21 March 2012

The Underwood No. 5: A Classic Typewriter, Rubber Trouble, and Modern Relevancy



This is my Underwood No. 5. I've had it for a while, but like my Remington Portable, it was in need of attention before I could show it off.

It had three issues: a cracked frame (remember, these are made of iron), rubber feet which were worn, brittle, and uneven, and a mainspring which won't stay fully wound.

The frame: easily fixed, as it was in a way which gravity and its natural operation held together so it actually worked fine even without bonding it. Many people recommended different methods, so I won't recommend what I did even though it works fine for this instance of a cracked frame.

The feet: the curse of rubber... Like the Remington, a fine machine was frustrated by rubber not being so timeless. The platen and rollers are great, however, the feet of these standards are often worn. I today received new ones (literally...all the parts are new), and I put them in and now it can stand up for proper typing. I am thinking of making a page for "endorsements" of those with whom I have had good interactions in my typewriter endeavours.

The mainspring: works, but when I tighten it (these Underwoods are very open and accessible so that is very easy to do) past a certain point, it will unspring itself to the same point where it is just possible to type a full page with equal margins, although it won't trip the bell so one has to be careful not to keep typing over where it stops. The person from whom I received the feet has offered me a mainspring too (although he has to find it and test it), so that is a future upgrade although I am unsure of myself in replacing parts like that... I do not think it will be any easier on another machine than this one so that is good. If one has to access a part, might as well do it on a machine where it is so accessible.

But, it works. In the photos, you can see a spool. There are two of them there and I just cleaned them. They are from a rusted out non-functional Underwood No. 5 from an eBay deal gone sour. "Good condition" has never been so improperly used. Nothing, literally, works on it, although its feet were in better (not good) condition than this one... They were not even so they were not suitable replacements. I did not want to ship it back, so I got a partial refund. However, after replacing the feet, I did not want to put a new ribbon onto the spools so I am using the modern universal spools. Later, I will put in a two colour ribbon with black and purple.

The influence of the Underwood design is most interesting. If one follows the development of typewriters, one sees the Sholes machine from Remington, the upgraded Remington No. 2 which had a shift mechanism and probably was seen as the "yeah, we got it right and nothing more needs to be done" improvement, and other upstrike blind machines and minor improvements. Then there were many other mechanisms and designs. Since the industry was not established, the multiple choice situation was good for exploring technology, however, it was not good for a single type of tool which people could learn how to use and be set. If one learned on one keyboard layout, switching would usually be out of the question. The Underwood standard started out with a design similar to the Underwood No. 5. Those elements were not seen as the ideal, but the best match for the designed purpose. These machines could be used to type very quickly and they made the best of the available designs. They dominated the market, and following machines almost universally follow the design set by Underwood. Machines like my Skyriters have the same design (in principle)!

I can type very fast on this and very comfortably, however, until the mainspring is 100%, it is difficult to use for long texts because one must pay attention to where the carriage stops. I have set the margins (note: those are set in the front of the machine...very handy) to allow a wider area for typing, although in the post I was keeping it more narrow (as I often do on blog posts).


Underwood No. 5

Underwood No. 5

6 comments:

  1. I'm glad that you're getting the Underwood 5 back in working order (I wouldn't know a mainspring if one bit me in the...).

    They are great machines, incredibly durable except for certain rubber parts, as you mentioned. I was lucky to be given one that has a bit of "tread" left on that rubber, even after a century!

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  2. That #5 id a very typewriter. It is great that they are still able to be used after all the years. The typeface and alignment look great. I'd like to have room enough to have one.

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  3. A mainspring is the round bit which provides constant tension to pull the carriage (the mainspring is attached to a cord or strap which is attached to the end of the carriage). On the Underwood No. 5, it is clearly visible and has a mechanism to wind it up (or down), although it is locked (you have to take a screw out to free the lock).

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  4. Just obtained a beautiful Underwood Noiseless (Standard). This one post has already answered a few questions. No doubt, I will likely be asking more in the near future as I try to bring this wonderful machine back to life.

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  5. Where did you find new rubber feet? Great post.

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  6. Where did you find new rubber feet? Great post.

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