Thursday, 16 May 2013

Lets try and repair a Smith Premier 10 (Part 2)

Part 1 of this story ended as I thrust my Smith Premier 10's feed-roller assembly into a pot of furiously bubbling water.

 After some time of furious boiling I retrieved the rollers from the pot and immediately ran them up and down on my wooden floor. To my surprise and satisfaction, this rounded off the rollers very nicely, leaving a bold black mark for me to clean up before my girlfriend got home. The shards of rubber on the cracked or clearly irreparable rollers I cut off with a pocket knife and wound cut-to-size strips of duct tape around the bald cylinder of rollers until they were padded out to the correct diameter. 

Now I freely admit this is not an optimum solution. Like many more learned typosphere contributors have demonstrated, badly damaged rollers can (in some instances) be very effectively replaced with heat-shrink tubing or other miscellaneous rubber tubing sold for irrigation equipment, auto parts or general hardware. At the time though I was happy with my quick-fix and the duct tape has held its shape nicely for over 6 months now and shows no sign of wear or contortion. Following a thorough sanding of the platen (to remove the remains of the rollers) and an optimistic application of brake-fluid, my makeshift duct-tape feed rollers continue to roll in paper much to my satisfaction. The platen however remains as hard as an iron rod. Brake fluid may work ok on 40-60 year old rubber (such as my 1954 Royal QDL), but much than that (i.e. my 1922 Corona 3 and this Smith Premier 10; forget it).

After many weeks of inactivity, I tackled the spacing. The spacebar worked and the carriage advanced when any of the keys in the middle of the keyboard were pressed but not the keys on the far sides. Peering into the guts of the beast, I worked out that the long semi-circular metal thingy (circled below) was in control of the escapement when keys were pressed. 

Semi-circular metal thingy which triggers the escapement

The keys in the middle were moving this thing far enough back to trigger the escapement and move the carriage one space, but the keys around the sides weren’t quite doing this. If I remember correctly (as this is a fair while ago), although I was preparing for a huge battle, I think this problem was actually fixed with a discerning spray of Teflon lubricant and an adjustment of the ribbon vibrator, which is also directly connected to this mechanism. This nature of the adjustment (which I also can’t clearly remember) involved freeing it up and ensuring it started bobbing up and down properly which it wasn’t before.

Next was the backspace mechanism. In short it didn’t work. There was a loose push-rod down there that looked like it connected onto something but I had no idea what. On Monday 29th April, myself and Scott K of The Filthy Platen loaded the Smith Premier (among many other typewriters) into the back of Scott’s car and drove down to John’s place in the countryside south of Brisbane. Now John has more than a couple of hundred typewriters and more than a couple of decades of professional experience fixing them. Not since I was a kid in a toyshop, can I quite remember such a strong feeling of being a kid in a toyshop! John’s experience, generosity and humour made this an incredibly fun and informative day, which Scott has eloquently summarized in his post here. Of relevance to this post, John happened to have a Smith Premier 10A in his collection, so I was able to compare the mechanisms. 
 Two SP10A's on the one workbench- not something you see too often these days!

Comparing the two machines side by side, it became clear my backspace mechanism was missing a part. John considered it was likely that a typewriter repairman back in the day had removed it to fit onto another machine. Thus unless a suitable SP 10A parts machine can be located (or a 3D printer for that matter), my machine will remain backspaceless.
Backspace mechanism of my machine

Backspace mechanism of John's machine: Aha! That's the missing part!

The cylindrical thing with the cog thing on top that you see in both photos is the tabulator mechanism and is completely unrelated to the backspace, even though it features prominantly in both photos.

Having found the backspace was (for now) irrepairable, I looked at the issue with the keys. Having so many keys, it was unsurprising that several didn’t work. While many were freed up with some cleaning and lubricant, the capital X, the lower case q and the 4 needed further attention. The q and the 4 were missing springs and the type-bar-arm connecting-rod thingy’s were loose. These had to be manoeuvred back under the semi-circle escapement-engaging thingy and placed in a similar fashion to that of the others. Using a long spring from John’s box of springs, I cut it to size, thereby making two shorter springs. One of these needed further trimming and re-curling another top-clasp with long nosed pliers as it was too loose the first time. With John’s help, these were then hooked on. 

After re-springing, the lower case q worked a charm. The 4 worked, but the type-bar at rest didn’t correspond to the keytop being at top-dead-centre, although I was happy enough with this; not perfect but still working. Scott however, not being content with substandard functionality, saved the day here by correctly identifying that for each key, a pin slides out and the push-rods can be adjusted with pliers. Thus by turning the thingy pictured clockwise several revolutions, the top-dead-centre of the keytop began to correspond to the typebar at rest against the felt. 

With this fixed, the 4 now works a charm too. Unfortunately the capital X is missing a type-bar-arm-connecting-rod thingy and couldn’t be repaired. John thought this again may have been a typewriter repairman back in the day borrowing the X key linkage and the backspace mechanism to put in another machine, as the capital X is one the least used keys on a typewriter, (unless of course you like to XXXXX out your copious mistakes like I do).

Thus with a reasonable amount of elbow grease, the help of John and Scott and the absolute fortune of John having an identical machine to compare to, the old beast works... mostly.... There are minor issues like the top and bottom of the capital B and the bottom of the lower case e not quite printing properly, the rock hard platen and the ear-plugs-and-aspirin typing experience, but then this was never going to be a race-horse. By virtue of the SP10’s cumbersome double keyboard and the sheer number of decibels produced during operation, I’ll always reach for the Lettera 32 or Royal KHM when I need to type something up. But then again, there is some satisfaction to be had in at least partially reviving a machine built only 9 years after Australia became a federated nation.

P.S. (1) In relation to the question posed in my last post, I now understand that the whole carriage was removable on the SP10, whereas only the platen assembly was removable on the SP10A, therefore explaining the ad featured in my last post which spoke of interchangable carriages. (2) My phone number (for all you centenarian secretaries out there) is actually (07) 31133877. I was missing a 3 in my typecast. Please first indicate you are not a telemarketer in order to minimise the risk of unwarranted verbal abuse.


  1. Man, I'm so glad we persisted with this machine. It's such a glorious beast! I think we can get the final bits working, with a bit more persistence and thinking. So we may have a part 3 yet. Meanwhile.. I've yet to start work on my own beat.

  2. Beast een.
    Hey! I can see my hand!

  3. Glad your efforts are paying off. I have let a couple of these go by in the past because the ebay photos showed rust and bent metal but maybe, just maybe, there's one out there with my name on it. If I come across a spare backspace linkage, I know where to send it. Thanks for sharing the process.

    1. There are two SP10's on ebay right now.

  4. Good work! The fun of collecting typewriters is getting the non-working ones back into working order as best that can be. I'll keep a watch for a junker. Perhaps it would have the parts you need.

  5. Good work! You must feel really lucky with these experienced collectors and repair men in the area. In case you are looking for a 3d printer, try contacting one of the Australian hackerspaces. They are very common there. You can find a list of them at:

  6. Scott, yes, definitely hope yet, thanks for your input with it. Glad you can see your hand ok.

    Rob, if you ever happen to find a SP10 backspace mechanism lying around in your local park or behind the couch during a spring clean, I'd love it! Despite being really odd, the SP10's are actually fairly simple machines in that its pretty easy to see what connects to what.

    Bill, thanks. The more eyes peeled for a backspace mechanism the better!

    Spiderwebz- do I ever, very luck to be within cooee of a couple of typewriter greats. 3D printer def on the cards in time, just not quite yet.....

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