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  • Writer's picturemilo segundie kpims


Updated: Mar 10


Out amid the abyss, among the swarm of clacking laptop and desktop keyboards, the bing of the bell, and the thwack of manual and electronic typewriters, there are only a few on the top of my list. As you may know, I am not a seasoned typewriter user, nor am I a collector. I currently have two working typewriters, both of which I did have to work on here and there beyond just a cleaning, to get them to do what they are supposed to do, type. The two that I do have are very special to me already though and I will be using them for any writing that isn’t meant for this online blog or any other online-specific work. There was a seller out of Argentina who was selling a “working and tested” Olivetti Lettera 22. I sent an offer and they accepted, I waited and it arrived, easy peasy; well….sort of. It came poorly packaged, in its original case, but not a speck of bubble wrap, foam, popcorn, paper…..nothing. If you have ever held one of the Olivetti cases that hold the 22/32/33 and more I am sure, they are not the hardiest of cases. After talking to the seller and confirming that it was in working shape before shipping, it seems something happened to cause parts to get stuck in transit. Whatever it was prevented the shift from moving at all, prevented the basket from moving, and prevented the space bar from engaging. What it didn't though was my curiosity!

The finished Olivetti, cleaned and figured.

That night that the Olivetti got to me I spent at least 4 hours looking at it, all over, poking and looking. Trying my darndest to find the cause for the misfortunes that had befallen this little machine. I have read a bunch of blog posts, forum discussions, and comparisons about the Lettera 22, and it spans a wide range of opinions, from a terrible key feel to the nub-like advance arm being too nub-like, to the people who only like the round keys of the earlier models and so on. A spongey feeling in the keys is a big one that people mention a lot. There is a different feel in the way it types, that is real, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It doesn’t have as much of a crisp snap as some other typewriters in its approach and landing on the roller, but it feels very nice, responsive, and fulfilled in how it responds and moves. There is a strip of what seems to be cork underneath the base of the strikers, this probably lends to the spongey feel. There is also the benefit of having a small, lightweight, and accessible typer at your fingertips. The accessibility of all the necessary parts is a huge plus, this makes it pretty easy to clean and work out what needs to be moved here or there or swapped out for better functionality.

Here are some points worth checking and cleaning. You can see the red ink had stained the metal, the black doesn't show up much, but it is there.

There is just one small bottom plate that needs to be removed and by removing 4 small rubber feet, 1 screw in each, it’ll just pop right off! That is just what I did and where my search and restoration adventure began.

Here are some examples of how dirty it was when it arrived. Ex:1

It looked like there was grass, and thread stuck to a lot of oily bits. Ex: 2

I noticed when lifting it and setting it upright on its flat back, there was also a small crack in one of its rounded corners. I was happy it was on the back side though and not on the front, being that the front is a bit smaller in diameter and also doesn’t have the weight and support of the body and feet to keep it structurally set. I plan to try to fill it in and smooth it with some J.B. weld steel stick at some point.

After removing the base plate, and beginning the first part of my cleaning, I was unsure if the carriage would ever move more than half a centimeter. The carriage lock was off, and even pressing the tab would get it to do a little shimmy from side to side, but that was all. I kept pressing the non responsive, loose-feeling shift keys, making the basket go down like a slow swallow, with a good amount of pressure. I didn’t want to keep doing that for fear I would put too much pressure on another part and throw something else out of whack, or eventually bend the shift key arm and cause another problem. I noticed that there was a part immediately blocking another from traveling correctly once I pressed either the space or shift keys. The next step was to see what those two keys connected to and if they eventually ran into one another. I noticed that two points intersected, I couldn’t quite tell right away what this meant, and what was doing what to what because there wasn’t very much movement, yet.

Here you can see the two points that I was having trouble with, this is pictured after I corrected the overlap though.

There is a small screw and a bolt in this pinky nail-sized piece of metal, and what I found stuck on top of this piece, was another pinky nail-sized, half-moon-shaped piece of metal that would slightly scrape and shift when either space or shift was pressed. This got me thinking of freeing that piece up, but I was nervous, considering this was my first time going a little deeper into the parts and functions of typewriters. Doing the tiny bit of “work” on the Olympia SM9 didn’t prepare me for any of the stuff I would be doing on this Olivetti, but I dove in anyway. I took a little flathead screwdriver and pushed against the side of the piece that felt stuck under the part with the screw and bolt, there was a good amount of resistance, but the moment I went for it and it slid fully and popped out, the whole basket shot up and was free! Oh my, at that moment, I cradled the Olivetti, I started to press the space, and it clicked, clicked, and moved the carriage, but then the carriage froze, yet again. The shift keys however lowered the basket and it popped back up as it should, well mostly. Before I get into the rest of the basket work, let me go into how I started poking around at the carriage, looking for the culprit in its current freeze-up. I couldn’t push it side to side, margin releases did nothing, and the tab, and red keys together while pushing the space bar did nothing, I had no clue. Once I flipped it back over and began hitting the tab key, watching it do its quick shiver again side to side, I got a little glimpse of something hanging up, which happened to be the draw band slipping over the edge of the main spring.

The Draw band was snagged between the Main spring housing and the little panel where the bolt is.

This was getting snagged during the carriages movement. I had to take my dental pick and reach into a little space and push it out of the way just enough to slide the carriage over, exposing the main spring. Once I had that available space, I rotated the main spring drum to give me a little leeway to adjust the placement of the draw band with some tweezers, setting it back in the center and then slowly releasing the main spring drum while watching the draw bands travel. This made the carriage free and clear and I was all thumbs after that in pressing the left and then the right margin releases, sliding the carriage back and forth, ooooo it was so nice.

Now the shift was dropping the basket and the space was shimmying along the carriage in all its smooth and glory, but there was still more to do! The type bars/strikers were super gummed up from ink, dry blobs of ink covered the letters almost fully, hiding any definition.

Here you can see a bit of difference in cleanliness.

I used 91% isopropyl alcohol (I’m sure 70% would work great too, just don’t dilute) and q-tips to apply, and then I would use the dental pick to carefully poke out the smaller areas of letters and symbols. Like the lowercase e or the & sign, for example, this tool worked like a charmed tool. This process took me about 2 hours, I could’ve wrapped towels all over the machine, sprayed the heck out of the type bars, then wiped them with a towel, but I decided against that. I didn’t want to have to move all my things off my tiny desk or go out into the winter cold to spray a bunch of stuff all over it.

This was a bit neater and pretty relaxing actually. Once the letters and symbols were clean I made sure to clean the tops and sides of the striker's arms; those were pretty filthy too. I am slowly learning that any cleaning and small adjustments that can be done while working on these machines are necessary for a lot of reasons, and this is one of the biggest things in preventing any future issues from arising.

Dot your t’s and dash your i’s. At this point I had clean type bars, I had noticed during cleaning that the buffer or rest for the type bars was very dry and needed some love or to be replaced altogether.

Here is the leather and the rubber i used to replace it.

On the Olivetti it is a strip of leather, about a ¼ inch thick when dry, probably about that when hydrated and new as well. I carefully pulled that up with tweezers, slowly and carefully scraping the underside to free the next portion that was to be pulled up as I lifted. I got it out and started applying generous amounts of isopropyl with a q-tip on the metal it came from, scraping up the old hardened glue once it settled a bit. I took some rubber sheeting I got and used for camera repair work and measured the best I could the size and cut to shape and set into the now cleaned little ravine. It took two pieces and cutting as close an angle as possible to make flush.

Here is showing an angle I had to cut to fit it snug.

This rubber was the same thickness luckily, as the leather, which worked out very nicely. Now, your typewriter would work just fine without any sort of rest for your strikers, but having something there dampens the sound of metal on metal and also helps stave off wear over time. I put some Pliobond on the metal, let it sit a few seconds to gain some tackiness, and did the same with the rubber, then setting them together like a tiny and long PB&J I carefully pressed and smoothed till it was in the right spot.

Here is another view, prior to me cleaning the old glue, as you can see.

Putting the type bars back down in their new home was a good feeling. This rubber has since been set and is a very welcome addition to this typewriter; it makes the return so soft and quiet. I do plan shampooing and re-hydrating the original leather however and setting that back in its home, eventually.

Here was a very handy way to use a mask that was near by. Held stuff down while I flipped it over.

After this I took some glasses lens cleaning wipes and wiped down the body, getting off any old ink or dirt and trying to clean this up just a tad.

I also took some packaging tape and one part after another I would stick tape on the interior felt and take it off, and with it would come a bunch of hairs and dust and bits of thread and whatnot. I was pretty pleased with the outcome, thinking this is it, so I took the ribbon that didn’t work for my Olympia, put it on, and started typing. After a few words and testing the shift and space, I realized that the shift wasn’t fully engaging the basket, the basket was slowly returning and not all the way unless I lifted the typewriter, even just a few inches. This would lead it to slide back up fully, but what the heck anyway! So the next step in the many phases of trying to figure this thing out was to…well, figure this out. I began lifting and slowly lowering it while pressing the shift key, watching it fall, and rise, then snap up fully. I did this and tried a few things that proved futile for about 3 hours. I loosened these two bolts on the arms that hold the basket and allow it to shift and then return. I tightened them once I realized this wasn’t the problem. I even put the tiniest bit of sewing machine oil on the metal part that the bolt slides against, thinking there was some kind of resistance. This also did nothing. I could hear a squeak from time to time, and I found the source of that, but playing with that just a bit didn’t change anything. There were so many points of interest on this thing, none of which for that whole 3 hour period let me in on its dirty little secret.

I have been spending a good amount of time watching Youtube videos on certain repairs done on certain typewriters, and finding out if they apply at all. A great resource is Duane at Phoenix Typewriters. My knowledge bank, as I stated early on in this article, is pretty darn limited. I don’t have any basis from which to pull, no magic tricks, just trying to accrue experience over time, even if it takes hours and hours, even if I mess up terribly, which luckily, so far I have not. Not having this wealth of knowledge is slowing me down in my discoveries a bit, but I know that over time I will be able to get to where it doesn’t take as much looking at the machine like it’s a rock to figure a problem out.

That night, having work the next day, I went to sleep, albeit pretty late. I lay there thinking about the possibilities; I eventually slept. At work the next day, the streets were cold and empty, and the coffee shop was pretty empty as well, not much going on, but my mind was wondering a mile a minute. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, where is the problem!? The day dragged on and I finally got the doors locked, flicked the open sign off, got picked up, and was on my way to figure this thing out once and for all! Throwing my backpack down and slinging my coat onto my little chair I once again pulled out my piano bench and began poking around. There was a lot of comparing this side to this side going on for some time when all of the sudden I found something. There is a spring on either side of the basket, you can access them underneath pretty easily, and I saw that one looked 1) a bit narrower than the other and 2)the more narrow one looked a bit stretched out. I pressed the shift a bunch and watched, and watched….eventually, I thought to look at a spare Olympia parts body I have for a spring of compatible size or at least close.

I found one that was a little shorter but looked about the same width, I thought even if this isn’t one I keep on it for long, it will give me a good idea of what amount of tension is needed to make the basket jump back to position. I put the shorter one in its place and boom bow look at it now! That was it, after a total of about 8 hrs. I had gotten to the bottom of the biggest mystery of all. This is where the wealth of knowledge comes in, I doubt someone who has worked on Typewriters for years would’ve had to go through so much exploration and trial and error, but who knows? I am thankful for these kinds of things, they gave me a better experience with something I now know a bit more about.

Something to look out for with these Olivetti typewriters and some other models too I am sure, is the two small special bolts that come with the spools. These are screwed in and create friction for the spools to travel, tick, tick as you type, moving the ribbon and then reversing the ribbon travel at the end of the spool, or when the eye lit hits the bar. Without these....I say good luck. They are not just ordinary bolts, they have a piece beneath the top nut that goes down into the reel, fitting perfectly. Don't tighten them too much, just enough. You can find these online for not too much money, but they are not the original, so they may be a bit iffy. Don't quote me on that though, I don't have first hand experience with buying from those sellers.

At this point I don’t have all the proper tools for super in-depth work, I have been looking, but it is hard to find all the specialty wrenches and hooks and such. For now, I will use what I have and hopefully come across some resources down the road. This Olivetti has been very worth all the time I put into it. It is a wonderfully made machine and it has started my love for the ultra-portable machines out there. If you haven’t seen one in person, when you do it just may blow your mind. It is so flat compared to even my Olympia SM9 which is semi-portable; making the Olympia look like one of the first big-screen TVs compared to the flat screens you see today. Both are capable, well-made, comfortable, and unique in their way. My next mission is to try to remake a case that is a bit hardier but still good-looking for the Olivetti. Taking this little flatty on a trip with me someday, is a dream and a dream I am going to try and make come true, so look out!

Thanks for reading.

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