Thursday, 8 May 2014

The gentle art of typewriter servicing.

I am going to talk about how to service the Remington SJ model but before I do that I would like to take you down memory lane, to 1873, when Christopher Scholes "new-fangled writing machine" hit the market. For about the first twenty years Remington persisted with the "blind" typewriter until Underwood showed them the error of their ways by introducing their "visible" model. Remington followed suit with a very fine and sturdy hard working model that lasted right up to the late 1930's. The Remington 16 was the last of that series after which Remington took a radical turn  in direction producing the Remington 17, a completely different machine in almost every way. Gone was the cubic shape to be replaced by a more conventional looking machine with segment shift and a solid carriage mounted on diametrically opposing tracks. I should note that they did not do away with the old 16 series as they used that in their accounting machine.
Features of the Remington 17 included a removable keyboard and segment ( that was to help the mechanic, not the typist) and a removable carriage. This typewriter, known as the "J" and later the "EJ" model, proved to be a great success but roughly twenty years later it was  replaced by the SJ model. This was to be the most successful typewriter that Remington ever made. The SJ had many similar features to the J machine , the same ribbon drive, segment, carriage escapement and line-spacing mechanism. However the carriage ran on a flat horizontal track that was a bit easier to work with. There is another major innovation which we will come to shortly.

The first SJs came out in crinkled finish paint, usually grey some times brown and I think I may haven seen them in maroon and green. But the one that I propose to work on to-day is another very common colour , a silver pearl, which Remington must have bought by the truck load as they painted so many of the machines with it. These machines are great favourites with the amateur spray painters that seem to populate the Typhosphere  as they are fairly easy to repaint.

Right, first things first, remove the platen by undoing a latch at each end on the platen near the platen knobs. This is a really good feature of the Remington as it it is so easy to remove crumpled envelopes and mangled carbons that even the typist could do it.  Next take out the paper pan and feed rollers.

The Carriage end plates are snap fitted and can be removed with a screw driver. Don't worry if they become distorted as they are easy to fix. The Margin Rack cover can be taken off next, there is a small screw located in the middle of the cover plate and can be accessed from the rear of the machine. Now take of the top plate exposing the ribbon spools and now you can see how to remove the side covers, just one screw each side, just loosen these screws and the side covers will fall away. The front plate behind the Tab key is next, two screws and take care to remove the Ribbon bi-chrome lever knob on the right and the touch control knob on the left . Look after these parts as they are the first thing that bored typists and journalists remove and consequently are in short supply

After removing the rear cover plate, one large screw either side and now we can begin to remove the carriage.  Unhook the draw band and carefully attach it to a locating pin. At the rear of the machine you will notice a metal roller bearing down on the carriage, it is attached to the back plate with a nut. Undo this and remove the roller. You will probably notice that the bearing shaft of the roller is eccentric but it is quite easy to re-fit and adjust. Move the carriage to the left and looking down in between the tracks there is a screw in a slotted  opening, which means that the carriage bed is adjustable backwards and forwards. So scribe the front edge of the carriage where it sits on the frame of the typewriter and that way you will have a guide when you come to re-fit the carriage. Take out the screw either end of the carriage and it will lift off.

Looking at each side of the typewriter just where the carriage was sitting you will notice three screws. The one right down at the bottom just loosen off, it will act as a pivot, and remove the other two (on each side).  Now pull the back plate towards the rear and it will fold down exposing the interior of the typewriter. This was Remington's innovation, making it so easy to repair and service the machine in contrast to all of its previous models. There is a small plate just behind the Ribbon guide held in by four screws, take these out and you will be able to see the Universal bar and underneath the plate , the ribbon  stops for the Red and Black positions. Don't worry about them now but if later you have to adjust the ribbon now you know where they are. It is not unusual for this area to be full of rubber dust, so much so that it can interfere with the movement of the Universal bar. Notice the Universal bar has a little rebound  spring fitted, don't lose this as it can be important for the good operation of the machine.
Note,after you have cleaned this area make sure that the Universal bar snaps back fairly smartly so as to ensure a good response for the typist. This is a good time also to have a good look at how the various mechanisms work  and you will observe the connection between the action of the type bars on the Universal bar which in turn actuates the Escapement.

Take the machine out to your cleaning area and give first a good blow with the compressed air. I wash my typewriters in kerosene for lack of a better agent. In the old days, I used to buy drums of a chemical which I put in my washing machine obtained from Ames Agency . I would just leave the machine in there for 30 minutes and then let it drain  before finally washing it with a mixture of light oil and White Spirits. Probably a mixture of 1/8th oil to 7/8ths White Spirits. The reason for this was that this chemical really cleaned the machine so that it looked like it had just arrived from the factory but it was very dry, it lent new meaning to "squeaky clean" It really cleaned every part even the ones that you could not see. I remember once one of my mechanics had forgotten the White Spirit/oil bit and I had to drive a long way to an irate client with a typewriter that was squeaking like a mouse!
I suppose I could just use this mixture instead of Kerosene but it could become quite costly. Whilst you are cleaning your machine, scrub the typeface with a wire brush to get them really sparkling
While the base is drying off we can turn our attention to the Carriage. As you can see from the photos my machine has been attacked by the dreaded  rust, however not too badly and a good rub with a light emery paper will get rid of most of it. If you feel that the surface has been too badly eaten away you can protect it with a rust resisting agent to prevent any further deterioration .
Turn the Carriage up-side down on your bench and check the travel of the bed between the rails. There should be on bumps or tightness and no excessive play is permitted either. There are seven adjusting scres on the outer track and you can loosen them off or bring them in as required. This will be a trial and error part of our procedure. I found that I had some looseness so I just let all seven of the screws off and using just finger pressure I managed to achieve a satisfactory outcome  It should just glide along and no play at either end. Next thing to look at is the Escapement rack, it should have no burrs or bent or worn teeth. If you noticed a "roar" from the carriage as it moved along it probably has excessive wear or burrs. I used to fix this out in the filed by holding a file against the leading edge of the rack and freewheeled the Carriage backwards and forwards until the noise disappeared! But we can be a bit more careful here as it may be the only Rack that we have. If the Rack is really badly worn on say, the spaces from 10 to 20 I would just remove the Rack and turn it around  because the teeth up at the other end will be hardly used .Smart,eh? No, just that Remington make the teeth point straight down, some typewriter have the teeth on a slant so this trick is not available. Finally, you dress the teeth with a light filing and you can even clean in between them  with a small file. Most likely after you do all of this you may have to drop the Rack down a bit for a better fit., there is provision for this adjustment.That is basically all we have to do to the Carriage for now and we can go back to the base to examine the Escapement.

If you wish you can remove the Escapement wheel to see the Silent Return Mechanism and also to get a good look at the Dog Rocker underneath the wheel. One large Nut and spring washer at the back of the machine and the Pinion shaft screw will come out. Check the teeth of the Escapement wheel and examine the face of the Loose Dog, hopefully no chips or excessive wear. Have a look at the Tab brake, it is just a button with a leather insert, make sure it is clean, no oil on the surface. When you check the Silent Return it should have a slight "drag" on it as it has to push the Loose Dog down as the Carriage is returned. You can achieve more less drag by turning the collar for extra tension. The Escapement Rocker has got pivot screws either side and there should be no side play at all in the Rocker, but don't adjust until the Escapement wheel is back in place. Hold the Escapement wheel against the Loose dog and the Escapement wheel should be in the 6 o'clock position If you are happy that all is well with the Escapement wheel and then make sure that the Silent Return is engaged with the limit screw. A little bit of light grease on the Pinion shaft won't go astray. ditto the Rocker pivots. And check the Loose Dog return spring while you are there.

Before we put the carriage back we must check the Segment. The movement up and down must be free of binds and bumps. If it is binding when you let the Segment up slowly you will have to remove the Segment blocks but only if you have a small stone that will fit the profile so that you can polish them smooth again. If you have not got a stone then you must use the time honoured trick of strengthening the Segment balance springs!
 When I worked at Remington in London we automatically changed the whole Segment and type bars. and Segment blocks during an overhaul. Until one day I discovered that there was more play in the type bars in the new Segments than in the old one that I was discarding. I reported this to the management and,  boy, did  this cause a ruckus. It turned out that the people making the Segments were on "piece work", that is, they got paid a bonus if they produced more above a certain figure in their shift. They always did this by the simple trick of not stopping the cutting machine to replace the discs, so consequently the cutting disc got thicker and thicker as it got blunter so making the type bar slots too wide by the end of the shift!
My Remington had a bind in the Segment movement and after fiddling with the blocks to try to get a better position and noticing the the Balance springs were up to their maximum I resorted to shortening the Shift Toggle restoring spring, problem solved!  Oil and grease away to your hearts content here.

One thing to do before re-fitting the Carriage, we must re-surface the platen.  Here is what you need. Some light emery paper and some not so light. I will leave that for you to choose. Do you have a power drill? good! because we are going to need it. Get metholated spirits and a cloth ready. Fit the RIGHT HAND END into the drill, tight. Wrap the coarser emery around the platen and pour some metho on it.  You will learn just how hard to hold the platen. Finish off with the fine emery.  It is a dirty job but the results will please you.There is another little job in the same category, cleaning the type-bars. Just get a soft cloth and some metho and start at the left hand side and work your way over to the right, it is quite permissible to hum, or whistle Dixie or just think of England whilst you do it and it will soon be over....if you see any rust on the bars switch over to emery paper. If you notice any backwards or forwards movement in the type bars it could be a sign that the Segment wire is worn. Short of replacing the wire, tap the wire at one end to move it a few millimetres so that it will present a new surface to the type bars. This can make quite a difference to the alignment of the typewriter

Now, finally, you can put the Carriage back into place, take note of your scribe marks and fit the carriage screws. Hook up the draw band. Fit the platen and feed rollers back in, insert some paper and now you can start typing.  Wait, I can hear you say, what about the ribbon? well, I just want you to check the action of the type bars to see that none are sticking. Don't oil if you possibly can avoid it and if a bar is sluggish or sticking it will be due to dirt in the segment or the type bar could be sticking in the type guide. You can make a segment pick out of an old piece of hacksaw blade. When you are happy with the type bars then you can fit a ribbon. If you fit a new ribbon it will come fitted on a small metal spool which fits over the ribbon spindle on the machine. But if you don't have this metal spool all is not lost. Tie a knot near the very end on the ribbon and fit the ribbon into a slot on the spool spindle, knot on the inside. It will work just fine.   My Remington kept reversing and so I had a close look as I typed , true enough, I saw the reversing shaft sticking, not retracting properly so that it kept wanting to reverse. The problem was easily resolved. The reversing shaft must be retracted when the ribbon starts winding on the empty side.

With one sheet of paper in the roller we will check the Platen and Anvil position. Hold one type bar up to the roller with the ribbon in the Stencil position, insert a small strip of paper between the type face and the roller, there should be a slight tug on you small strip of paper.  If it is hard to pull out, move you carriage back by loosening of those carriage screws, moving the whole Carriage towards the rear. Not by much as we are dealing in small increments of space here. Test again and if you are happy tighten up the screws. If it too easy to move your strip of paper then the platen is too far away from the type face and now you know what to do., ideally the type bar should be harder on the Anvil than on the Platen and this will eliminate the possibility of smudging or blurring. Also, the full stop and comma will not cut through the paper  Next we will look at the general appearance of the print. Type in capitals and take notice if the line of print is too heavy on the top or bottom of the characters. Too heavy on the top means that we want the Segment to rise a little, so raise the upper case stops up a fraction. If you are happy, lock up the stops and now check the Lower case  for it relation with the Capitals. Use HhH or MmM , the bottom of all the characters must be perfectly level. Adjust the Lower case stops to achieve this out come. I must say that this adjustment on the Remington  requires a lot of patience as we have to also use the eccentric nuts on the Segment Toggle Action on the  right-hand side of the typewriter to achieve our desired goal. So just to re-cap, we must consider the Platen and Anvil position, the segment eccentric adjusting  and the up and down stops. It won't be easy but keep a cool head.There will be a lot of too-ing and fro-ing with this adjustment but patience will out in the end. That little bit of paper that you used to check Platen & Anvil can be used to ensure that the stops are all touching the correctly. Duck-bill pliers are very useful during these adjustments. When I first joined Remington in Melbourne I thought I was pretty good at these adjustments we have just discussed but I over-looked something on my first over- haul and I got a good telling off. It was to do with the Shift locks on both side of the key board. Not only did they have to hold the Segment down as in a normal shift operation but they both had to lock and unlock precisely at the right height! I don't think your average typist would have noticed but the examiner did, talk about being pedantic! The shift locks are adjustable up and down . There are other adjustment regarding the Segment Shift but I won't dishearten you with any more, another time perhaps.

Release the paper and the platen detent roller and see if the platen will spin freely. Check to see that the line-spacing end is not eccentric as this will cause problems with the line space selection. Also, no end play is permitted. Holding the roller with your right hand slowly line space on setting one, there should be two clicks, that is, two half spaces. If there is only one click you may have a machine  with out half-spacing. Either way when the line space lever has reach the end of its travel there should be not rotational movement . Adjust this with the overthrow stop on the line space lever.

Just check the paper feed by holding the platen with you left hand and try to pull the paper out, I hope you should not be able to do it ..

We are getting to the end now with just the Escapement "Trip", margins and Bell  to check.
Bring up a central type bar slowly to the roller, the Escapement should trip just as the type face touches the ribbon. This adjustment is located in the Dog Rocker at the rear of the machine. You will see a small rod  with two locking nuts on it , screw them in to get an earlier trip and out to get a late trip. The Left Margin will be set on 10 and bring up the Carriage by hand and hold it right over and the type an "N", then bring up the Carriage again normally and type another "N", it should look like an "M"  The right Margin operates the Bell and the line-lock Sometimes you may have to rotate the bell for a good sound, good luck with that.  Sometimes I get lucky first time but not often. Line-lock should occur about 6 to 8 spaces after the bell
Back space on this machine is almost fool proof, I cannot remember ever having trouble with one unless the Dog Rocker was falling off. Re-fit the eccentric roller we took off at the beginning. You will have to work from the back. Ideally it should just be adjusted to barely touch the top of the escapement rack but if it binding at one end and loose at the other it is a sure sign that the escapement rack is not level.

Around the front of the machine make sure that all of your scales are lining up correctly and with one another, the typist relies heavily on these. Also whilst your are checking scales you can check the Tabulator. Set a stop every ten spaces and see if the carriage stops at every one and that the main spring has enough power to bring the carriage to the end with the line-lock working. If necessary, increase the tension on the main spring by half a turn.  The space bar should trip about half way through its travel, the adjustment is underneath near the rear of the machine and make sure that the feet are on securely, make them real tight as I have seen quite a few "three legged " machines.

The last thing to do is to fit your cover plates and make sure that they are tight to avoid rattles and  give them a good polish, I use a car polish with a light "cutting" effect  which gets rid of grime.

That is all that I can think of for now,I am sure that I may have missed something and so I hope that you will ask questions that will complete the picture. If nothing else, I hope that you will look at the Remington SJ model with fresh eyes and share my appreciation of a very fine typewriter.


  1. This is a brilliant and very comprehensive rundown. Thanks a heap, John!

  2. As a keen amateur SJ sprayer, I can confirm that they are indeed joys to deface- ahem- I mean paint

  3. This is fantastic, getting a look at the process you employ. Thanks so much for sharing with us (:

  4. What an extremely useful and welcome second post! I don't even own one of those Remingtons but lots of this procedure will apply across the board. And photos - excellent. By the way, the Graphika is still on-song and in regular use. I can see why they didn't catch on 100% - they are slow typers. Fortunately, so am I.