So this summer I designed an "Easy Install" version of the USB Typewriter kit, which now involves absolutely no soldering or special tools and is just plain easier to install all around. This guide explains the installation process for my new kit, which is now available for sale at www.usbtypewriter.com . I'm interested in making this kit as easy as possible to install, and making the instructions extremely clear, so if you see room for improvement please leave your comments and suggestions below.
I have designed different versions of the kit to fit each of the major brands of typewriters, dating from the early 1920s through the late 1960s. Here are the brands that are currently supported by the USB Typewriter Kit:
- Underwood Desktop Models (eg the Model 5)
- Underwood Portables
- Royal Desktop Models (eg the Model 10)
- Royal Portables
- Olivettis (only models with square keys)
- Remington (only models with circular keys)
- Smith Corona
- Olympia SM series
- Underwood "Noiseless" models and "3-bank" models
- Royal's ultra-modernist "Royalite," "Fleetwood", and "El Dorado" models
- Remington "Noiseless" models (the kind with the chrome doorknob-shaped ribbon caps)
- Corona Model 3 and Model 4
- Electric typewriters are NOT supported
Step 1: Tools and Materials
- A fine tool for scraping/sanding, such as a metal file, 100 grit sandpaper, exacto knife, or Dremel (Dremel is best)
- A small flat-head screwdriver
- A pair of pliers
- A pair of small scissors (like nail-cutting scissors)
- A strong, fast setting glue (like super-glue or hot glue)
- Wire Strippers (optional but highly recommended)
- 1 small roll of cloth tape
- 1 control panel that fits on the side of the typewriter
- 1 sensor panel which fits underneath the typewriter
- 4 magnetic switches for detecting Shift, Space, Backspace, and Enter
- An assortment of magnets
Step 2: Identify the Crossbar
Take the time now to identify where the crossbar is on your typewriter -- just look for a bar underneath that swings up and down when you press a key. I included a few pictures above, showing where the crossbar is on a few different typewriter models, just so you get the idea.
Step 3: Prepare to Install the Sensor Panel
- Underwood Model 5
- Underwood Portable
- Royal Model 10
- Royal Portable
- Smith Corona
Step 4: Sand the Keys Under the Crossbar
Step 1: Use a wad of paper to prop the crossbar back, giving you some room to work.
Step 2: Use your tool of choice to remove the paint on each key in the general area of the crossbar.
NOTE: If using a Dremel tool to abrade the keys, be very careful not to accidentally cut any nearby springs -- they are very fragile and hard to replace. If there are springs near where you are trying to sand, it may be wise to switch over to manually using a metal file, exacto blade, etc.
Step 5: Wrap the Crossbar in Tape
If you find the tape is not sticking, clean the crossbar with a degreaser (like Simple Green or Formula 409) or with rubbing alcohol. Optionally, you can also use small dabs of superglue to secure the tape -- a little goes a long way!
In the pictures above I've given examples of taping the crossbar on an Underwood, a Royal, and a Corona.
Step 6: Attach Sensor Panel
When attaching the Sensor Panel, make sure the dangling grey cable sticks out towards the LEFT side of the typewriter (ie the "QWERT" side, not the "YUIOP" side.) This is the side you will be attaching the control panel to later.
(NOTE: Your typewriter's crossbar may consist of more than one continuous section (for example, in the photos above there is a metal protrusion near the left hand side of the crossbar). Therefore you may find it necessary to cut the metal contact array into corresponding sections first.)
Step 7: Cut and Fold the Contacts.
For consistent operation of your USB Typewriter, it is important that the contacts don't come in contact with any other pieces of metal other than the keys themselves -- that includes keeping each contact away from the circuit board and away from other contacts nearby, as well.
UNDERWOOD USERS ONLY: Underwood typewriters frequently have annoying protrusions like springs and linkages on the crossbar. (see 2nd photo above). For situations like this, try to bend the contacts away from the protrusions so they won't touch any exposed metal. Because you moved the contacts, you may also have to bend the corresponding keys a little bit too so the keys and contacts are still aligned.
Step 8: Attach Control Panel
Step 9: Connect Ribbon Cable
Step 10: Connect Chassis Lug Wire
First, find a screw or bolt on the typewriter that is easily accessible. Next, remove this screw and strip away the paint underneath it with sandpaper, exacto blade, metal file, or Dremel. Finally, use the screw to securely fasten the chassis lug to the exposed metal of the chassis -- the picture above sums it up nicely.
Now, strip the other end of this wire and insert it into the hole on the Control Panel marked "C" for Chassis. Turn the tiny screw clockwise to clamp the wire securely in place. (see second picture above)
Step 11: Fun with Magnetic Switches
To connect your first magnetic switch, strip the two wires attached to it and insert them into any of the four remaining pairs of holes on the control panel (marked "1", "2", "3", and "SHIFT"). NOTE: Before inserting the wires, you may have to twist the tiny screws counterclockwise first to open the hole up wider -- after inserting the wires you should tighten these screws again to clamp the wire in place.
ENTERING TEST MODE:
Next, while holding down the CMD key (the third button down on the control panel), plug the control panel into your computer with a USB cable. The control panel is now in TEST mode, and so it will emit an audible beep. Now, here is the magic part: take a magnet and move it close to the switch -- whenever it gets close enough, the beep changes pitch! Try it and see!
HOW IT WORKS:
The magnetic switch has the amazing ability to sense whether a magnet is nearby or not, and we are going to use this ability to detect the space bar, backspace key, and shift key. The idea is simple -- we will attach a magnet to the key we wish to sense, then glue a magnetic switch nearby. Whenever the key is pressed, the magnet will move towards the switch, triggering it.
WHAT TO DO:
Your goal is to select an appropriately sized magnet (the greater the distance, the bigger the magnet), place it somewhere on the key you wish to sense, then find the best possible place on the typewriter's frame to attach the magnetic switch. You will know you have found the right place when pressing the key causes the beep to change pitch, and releasing it causes the beep to change back.
Once you have found the right place for your magnetic switch, glue it down with a very modest amount of super-glue or super-glue gel. Repeat this process for all the reed switches you plan to use. At the bare minimum, you should use a magnetic switch on the Shift key and Spacebar, and, optionally, Backspace as well. (Note that the Shift key MUST go in the holes marked "SHIFT").
CONNECTING ADDITIONAL KEYS:
Using the one remaining set of connections on the Control Panel, you can add an additional magnetic switch to the Return Carriage lever so it acts as an "Enter" key -- however, this is much more difficult to do. Therefore I recommend that you isntead assign "Enter" to an unused key on the main keyboard (like the otherwise useless "½ / ¼" key) -- this re-assignment is done in the next step.
Step 12: Calibrate
To access Calibration Mode:
1) With the USB cable unplugged, open up Notepad (on Windows) or TextEdit (on Mac).
2) Next, hold down button #1 (the top button) while plugging the USB cable in.
A message should appear on your computer screen (See photo above).
You will then be prompted to type each letter of the alphabet, all the numerals, punctuation marks, and a few other keys. Just type the corresponding key on the USB Typewriter.
You can also hold down Button #2 while typing a key (the middle button) to assign a secondary function to a key. Example: you may want to assign Button #2+Backspace to be Escape, or Button#2+Space to be Tab.
IMPORTANT: If you come across a character that you don't wish to assign to any of your USB Typewriter keys, press space-bar to skip.
Step 13: Finishing Touches
Once you are sure everything is working properly, there are one or two things you could do at this point to lock everything down and keep it from falling out of alignment.
Firstly, you should secure all the magnets -- simply put a tiny drop of superglue right next to them and let the glue will wick itself under the magnet. there is no need to lift the magnet up to get the glue underneath it, because the glue will work itself under there anyway.
Secondly, you may want to hot-glue the sensor panel and contacts in place (see picture). Run a bead of hot glue down the length of the Sensor Panel, so that it covers just the ends of the contacts. This stops the contacts from wiggling out of alignment. Be sure to keep the glue away from where the contacts meet the keys, though.
Optionally, if you plan on using an iPad or other tablet with your kit, you can fashion a support to hold your iPad on top of the carriage by following these simple instructions.
Finally, you may find that you need to add some extra height to your typewriter to accommodate all the circuitry you put under there. I don't include feet with the kit, but if you need them, you can get a variety of rubber feet from your hardware store or from West Florida Components.
Enjoy your awesome new (and old) USB Typewriter!
Check out my website to get more information about this mod, watch some nifty videos of it in action, or pick up a kit for your own typewriter hacking pleasure.