Underwood Electric: keyswapping

by | Nov 28, 2014 | Underwood Electric | 12 comments

Gasp! Has Richard P become a keychopper??
No, not exactly—just a keyswapper. 
The machine on the right is a hopeless ca. 1930 Underwood portable parts machine. On the left is my Underwood Electric (click the “Underwood Electric” tag at the end of this post to see previous posts about it). The electric came with depressingly unattractive gray plastic keys, and part of my restoration/modification project is to give it classic keys with glass tops and chrome rings.
The classic Underwood keys fit snugly on this ’50s electric. 
The underside of each is a “stem” that tapers down to a narrow slot that grips the key lever.
How tight does it grip? Extremely. But I developed a removal technique that works most of the time:
Grasp the lever tightly with one pliers, just under the key:

Then use another pliers to pry off the key. Don’t grip the key, but simply use the pliers as leverage. I am using a pliers with a curved tip that is ideal for this purpose:

Does this always work? No. In some cases the key levers snapped before the keys popped off. Then it’s very difficult to remove the keys. I managed to get two of the ones below separated from the lever stubs, but others will have to be taken to the physics shop on campus where I’ll use a vise to grip the stubs while I pry off the keys (I hope). 
My hands are sore and I have uttered many four-letter words, but I think this will all be worthwhile.


  1. Ted

    Looks darn beautiful. You're gonna gave this old gal all tricked out! :D

  2. Scott K

    THere's something bitterly heartbreaking about seeing the twisted metal form a cut key leaver. Almost hard to get past.

    That said, I like the direction you're going with this. I reckon it's going to look great!

    Oh and… what if I told you there was a tool designed to remove such removable tops, and I just happened to have it?

  3. Richard P

    Yeah, it makes me kind of sick to rip a typewriter apart. I did try to get this portable working, but it had a couple of issues I just could not fix.

    Have you shown the tool on your blog? I would like to see it (although I probably don't need it now).

  4. Ping A

    What a great idea!

  5. Bill M

    I can't wait to see the end result.

  6. Unknown

    Cool project, Richard!

  7. shordzi

    I have been looking for a special key-top removing tool, they would save a lot of four letter words. But isn't it the nicest pass-time to spend a couple of meditative hours over a machine? I think it's the way to catch its should, and establish a relationship with it.

  8. Anonymous

    Hmmm, very interesting. Looking forward to more.

  9. Scott K

    Actually no, I havent. I should show it sometime. It was a tool I picked up recently and wasn't sure at first what it did.

  10. Anonymous

    I have a wire key puller that I've yet to use – designed for the later plastic key tops – wouldn't work on those sturdy-looking key tops. may the donor machine Rest In Pieces. :)

  11. RobertG

    Curious how the electric will turn out.
    Will admit that the photographs are nevertheless somehow slightly disturbing…
    Quickly — Cmd-W !

  12. Richard P

    It does look a bit like an inquisitor's dungeon, I guess!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


typewriter revolutionary factory logo




Dept. of Philosophy
Xavier University
3800 Victory Pkwy.
Cincinnati, OH. 45207