Typewriter: Remington Rand 17 — $5 and a lot of work

I have enough typewriters and I don’t like to spend money, so I just look for really cheap ones and see if I can fix them up.

On ebay, I noticed a Remington Rand model 17 in appalling condition. I mean, appalling. You could smell the rust just looking at the picture — this one:

Photo of typewriter.

As seen on ebay — sitting in the foot well of a ride-on mower.

I made an offer below the asking price and eventually it was accepted. It weighs a tonne, and when I got it it had many issues. The platen did not turn. Neither did it move from side to side. Keys would either not go down or not go up. The drawband was fragile and broke if you looked at it too hard. A lot of the paint was bubbled up and even chromed parts were largely rusty. It was really a project.

Photo of the Remington 17 in terrible condition

As received. Note cobwebs. Note missing paint.

First, checked that it was complete, and key parts were likely to work. That did seem to be the case, so made the decision to invest the time…

Photo with the ribbon cover off.

With the top off. Rusty all the way down…

First thing was to remove the platen. Hacked out the mud that was jammed between the platen and the carriage, and… it did not move. Put some Penetrene on the ends of the platen and left it, then was able to open the clamps and lift it out. But the platen would not move in its bushes. Screwed off the handles and let the bushes soak for a day in Penetrene, then heated a bush with the hot air gun, quickly clamped it in a wooden vise (to avoid marking the metal) and pulled and pulled and pulled. Repeated many times and eventually, red faced, got the bushes to slip off, being careful to not lose the springs. Used a little fine emery on the platen ends and inside the bushes’ sleeves and eventually got the platen to work. The rubber was remarkably well preserved, possibly protected by the layer of dirt.

Once I’d freed a few parts and attached a bit of builders’ twine as a drawband, I could test things like ribbon feed and ribbon vibrator. The latter worked remarkably well, but the former not at all. And that was a pain because it’s hidden away inside the thing.

Fortunately, there’s a service manual for the Remington 17 online. Yay. So I could try to pull the mechanism out of the case. This requires a lot of cursing, and I found inverting the machine and yelling at it was essential. Eventually I got the inside outside, and to prove it, see below.

Photo showing the dismanted typewriter.

The frame on the right, the typing mechanism on the left.

At the back-left of the empty carcass is the shaft that drives the ribbon. It runs off a pinion that engages with teeth on the drum that pulls on the drawband. There is a little pawl that is meant to engage to drive the shaft when typing, but which is supposed to allow it to disengage when, for example, pulling on the carriage return lever. So there is supposed to be a little spring, and that tiny part was missing. In the end I improvised a solution with a bit of rubber cut from an old tyre tube.

The faulty part, photograph.

The pinion and pawls that drives the ribbon feed.

It took a bit of trial and error to get the springiness right, but eventually the typewriter was functioning. So the main next question was whether to reassemble it as it was — rusty and original — or to give it a paint job, In the end I went for the latter. Wrongly, I have come to think. But anyway, this is how it performs and what it looks like now — I painted the space bar green because it was damaged.

Characters are acceptably aligned and the weight is pretty even. I quite like the semi-lining, semi-old face numerals and the rakish % sign.

Maybe it’s not pulling the paper far enough on this setting, since lines overlap a little…


Photo of the final product. Green.

Rust rubbed back, paint stripped (well, not the crinkle paint), sprayed Brunswick green. Meh.

It types nicely except for a sticky ‘1’, and is a quite usable machine. The paint job is not great close up, and I kind of wish I’d just cleaned it up and left it original. I certainly know more about how they work than I ever expected to.

Cheaper the better.

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About Darren

I'm a scientist by training, currently working as a writer, trainer and editor.

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