segment had to be cleaned in-place on the machine, as its screws were impossible to loosen without risking damage. Rinsing with white spirit (i.e. petrol or gasoline, but without all the additives) solved the oil, but did not do anything against the dirt. Thorough scrubbing and rubbing in the slots with wooden skewers and thick card was needed to get rid of (most of) the black 'lining' inside the slots.

Also the tarnishing of the typebars could only be removed by vigorous polishing (Brasso!). After cleaning they still have some black corrosion (?), but at least the bearing surfaces are mostly clean and smooth again. 

The typebars then all lined up and ready to be put back into a clean segment. They are numbered from 1 to 44, but also on this machine there is a small numbering hick-up as is oddly common on typewriters. On this one there is no 35 and there are two 34 typebars. Starting at typebar 1 and pushing in the pivot-rod further as typebars and rods are added, all the typebars are placed back in the machine and hooked-up with the bell-crank.

Placing back the type-guide, the decorative segment-plate and the two side plates, the typebars and basket are assembled clean and everything is moving freely again. There still are some spots of nickel-loss and tarnish/corrosion, but overall it's looking very smart :) 

Another thing was the cracked frame-bar that is the bearing for the key-bars. This was merely patched-up by applying some cyanoacrylate in the crack to stop movement. The bar is held in the outer machine-frame at both ends, and the crack is not really a load-bearing area - so this should be good enough for a while. 

As was done originally, the serial-number was picked-out with paint.

On the carriage-base, the escapement can be seen to be 'a proper escapement' with star-wheel and extra pinion to engage with the carriage-rack. Overall, although it is perhaps a 'budget' machine, the build quality looks rather good. It depends perhaps a bit more on many adjustments than on machined-precision for its function, but the core mechanism convinces as a decent typewriter. The more reason to try to revive it :-)

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Typewriter safari - a manual (was that a Royal?), an electric and an electronic

Spotted on a thrift-store safari this morning - a Roytype typewriter. It is in a display cabinet behind glass in their office, not for sale. One of the items kept in their own collection :)

The Roytype branding was used by Royal for their ribbons, but not for typewriters. The machine was difficult to see, but seemed to be a bit different from the common models of 1930/40s Royal portable. (Royal Roytype typewriters were indeed made, but much later.) What Royal portable machine then is this - with that carriage sloping and an extra panel. Surely it is not a knock-off? It has a qwerty-keyboard and overall fairly Royal-y 'squarish'. Thinking of Rooy and their later run-in with Royal about their name (with swirly R), but the Rooy portables of the 1940s are quite different in style - sharp edges. Hard to credit that this would be a knock-off. More likely a regular Royal portable, one that I failed to identify seeing it only from behind - and from behind glass :-) 

In another store; an electric SCM Coronet in a quite hideous, large, plastic suitcase.

And in yet another store, on a dark bottom-shelf an electronic Philips typewriter from the end of the typewriter-era.

All machines left where they were, a photo-safari only :-)

Friday, April 29, 2022

The Synela brand, a Dutch typewriter made in Italy for Spain

The Synela portable typewriter is clearly a S.I.M. machine, one of the rarer name-variants. 

Online mentions of Synela typewriters are few. In ETCetera number 79 is noted that in HBw-Aktuell of May 2007 there is an item about the Synela portable (SIM name variant). Then one more mention in ETCetera number 93 of March 2011 of a Synela arriving new on a collector's shelf. Apart from those two machine-mentions, only the name is included in listings of the many-varied names that S.I.M. produced. No trace anywhere else of Synela typewriters (or macchina per scrivere, máquina de escribir or schrijfmachine). Based on this, there may be three Synela machines in existence (although the 2007 and 2011 mentions may even be one machine). So the Synela-brand is fairly rare. 

For a name-variant to be produced by S.I.M. some volume would be expected - making the tooling to stamp the new name would not be done for only a hundred machines (or would it?). Who or what then is Synela? ( It may be that the HBw-Aktuell item of May 2007 has the full story, but haven't got that publication - if anyone has, please do tell :-) )

The Synela was made by S.I.M. in Turin, Italy, it has a Spanish keyboard layout and was found in the Amsterdam area in The Netherlands. Searching then a bit more on the Italian, Spanish and Dutch language web actually yielded a mention of the Synela in Spain! In the Spanish National Archives is a paper document with a proposal for the supply of typewriters of the Synela brand by the agent of the Dutch syndicate Synela in response to a government tender.

The document itself is not scanned, but the item is listed on the portal to the archives. The offer is dated as October 1938, so not clear who issued the tender. The document itself probably contains more information, e.g. about the number of machines offered. No indications found so far if an order was ever granted, this was towards the final stage of the Spanish Civil War. This Spanish-keyboard Synela portable typewriter almost certainly is linked to this Spanish offer. It is however not clear if machines in existence are samples to support the offer, or actual delivered machines.

The Dutch syndicate "Synela" mentioned in the Spanish archive was the Syndicaat voor Handel en Industrie "Synela", with offices at De Dam 2a, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (i.e. Syndicate for Trade and Industry "Synela"). Ergo the 'Syn' is for syndicaat, not clear what the 'ela' is for. Could very well be the initials of the founder, or could be 'energy and aviation', the a could be for Amsterdam, etc.

They e.g. get mentioned on page 8 in a small notice in De Nieuwe Leidsche Courant of September 27, 1958 for having won a defence contract for aircraft maintenance and parts.

They again get mentioned several times in the 1960s in 'International Commerce' (published by the US Bureau of International Commerce to promote international trade). They are listed as an interested party for e.g. power generators and aircraft parts - i.e. items that would be sold to governments. An address in central Amsterdam - De Dam no less - also fits that profile. The company even has a NATO CAGE code - probably still active mid 1970s. The company (CAGE code H5181) then is listed with an address in Voorburg. When the company was dissolved, it was located in Mijdrecht and/or Naarden.

So the Synela brand portable typewriter was probably made as a one-off, ordered by the Syndicaat voor Handel en Industrie "Synela" as part of their bidding for a Spanish government (which?) contract for typewriters. As a trading company, they looked for a source and then went to the major OEM maker of typewriters at the time; the S.I.M. company of Turin. They will surely have had samples made to support their bid. It is i think uncertain if the order was ever fulfilled by them.

Next to any extra information about the 1938 bid, it would also be interesting to be able to compare the serial numbers of all three (?) known surviving Synela typewriters. Also curious if all known Synela machines indeed have a Spanish keyboard layout. ( Anyone with a Synela portable typewriter; please do share! )

This particular Synela portable typewriter as found near Amsterdam was likely never supplied to Spain, but kept at the company in Amsterdam. It probably dates to 1938 or 1939, lost its carrying case (if it ever had one) and was (ab)used, inexpertly serviced at some time and finally damaged further in transport.

This particular Synela was then in 2022 stripped down, to see if it can be revived:

Friday, April 22, 2022

Synela brand S.I.M. portable typewriter

A Synela portable typewriter in glossy black.

This is yet another name variant of the S.I.M. portable typewriter, made in Italy. As is extensively documented on multiple webpages, the Societâ Industriale Meccanica of Turin made the same portable typewriter from about 1932 to 1953 with several different housing styles and a large variety of brands. Most of these 'typewriter brands' were store-brands, although some seem factory-own brands (e.g. SIM, Montana). The Synela is probably a 'private label' variant of their machine.

It has the angular housing (can also be slanted, like e.g. a Wanderer) with a closed top-cover (can also be open spools, like e.g. an early Royal P). It has the push-knobs at the side for ribbon-reverse (could also be had with a lever at front), shift-lock at the right (can also be left) and pillar-lever for ribbon-colour (can also be lever sticking out of front).

This was a bit of an impulse buy - it was a S.I.M. which I thought not a particularly special machine, but hadn't seen a Synela branded one. Also the glossy black angular housing looked neat. It had been on Etsy for several months at 'aspirational' prices. Hadn't spotted it there, but it then it popped up on the national classifieds site for a much more reasonable (but still respectable) asking price. So 'went for it' and got it shipped from a vintage-shop in the Amsterdam area.

Packing was discussed - buffering all around! Yes, buffer all around, no worries. Well. It'd be funny if it hadn't caused damage - yes, there was buffer all around. The machine was placed on its back on the bottom of the box and then very well buffered on the sides. That was a new one...

Ergo; the machine was damaged in transport. A cast frame-bar is broken (see offset between the I and M of S.I.M.).  The draw-band was tangled with the escapement (?), the ribbon-transport only works one-way (broken ratchet), the shift is wonky. A pity is that even the colour of the ribbon-selector is gone; pulverised remains of paint in the box (vibrations?) - before shipping it was still there...

No surprise - this Synela doesn't type. Notable that on Etsy this machine was listed as working (as seems to be the norm on Etsy, although to be fair it did not have the Etsy-usual 'working perfectly'). The transport-damage hasn't helped, but it's doubtful that this typewriter was even half-functional before shipping.

The first result of all this is that for now we'll only be doing pick-up in-person of new typewriters.

Another outcome is that we have a typewriter with 'issues' that is not a particularly special or rare model, so no qualms about taking it apart and seeing what can be done to revive it.

It does have a less common brand-name, so there's also that to find out.

Not quite the outcome as expected ("yes, will be buffer all around", really...), but for sure plenty of enjoyable tinkering ahead.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The lock of a typewriter carrying case

Specifically; the mangled lock of the case for a 1930s Erika M typewriter. This is a relatively heavy, expensive typewriter, so had a fairly solid case with a lock. The lock of this machine's case had however been badly mangled, the flip-up clasp had been pried off with brute force. Luckily it was still hanging on to the lock, albeit with only one (mangled) leg. To be able to re-fit this clasp, the holding-bracket needs to come off. To remove the holding-bracket, you need to get inside the lock. So the whole lock had to come off.

Luckily in this case, the lock is fitted not with rivets, but with split-pens - with some careful closing the split-ends and prying them up, the lock can be completely removed from the case lid.

Then the lock can be opened by removing two screws from the back cover. The lock itself is rusty, but the front plate and the holding-bracket and clasp are made of brass. Cleaning and careful bending (brass!) got the clasp back into shape again for re-fitting.

As it is open anyways, all parts were taken off and cleaned. When re-assembling, the thick tabs of the holding-bracket unfortunately cracked (brass...) - to fix the bracket, as an alternative fix, the bracket was soldered into place. One thing to check when assembling a lock, especially when there's no key, is to make sure it's put together in the unlocked state. (As I discovered after putting it together the first time...)

The whole thing re-assembled and given a polish, it is put back with the original split-pen nails into the case. The clasp now snaps open and closed again to hold the slide unlocking the case. With the right key it probably also locks fine again, but for now will not be pushing my luck with that :-)


Friday, April 8, 2022

Badge engineering

Spotted in a local thrift-shop / recycling centre - two bulky beige office typewriters. They were on the same shelf, separated by another beige machine. They probably spent their working-life in the same office too. 

Makes one wonder - what was left of the Adler or Triumph brand-identities with badge-engineering this obvious :-)

Friday, April 1, 2022

Heavy precision instrument, a Nova Brunsviga

Arrived recently:

After taking the item out of the padded shipping box, it's still completely wrapped in buffering material. The seller thankfully took extra care, using the online packaging advice provided by an experienced collector of mechanical calculators. The extra buffering held in place on the machine helped to prevent any of the cranks taking the mass of the machine during transport handling.

The padding removed; revealed is a mid 1920s Nova Brunsviga calculator Model II. The machine is dusty and dirty, but it is complete.

This is a common model; about 10,000 Nova Model IIs were made and today these are not rare. It's quite a large machine and surprisingly heavy at well over 12 kg - built like a freight engine; precise to fine tolerances, large and exceptionally robust. 

This calculator appears to have survived the (always risky) shipping well, just as it seems to have weathered the past 90-odd years quite well. It is very stiff with congealed lubricant - from reading about other Nova's online this seems a common theme, so possibly it's the factory-original oil. 

Although everything is stiff and reluctant to move, a brief check showed that all functions still work correctly as they should - a quality machine!

Taking a quick peek inside the calculator by taking off the front-cover suggests that this calculator is 'unmolested' and in original condition. The dirt on the plus-minus indicator vane will have taken decades to collect through the small indicator opening. This calculator has not been serviced (or opened) for decades, although the wear-pattern of the paint shows it's been well-used originally.

This will be a fascinating machine to tweak back to shape - it will however have to wait for a bit, on the shelf for now.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Brightening of glass typewriter keys (of the Erika M)

To brighten the discoloured glass-topped typewriter keys of this keyboard,

to make all keys have an even brightness and squeaky clean,

they were all removed from the machine,

and collected in plastic bags. In the bags there are then 49 typewriter key rings, 49 glass disks and more than 50 cardboard keytops.

For proper typewriter-repair there exist special tools for removing and for replacing key-rings. As a hobbyist or 'tinkerer' I've no such tools - on this typewriter the key-rings are however held on by tabs and not a press-fit and not corroded onto the key-base. This made a full keyboard-refresh still feasible, the tabs could be carefully coaxed open and the keys taken off one by one. 

To brighten the keyboard, all the individual parts of the keys were cleaned and new set of keytop labels were made to be placed over the top of the original cardboard keytop labels.

The nickelled brass rings had quite heavy corrosion. A rubbing with metal-polish did not have much effect - gently scrubbing with fine steel-wool was needed to clean them up. Pitting in some spots was made less noticeable by the aluminium-method.

The glass disks were all cleaned with soapy water, a wooden skewer was needed to scrape off the dirt-rings. The glass was surprisingly dirty, even in the disk-centres. After washing, the glass tops lost their yellowish hue and actually came out very bright and clean again.

Taking off the keys also confirmed that this is a Dutch machine that was modified with Norwegian characters. The 'new' keytops are of a different typeface, and also a smaller diameter, thinner card. The original card keytop was thinned-down to accommodate the new label on top when the machine was changed, probably back in 1937. For the other key, the thinning-down removed the lettering, so unknown what the original characters were for that one.

To create new inserts for the keys, the card keytop labels were scanned at 1200dpi resolution. This gives about 660 pixels across a label, enough for editing and decent quality printing. All the labels were then digitally cleaned. This was fairly straightforward by simply removing the label background and only keeping the black (very dark grey) marking. Never noticed it before, but it turned out that several letters have a tiny white dot in the lower-right of the character. Perhaps an aid to prevent accidentally reversing transparencies in the total printing/preparation process? (See e.g. the 'B' and the 'O' in below image.)


The re-touched, cleaned labels were then printed at the highest quality setting on a laser-printer. A fairly thin, smooth ivory-coloured paper was used. In hindsight a thicker paper (e.g. 120 grams) could possibly have been better - more opaque. Thin paper was used because of wanting to keep the original cardboard keytop labels on the typewriter,  to fit on top without adding too much to the height of the stack held by the ring. 

To protect the sintered toner, the printed sheet was given a coating of protective 'artists' varnish. This seals the toner, makes the surface smoother still and will help protect against moisture.

This varnish unfortunately also made the paper half-translucent, so that the original letter of the old label would show through underneath. Thicker paper maybe would have not had this problem... For this smooth, thin paper it was however solved by painting the reverse first with white paint and then a layer of grey paint. After experimenting on a blank bit of paper with different paints, a water-based acrylic modelling paint was used that did not warp the paper and also had excellent coverage. 

These two extra layers on the bottom made the labels completely opaque, yet still thin and with a nice, smooth ivory finish on top. (One original 'M' label shown for comparison in the image above, next to it one new label upside-down showing the grey reverse. The labels are on a white background.)

The original colour of the tab (and backspace) key could still be seen where the label had been protected against fading by the ring. Because it is hard to predict colour when printed - several labels with different shades of red were added to the printed sheet. A simple, 100% red-toner turned out to be the cleanest and a good match for the machine.

The new, thin labels were fixed on top of the old labels with small dots of glue from a 'glue-stick' on the edges. This prevents rotation and also should allow them to come off again without any damage to the visible part of an old label - i.e. it is a reversible restoration. The new labels were placed in exactly the same orientation on the original, i.e. the same way 'up'. This was done to help in re-fitting of the cardboard to the key-bases.

Next a glass disk was placed on top and the stack 'fed' into a ring - given a firm push to fully seat it in the ring. For orientation, the cleanest, least-corroded part of a ring was chosen to be in front, to be in view.

Dots of glue were placed on the key-base, exactly as was done originally in the S&N factory. Every key-top stack was then pressed onto its key-base and the three tabs folded-over. The glue should prevent the labels from rotating. For most keys, the cardboard keytop label still had an impression of the key-base embossed, this made the cardboard 'fit' the base and will also make rotating unlikely.

The tabs of the key-rings are of course the weak element; brass does not like bending. Replacement key-rings are not so easily sourced today, so there'd be no easy way out in case of mishaps. Luckily, only one of the 147 tabs broke off - there were also two that started to crack, these were 'stabilised' with a spot of cyanoacrylate glue in the crack.

The overall outcome of the entire procedure is a cleaned, bright keyboard with the original graphics that does not look too 'new' or out of place. The original labels are still present on all keys, so in principle this is a reversible restoration. 

This barn-find wreck-machine is starting to look very presentable - a very rewarding machine to try to fix-up :)