Monday, October 12, 2015

An Underwood Update

Normally, I like to let machines keep their original paint jobs. Most deformities are a testimate to the age of the typewriter, and all I will do is try my best to clean it up to get cigar smoke and cracked varnish off.
I acquired this machine quite early on in my typewriter hobby, however, and if I remember right it was the 3rd or 4th machine I found. My first, a Royal 10, had good paint. This machine, however, had pretty dull paint and, being yet unskilled and unguided in my new hobby, decided I would repaint it. And so I did, wrapping the interior with plastic wrap and grabbing a can of matte black.

As one might assume, things didn't turn out well. I found that hindsight is 20/20, and the machine was worse for wear due to my actions. Sad and angry at myself for horrendously deforming a 100+ year old machine, I placed it in a storage cabinet in my garage and there it sat until this year.

Earlier this year, I finally found the courage to right the wrong I perpetrated against an innocent and once well used machine and, with the skills I have gained since, did what I have begun to do a little too often; I tore it to bits, and grabbed my supplies.

Slowly but steadily, the Underwood now comes back together. Its fresh paint dry and smooth, I've begun on getting the keylevers cleaned and installed. That, however, is always one of the more tedious jobs in a typewriter restoration.

(I've got the machine parked on a bench on a separate wall from my normal counter so that it doesn't get hit with the dust and debris from my cleaning operations)

The counter of a madman. I separate the keylevers by groups of 10, then work at each group 5 at a time. My process starts with lots and lots of steel wool, scrubbing the key lever clean and removing just about anything save for the solid steel. Then, after tidying up the keytops (I don't like to mess with the graphics of the keys themselves. Makes a machine look the part with sunwashed keys), I wash them with a windex-d rag, place painters tape around the keytop and the very back pivot point, and spray a single layer of black lacquer over the lever. Only a single layer so that 1) they dry quickly and I can get them installed, 2) I don't expect them to get banged up in the middle of the machine, so that one layer should be more than sufficient and 3) so that I don't build up too much paint which might cause friction or a bind later on.

Once the levers are done, I install them one at a time, checking that everything is moving smoothly before going on to the next. That way, in the end, there should be few problems if any.

(42 key levers, 42 linking levers, and 42 typebars... tedious as tedious gets in regards to cleaning.)

Also of note, I wont be doing a "How to build" for this machine. Why not you ask? Because I only choose to do so when there is no other information truly available and easy to access in regards to such a project.

For Underwood Standards, however, there already exists primary, original documentation of how to properly rebuild such a machine;

It can be found here:

It is quite handy and details, from the keylevers onward, how to rebuild a machine. I am sure this would have been used by second-hand typewriter exchanges everywhere back in the day to make the most of heavily used office machines.

Stay tuned as this Underwood gets the make-over it has long deserved.


  1. Looking great!
    My Underwood 5 has a drippy coat of paint on it from a heavy-handed rebuild in the 40's. I began to strip it off, but decided I rather liked the green & black repaint. Ended up leaving it green & black with a single "W" exposed from the original labeling.
    Could also be I'm just lazy.. :D

    1. A green and black combo sounds like it would look pretty dang cool, honestly. Especially for a "W" brand typewriter

  2. Your Underwood is already well on the road to stunning. Thank you for the reference material tip.

    1. My hopes are to make it 100% functional again, so that I can use it for Nanowrimo this year. Theres something about a big ol' underwood that just makes you want to type