Sholes Visible: details, details

by | Sep 7, 2012 | Sholes Visible, Spitzfaden's | 10 comments

When you’re restoring a typewriter it seems that there’s always another little detail to be fixed. Every detail is both a frustrating delay in getting the typewriter ready and (potentially) a satisfying little experience in problem solving. Here are five examples.

(1) The Sholes Visible had no ribbon or ribbon spools when I got it, and it won’t take any standard typewriter ribbon spool. It needs spools with relatively small diameters but large central holes. I took a ribbon spool cup and shaft from the typewriter down to Spitzfaden’s Office Supply on Cincinnati’s Typewriter Row with high hopes, but one spool after another failed to fit. Finally, in the last remaining drawer, I found the #64 spools, for Monroe 200 series adding machines. They’re funny looking, with the square hole, but they fit!

Here are two spools. They came with red and black ribbons, but since the Sholes Visible doesn’t have bicolor ribbon capability, I’ve put a black ribbon on them. That ribbon was new old stock, but dried out, so I rejuvenated it with WD-40 (almost the only acceptable use of WD-40 on a typewriter … read on).

(2) Another problem was that the rubber had long ago crumbled off the feed rollers on this typewriter. I thought I found a solution at my local auto parts store:

But no, that hose was too thick, so the feed rollers wouldn’t fit properly on the typewriter. Next, I looked around my local Ace Hardware store and found some latex tubing that you can buy by the foot.

This tubing is just barely stretchy enough to fit over the feed rollers. (Lubing up the feed rollers is the second legitimate use for WD-40.)

Note from 2020: I just looked at these feed rollers and see that the latex is coming apart. I can’t recommend it as a long-term solution.

(3) I keep a large collection of photos of typewriters that I’ve seen on the Internet over the years, and sometimes they’re helpful references. For instance, in a photo of the underside of another Sholes Visible I noticed a spring that was missing on mine. This spring works very simply, but is essential to the shift lock. For several years I’d had an appropriately strong spring lying around, but it was about twice as long as it should be, so I used my Dremel tool to cut it in half and I put it in place.

(4) I inferred the need for another spring by the presence of two little holes on the platen advance mechanism. (If there’s a hole somewhere in a typewriter, there’s probably a reason for that hole, and if it’s a tiny hole, there’s a good chance that a spring belongs there.) Sure enough, in some of my reference photos I could barely see a spring in that position. I turned to an Olympia SM3 parts machine and harvested a spring that fit (the one on the left in the photo below). Now the mechanism works very smoothly with this bit of added assistance.

(5) Finally today I’ll mention the most daunting detail I’ve faced on this typewriter so far. The platen slides up and down in the carriage when you shift: the vertical rectangle you see in the photo above is an end of the frame that holds the platen, and that frame is supposed to slide up and down in two slots such as the one marked with an arrow in the photo below. (You can also easily remove the platen by moving a couple of hooks aside and lifting it out.) But the platen wasn’t sliding smoothly, and it was particularly resistant to going all the way down in the slot. This was going to make proper shifting impossible.

I tried every non-invasive measure I could think of, with no result. Then I tried bending the platen frame, using clamps, so that it would take up a little less room. That sounds insane, I know, but you might be surprised at how many typewriter repairs officially involve “forming” some part into the right shape. Well, it didn’t work and it clearly wasn’t a good idea in this case. I was able to bend the platen frame back into shape by using toothbrushes as levers. (You’ll have to make up your own picture for that one!)

I tried to think as logically as I could, and concluded that the remaining possibility was to make more room for the platen frame by grinding away some of the cast iron of the slot.

Why would such a drastic measure be needed? I’m not sure in this case, but metals can sometimes expand over the years, and I’m guessing that’s what happened here.

I put the grinder attachment on the Dremel as shown above, and as carefully as possible, ground away at the left and right slots. Through trial and error, I finally found exactly where the platen frame was sticking. And when I finished grinding, the platen slid up and down in those slots as smoothly as you could wish. What a relief!

These little Mr. Fix-It moments give me pleasure. As you can see, I am making up lots of this stuff as I go along. I hope my experiences will help me, and maybe you, solve similar problems in the future. I’ll also add that I was not born with mechanical aptitude. But I’ve learned that many mechanical problems, at least on typewriters, can be solved with a little courage, close observation, patience, reasoning, and yes, a touch of luck.


  1. Ted

    Bravo! Your ingenuity and resourcefulness in jury-rigging solutions is amazing! (:

  2. Ton S.

    In my own modest attempts at typewriter repairs, I did realize that the devil is in the details, and that resourcefulness and creativity often do the trick. Judging from what you've shared, you are doing an astonishing job with the Sholes restoration. Literally piece by little piece. I hope you do a video when it's all functional. Can't wait!

    And I have to say, you are so lucky to have Spitzfaden Office Supply! That shop is amazing, glad you took me there.

  3. notagain

    I like that rule of thumb for small holes. I had that with the Adler Universal. The linefeed didn't work. Luckily the spring was dangling from one of its holes so I just had to find the other one that would make it work. It's amazing how a dinky little spring can do so much.

  4. schrijfmachine

    Nice post again. Good to read I am not the only one struggling like this when trying to revive a typewriter. :)

  5. Carriage of No Return

    I don't think I've ever come across the idea of WD-40ing a dried ribbon to revive it – I am going to give that a try!

    About the re-purposing of the rubber tube… I've used part of the airhose from my fish tank before now in a moment of desperation. It just about did the job, but not perfectly, mainly because it was a light-blue colour I think. It was designed to become pliable in very hot water, so that made getting on easier (and no WD-40!)


  6. rn

    You hit on something essential, Richard. Typewriters are Rube Goldberg-type devices. A lever pushes the bottom of another lever, which moves the top piece forward to engage a rocker arm, that gets pulled back into its original position by a small but determined spring and lets loose a tiny hammer that hits on a curved piece of metal and damned if that isn't the bell tolling for the end of the line. Great work on the Sholes!

  7. Bill M

    Great work Richard!

    Good point on metal migration. Funny how metal can react over time, temperature and its physical composition.

    Good use for that hose I've seen in the local ACE and wondered (like I do for things radio antenna related) what could I use some of that for?

    I am still using one of my WD-40 ribbons from last spring and will soon be doing my last Pelikan for my Studio 44. I tried castor oil diluted as suggested in some of the forums and castor oil is way way way too sticky even at high dilutions of acetone.

    I learned something about the empty holes. I need to keep that in mind working on my typewriters.

  8. Dwayne F.

    Grinding on a rare machine must be just a touch nerve racking. I'm glad the experiment worked out and admire the Frankenstein part additions.

  9. L Casey

    Great work, as always. Have you used that latex tubing before, and if so how well does it work for feed rollers?
    It's all coming together…

  10. Richard P

    I hadn't tried the latex tubing before, but now I'm amazed that it took me this long. The tubing is readily available and cheap, the grip is excellent, and it should fit a variety of feed rollers.

    You'll see in the photo that it doesn't sit perfectly evenly on the roller, but is thicker toward the ends. I had to pull hard to fit it over these rollers, using a small screwdriver to reach between the roller and latex and pull the latex. That probably accounts for the bunching up. I don't think this is going to be a problem, but if it is, I'll say so.


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