Sunday, January 28, 2024

Keyboard repair (and new labels) for the Standard Folding typewriter

After almost 115 years, the keyboard of this little Standard Folding was in a bad state. Most keys had their label and keyring replaced, probably some time in the 1930s or 40s. The replacement rings are a wrong 'flat' pattern and the labels look similar to those used for the later Corona Special machines. To add to this, the 'U' key-lever had lost its key entirely.

Before untangling the 'tapestry' that is a folding keyboard, a picture to note also the position of the spacers at the rod-ends. Some of the key-levers had rusted onto their rod - or rather the rod rusted firmly into the key-lever aluminum bush. These needed several days of oil and gentle tweaking (aluminum is soft!) to loosen them - giving it more time usually helps :)

All key-levers were cleaned with soapy water. Actually, most still needed a scrub with very fine steelwool to make them presentable. Another rinse after the scrubbing to make sure no steelwool debris remains on the parts.

As the key-labels were going to be replaced anyways, the old replacement-rings were removed. The keys are aluminum disks of ~13.8 mm diameter and 2.5 mm thickness (1/10 inch I guess). In the centre a 2.5 mm square hole. Aluminum is an easy material to work with by hand, it's soft and filed easily - nevertheless a 2.5 mm square hole in a 2.5 mm plate is tricky :-)

Keeping a new keyring handy for checking the fit/diameter, the 'U' was given a new key - the lower key-lever in the image above has the new 'U', an original for reference at the top. Looked credible enough.

Using the many useful images of Standard Folding keyboards online and exploring ~1903 typefaces, new key-labels were drawn in Inkscape. The curvy, 'art nouveau-ish' typeface can also be seen on the patent-prototype from 1903, and was kept for nearly all Standard Foldings. Very period in styling. (See patent-model picture on page 200 of the book "Typewriter - a Celebration of the Ultimate Writing Machine" by paul Robert and Peter Weil.)

Couldn't resist and made it a proper keycard. Here below in fairly high-resolution, in case anyone has a Standard Folding in need of new key-labels. (Many of these machines have damaged key-tops - the originals are made from card with a thin celluloid top-coating. This top-layer wears through over time - perhaps from typing with fingernails touching the keys.)

The labels were made with same method used before on the Erika. The keycard was laser-printed on ivory paper, then sealed with artists-varnish and given grey paint on the back to seal/make opaque. This should make the labels last, makes them resistant to wear and to moisture. 

Experimented a bit, and settled on using a 13 mm hole-punch to cut out all the new labels. The same way a set of thin plastic-sheet covers were stamped out. With a set of newly polished key-rings, all parts in place to re-label all the key-levers.

The key-rings were taken from a wrecked 1917 Corona 3. They are not quite the right pattern for a Standard Folding (and not tall enough), but less wrong than the previous and they are from the same company. The rings for the shifting keys are still the 1910 original rings - which is fortunate, because the donor-Corona already had lost a ring and had exactly 28 rings left on it (backspace made 28th).

Some PVA glue was placed on the keys before placing the label to prevent it rotating - and the PVA should not adhere to the aluminum and will make it possible to cleanly undo this restoration later. Firmly pressed down the stack of label and plastic cover with the ring and folded over the tabs with a screwdriver-tip to fix it all in place. Only one tab broke (unfortunately), so a small dab of cyanoacrylate placed there. (Cyanoacrylate is by the way also safe for restoration, it can be cleanly removed by heating it - placed in hot water it will lose all strength and fall apart.)

Then weaving the re-labeled levers and spacebar back onto the three polished rods, the assembly is ready for inserting back into the typewriter. Looking much better (and safe to touch again ;-)

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Starting re-building the Standard Folding Typewriter

Using the proven project-approach of putting all parts in little bags, the Standard Folding Typewriter was completely taken apart. This reduces the machine to a simple aluminum frame. 

The holders for the (new) rubber feet were already sanded bare and re-lacquered black.

Then one-by-one, all the parts are cleaned until there is a collection of clean parts in bags. The cleaning really made a difference. As illustration; the lower rod in below image looked just like the rod above it - very satisfying difference :)

Using the great step-by-step guide "How To Build A Standard Folding Typewriter: Part 1" at the Words are Winged blog as a guide, the first parts are mounted back into the frame. As advised, the shift-lock bracket was mounted before placing the main pivot-rod with the shift-keys.

Re-building started :-)

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Restoration of a Standard Folding Typewriter - stripping lacquer off aluminum

The full re-build of the little Corona 3 was actually done as a trial-run for the possible full re-build and restoration of my Standard Folding Typewriter. This relatively rare machine carried much history with it, signs of repairs and use over its lifetime. It however also looked 'derelict' and frankly it is/was. Being a bit daunted by the machine, it'd been kept wrapped (dirty!) on a shelf since getting it in 2022.

The Corona 3 proving to be feasible, the Standard Folding was now decided to get a full re-build. This will make it look better, cleaner and perhaps even functional. (And not looking like you'd catch something off it at 6 yards probably also would enhance its chances of surviving.)

The crinkle paint probably was applied in the 1930s, so historical of itself already. This had however to be completely removed for a restoration. All screws had been painted-over and impossible to remove, and also of course because these machines should be plain, dull aluminum.

Stripping paint from aluminum cannot be done with the usual method of lye; this would destroy the aluminum part (and potentially be quite dangerous too)! An alternative method is then acetone; especially older lacquer should dissolve and/or soften with acetone (i.e. nail-polish remover).

Because acetone is very volatile, a lidded bin was used and a few liters of acetone bought. Some paper painters-tape to better seal the lid and then propped-up to allow 'dunking' of the painted frame.

Note that also the celluloid top-layer of the old keys will react with the acetone. As these were not original and going to be replaced anyways; these were left on the machine. (And also because all screws were painted-over solid and couldn't be taken off.) 

The acetone-method does work, but needs much more time than the lye-method. Only after two full days in the acetone-bath was this lacquer fully softened.

After leaving it in acetone for 48 hours, the machine still looked painted black as before. The lacquer on the frame had by then however completely softened to a 'paste' - it could be simply wiped off with tissue-paper or a soft brush.

After wiping-off the black goo, fortunately most of the frame's original passivated-aluminum finish came out fine. Unfortunately, the front-panel and the carriage-panel did not come out so well, these ended up having to be polished and are now plain, shiny aluminum - to be dealt with later.

Importantly: all screws are released from their lacquer-seal and the little machine can now be taken fully apart for cleaning and re-building!

Friday, January 19, 2024

Typical Corona 3 folding typewriter - very clean

The little Corona is fully re-assembled and -importantly- also working again.

All the little plastic bags are emptied and a missing part replaced with a part from another (wreck) machine. 

The adjusting of the shifts probably would have benefited from special tools. To tighten the lock-nuts more easily without moving the screw also. Even though it is not too complex, feeling the position of one set of stops when the height is set with the other seems harder than it should be. Adjusting the segment and the type-guide also seems harder than it should be - the factory will have had jigs or special tools for this. (Oh, for a good photograph of the adjusting line in Groton! Or factory work-instructions ;-)

Anyhow the typewriter types again, still some tweaking to fix some remaining 'bi-chrome mixing'. Forming the ribbon-tab on the actuating-bar should work for that. New decal applied on the front frame-bar, the other decals are original.

The Corona 3 has the type-bar pivot-rod held not in a channel, but by screws in a slot in the segment - the four shiny set-screws just visible between the type-bars.

The binding of the carriage had an unexpected cause. After tweaking and tuning (bending) all the clamps and guides of the carriage, it turned out to be the spring-drum itself that was fouling its mounting-plate. A very thin brass washer solved that, it now advances without hesitation as it should.

Should've taken pictures of the 'before' state of the machine; even with a seemingly rusty and grimy machine it can come out very shiny. The typewriter is now also very clean, no dirt even in the deeper recesses of the mechanism; also good to know for a machine kept indoors :)

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Underwood - James Plant, Amsterdam

(And even after then being left somewhere in an attic for at least 50 years, this typewriter still just works - original ribbon and without any cleaning or tweaking. Amazingly durable machines :-)

The James Plant offices are shown in this photograph from the Amsterdam Municipal Archives, taken in 1963 - about the period that the little eraser-shield was given away from this address.

The names of Underwood and James Plant on the facade of the building were recently uncovered and refreshed. This re-done lettering is shown here with some background history on him and his company too.