Instructables
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NOTE: These instructions are for my original "Solder-It-Yourself" conversion kit. However, I have since come up with a much simpler, no-soldering-required version of the USB Typewriter Conversion Kit, and -- take my word for it -- it is is much easier to install. If you want to learn about how to convert your typewriter the hard way, read on! Otherwise, check out the No-Soldering Instructable to learn more about the newer version of the kit.

 
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Step 1: Introduction:

There is something very magical about typing on those old-school manual typewriters. From the satisfying snap of the spring-loaded keys, to the gleam of the polished chrome accents, to the crisp marks on the printed page, typewriters make for a sublime writing experience. Now, the USB Typewriter lets you enjoy the magic of writing on a manual typewriter, without forfeiting the ability to use word-processing, email, web-browsing, or other modern desktop conveniences. Or, instead of using the typewriter as a computer keyboard, you can turn off your monitor altogether and type directly onto paper -- while discretely saving a soft-copy for later use!

In this instructable, I'll help you bring your old typewriter back to life by converting it into a USB compatible keyboard for your PC, Mac, or tablet computer. The hack is intended as a full keyboard replacement, so you can get rid of that piece of disposable plastic you call a keyboard and use the desk space for a classic, functional work of art -- A USB Typewriter!

Read on, and you will see that this modification is surprisingly easy to implement -- It shouldn't take longer than a weekend to do, and is within reach of any electronics novice. You might imagine that the project involves jumbles of wires and dozens of switches and sensors, but actually there are very few wires and absolutely no mechanical switches involved! However, because this project requires some custom components and circuit boards, you will need to purchase a USB Typewriter D.I.Y. Kit, which I have made available in my etsy store (usbtypewriter.etsy.com):

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ImagoX4 years ago
I'm a writer and I **LOVE** the idea of this - I've often windered if there were a way to retrofit my old typewriters tfor use with a PC. However, I'm unclear about how keys like "Alt" and "Ctrl" work - they're not present on a typewriter, are they? You mention them as being "hard wired" in one of the steps, but I'm not sure how this actually works in practice. Also, I assume this hack will allow for "Shift+key" commands for caps, differing punctuation, etc.? Also, I'm also assuming that (since they're not at all present) that there's no way to assign "F" keys via some sort of key combination in the calibration stage? Of course, it's not at all hard to just have a second, actual keyboard plugged into a second USB port for the times you need an "F" key. Last, I'm pretty sure they do, but when the typewriter is manipulated, the keys still articulate and strike the drum, the carriage still lifts and slides to the right, etc. yes? Thanks!
jackzylkin (author)  ImagoX4 years ago
Ctrl and Alt are buttons on the circuit board itself. You can also wire them up to other random adjustment knobs and switches on the typewriter. There is also a "Fn" button on the PCB that allows you to access a secondary key map, so that the numerals become F-keys, the lower right of the keyboard becomes arrow keys, and so on.
So if they're on the circuit board, how are they manipulated? Can one use a momentary switch, perhaps, attached to the typewriter chassis? How have you historically accomplished this, or have you just not bothered? Thanks!
TheGreatS6 months ago

This method of typing is second only to the IBM Model M. Excellent work, now if only I can get my hands on a typewriter...

Sairon1 year ago
I cut the sensor board so that the small ' scrap ' piece has the four holes on the end. is this a problem, or can i go ahead and solder?
jackzylkin (author)  Sairon1 year ago
Oh, yeah you definitely need those holes. I will send a replacement board. Message me privately with your address.
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jackzylkin (author)  DELETED_agat181 year ago
Yes, the USB Typewriter is compatible with a wide range of roman alphabets, including German. The language settings of your computer are taken into account when assigning the various letters to the various keys.
ngrc2 years ago
A really great idea! Does anybody have experience regarding compatibility with Brother manual typewriters? I would really like to upgrade my dad's old one.
If any keys are missed, well you could always use the onscreen keyboard on rare occasions..it's so worth it for this.
jackzylkin (author)  instructascott2 years ago
Thanks! Actually, on an iPad, ALT+any key produces some pretty wild results -- many oddball characters can be accesed that way, too. And you can program the Interface Board's "bonus" key to access another keyboard's worth of hidden extra keys.
d_septikhan2 years ago
Also, orientation of the magnet is also important.
http://www.kjmagnetics.com/blog.asp?p=reed-switches-and-hall-effect-sensors
d_septikhan2 years ago
Which pin would I connect the space bar to the USB Interface board?
jackzylkin (author)  d_septikhan2 years ago
Sorry, D! I am seriously upgrading my website and this instructable this week, so some files are getting shuffled around and links are temporarily broken. The pairs of pins labeled D7 D8 etc are the ones you can connect things like space bar and backspace to. The pins labeled "chassis" on the board is where the chassis wire goes to -- Im not sure what it is called on the schematic.
So I follow the labeling on the USB interface board? The instructions here are out dated.

Thanks.
jackzylkin (author)  d_septikhan2 years ago
I know -- I am seriously updating them right now. The new kit has breakout boards for each reed switch so they cannot break, and eyelets for attaching the chassis connection instead of using a loop of wire. The revised instructions will also be clearer with more pictures and specific examples from various typewriters (I just upgraded my photo setup). This is a long overdue upgrade that will go live this weekend. If you would like me to send you the new components, let me know and I'll send it to you at no charge.
Cool. Looking forward to it!
d_septikhan2 years ago
I remember you had a video about the reed switch which involved using a lighter. Where is that?
jackzylkin (author)  d_septikhan2 years ago
here: http://youtu.be/EazIWCGevv0
Led Man2 years ago
Hey man that is really cool, i have an old Type Wrighter some were in my attic im thinking about doing this thanks man
Ukzs02062 years ago
Um, they are manipulated by pressing the buttons. I usually mount the Touch Screen Stylus
on the side of the device, so the buttons can be reached with the left hand while typing. You could of course mount your own buttons somewhere. Every typewriter is different -- that's why its a fun project!
tylercard2 years ago
Christmas listed!
Wow, this is awsome, very clean!
wow that is awesome! It looks nice and clean, my uncle and I tried to make one, but it was very messy :/
tinker2343 years ago
wow this is just amazing if i used a frontal surface mirror i coulld make a cool liltle decoreten
jlu23 years ago
so nice I do like to do try it
but the mini pc is how much?
http://www.topusbdrive.com/custom-usb-c-1.html
is there a way to turn it into a printer for the writing projects on your computer?
This is really slick!
servant744 years ago
Amost as cool as the using a Selectric typewriter as a printer a friend did in the 1975-76 time frame. Wirt Atmar of AI Cybernetic Systems in Las Cruses NM did the hack and drove all the solenoids that punched the keys on the selectric with his Altair 8800 (Or was it an IMSAI ... my minds details goes after a while :) ... But his was an output device and this is a neat input device! .. I wish I had a picture of his old hack to share with you.
Whew! An ambitious project for your friend to tackle back in the mid-70's... Of course, by then, IBM had long since made a basic, hard-copy-only computer terminal from their own Selectric line, the "2741", to replace the almost-universal (but deathly-slow) "Teletype ASR-33". The 2741, with a few variants, was still geting some use right on through the early 80's!

The "personal computer revolution" must be credited to both Altair, who "made the ball", so to speak, with their "8800", and IMSAI, who "got it rolling" with their "8080". As far as I know, both used the same INTEL "8080" processor, virtually the only "micro" in existence at the time. By adopting as "standard" many of the features of the Altair while improving significantly on their design, IMSAI helped create much of the market they both then, brielfy, supplied. (Altair's only real "advantage" was Bill Gates' BASIC, quite possibly one of the last pieces of software Bill can LEGITIMATELY claim to have WRITTEN HIMSELF...)
jackzylkin (author)  servant744 years ago
Thanks -- that sound like a cool project. Tom Igoe also did a similar thing recently. Don't tell your friend Wirt, but there are many electric typewriters, especially those made by Brother, that have RS-232 ports, and can work as printers already.
In 1976/77 (the heyday of the Altair/IMSAI) there was no such thing as a typewriter an with RS232 port, per se. The closest thing was a teletype.
thats a neat idea
jackzylkin (author)  twighahn4 years ago
je je thanks for translating for irenvj :)
awdark4 years ago
I wonder if anyone has tried to sniff or emulate the iPad keyboard protocol yet. It would be nice if we could get the Arduino chip to connect directly to the ipad and skip the camera connector.

Of course the result will be less flexible but the USB connector is an expensive accessory.
jeff-o awdark3 years ago
Maybe you could hack something like this.
awdark jeff-o3 years ago
Yeah, it would probably be easier to take a part and try to either duplicate or just mod. But at $40 it really pushes the threshold of just buying a cheap BT keyboard to work with.

Ebay/sparkfun doesn't seem to have bluetooth breakout boards with HID support wonder why =\
jeff-o awdark3 years ago
True, that price is a little high just to hack apart, isn't it?
jackzylkin (author)  awdark4 years ago
Yeah, I wonder why Apple designed it that way...
I have zero soldering experience save for some ill-fated stained glass projects in high school. However, I've been tinkering around with soft circuitry lately, and in so doing learned of the existence of conductive epoxy. I haven't used any yet myself. Is there any reason I could not use conductive epoxy in place of solder in this project?
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