Typewriters: How To Fix An Old Typewriter

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How to fix an old typewriter, stiff and sluggish type bars, type bar stick in guide, type bar sticks before reaching type guide, type bar does not move, key action is stiff or impeded, paper slips in platen, irregular line spacing, ribbon does not reverse

 Troubleshooting A Typewriter

Stiff and sluggish type bars: When you must strike a key with extra force to make the typeface hit the ribbon, the problem is usually a clogged segment slot. The slots fill with erasure dirt and dust. You will need to regularly clean all slots using a nail file or knife. Insert the blade into the slot as far as it will go and carefully scrape dirt upward and outward. Finally, lubricate each slot with a drop of typewriter oil.

If the type bar remains sluggish, make an ounce of cleaning fluid by mixing equal parts of typewriter oil and nail polish remover or lacquer thinner. Apply this with an eyedropper. Let the fluid run down into the slot and then move the type bar by hand to work in the fluid. Test the key after five minutes, if the problem persists, repeat the cleaning procedure until it is corrected.

Type bar sticks in guide - When the type bar sticks in the guide and does not fall back into the rest position, the bar is probably bent. You should examine the type bar while it is stuck in the guide; determine to which side the bar is bent. Bend the bar gently back the other way to straighten it. Grip the bar with pliers, holding the bottom steady. Bend the upper part of the bar. Make a series of small adjustments, testing the bar alignment between each one, until the bar is centered in the guide.

Type bar sticks before reaching type guide; type bar does not move; key action is stiff or impeded: If a type bar sticks before reaching the type guide, the problem may lie with a small object that has lodged under the type bar. The problem may also be caused by a bent or broken type bar link or a bent key lever guide. Try to push down the key of the sticking type bar and use your hand to move the bar all the way to a forward position. Depress the remaining keys, gathering them into a bunch in a forward position. Bind them together with a rubber band. This will expose the type bar links; each link is connected to the end of a type bar. With needle-nose pliers or tweezers, remove any foreign object lodged in the links. If there are no such objects, inspect the links themselves. If a link is bent so that it catches on an adjacent link, try to straighten it with needle-nose pliers. Hold the link steady with one set of pliers, and straighten it with another pair.

Sometimes the type bar will not move at all when you depress a key. This may mean that a type bar link is disconnected. The links are held by rivet like heads, and one may have come loose. Try squeezing the end of the link back into place with pliers. If you find no faulty links, return all the type bars to their rest position. Place the typewriter on its back, exposing bottom of keyboard. Key levers move between metal guide prongs. If one is bent, causing the lever to stick, straighten it with pliers. Cleaning and lubrication of prongs may also correct key action.

Paper slips in platen, causing irregular line spacing: Uneven line spacing is a common problem in old typewriters. The rubber on the roller, or platen, erodes and no longer grips the paper firmly. You can use a piece of fine emery cloth, sand the platen along its entire length. To do this, either remove the platen or slowly rotate the platen knob to roughen all the rubber. Remove the rubber sandings with a vacuum cleaner. Next, rub down the platen with a lint-free cloth dampened with lacquer thinner or denatured alcohol. This roughing procedure is at best a temporary measure. If the paper still slips, replace the platen.

Faulty space bar movement: The carriage movement may be irregular when you press the space bar. Although faulty space bar movement frequently indicates a problem with the carriage that cannot easily be fixed at home, nothing more may be required than a thorough cleaning and lubrication of the carriage track, or an adjustment of the space bar trip arm. The arm is located beneath the machine. Adjust it, by loosening the nut, moving the trip arm, and retightening the nut, you can test the space bar at different adjustments.


Typewriter ribbon does not reverse: On many machines, the ribbon reverses automatically when the metal rivets at either end of the ribbon trip a reversing arm. The problem may be merely that the ribbon has become detached from one of the reversing arms. Rethread it through the loops or slots of the arm. If the ribbon is properly threaded, then one of the metal rivets may have fallen off. Look for a hole in the ribbon on the empty spool. To simulate the action of a rivet, tie a small knot, between the spool and the reversing arm. If a missing rivet is not the cause, try lubrication the mechanisms under the spools.

On some machines, the ribbon is reversed by toggle links located under each ribbon spool. Remove the spools and manipulate the links with your finger. If their movement is sluggish, lubricate them with typewriter oil or aerosol spray lubricant.

Print is blurred: While faint print is normally due to a worn ribbon, blurred print commonly results from a dirty typeface. Replace a worn ribbon. Note how the old one is threaded and thread the new one in the same way.

Clean ink and dirt residue from the typeface. Use either a typewriter brush or an old toothbrush. Dip the brush into alcohol or lacquer thinner and scrub the typeface with it. Rub the typeface dry with a soft, lint-free cloth. Stubborn deposits can be flicked out with a pin.

Margin and tabulator problems: Margin stops and tab keys may not set and release properly on older machines. Margin and tabulation problems are frequently caused by accumulated dirt. Different typewriters employ different margin setting mechanisms. The easiest to check are the mechanical stops on manual machines, which are set by hand. If they fail to set properly, remove them from the margin bar and soak them in nail polish remover or denatured alcohol to remove any coagulated dirt. Put them back into place; if the margin set remains sluggish, its spring mechanism may be damaged, and should be repaired by a professional. The lever-type margin mechanisms found on electric typewriters should receive professional attention. Work a solution of half nail polish remover and half typewriter oil into stuck tabs.


Linda Lafrato
Posted on Aug 18, 2018
Diane Zoller-Ciatto
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Pat Veretto
Posted on Aug 29, 2011
Posted on Aug 17, 2011