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Make a mechanical typewriter type to a text file? Answered

I've got an old (circa 50-60's) mechanical typewriter that has a great deal of sentimental value to my girlfriend. Her grandfather was a writer and was always glued to his typewriter. And since I'm a huge nerd I came up with this crazy idea. My plan, and hopefully this can come to life in a few years is to modify (and not break) the typewriter so that it will send text to a file that is typed out on the typewriter. I've seen the tywpewriter, but they use an electric one and it types out tweets that are found on their twitter account. My idea is to use the typewriter as a guestbook in our wedding. People will come in and type on nice pretty paper so they can see what they're writing, and we'll have a text file. I'm pretty much settling for a text file or some sort that I can use later to modify. I'm thinking I'll have to scrap a keyboard and make small solder pads for the metal keys to make contact to. Any ideas where I can get started? I'll post pics of the typewriter when I take some, but for now, just know it's mechanical and not electric. TY!


I can think of a few wacky ideas. One involved putting colored tape on each lever and using a webcam to track their motion. Ultimately I'd just say make sure it has a good supply of ink and scan the printouts. Use a well-tuned OCR program to convert the scans to text.

good idea too, but I'd need a "don't stand here sign" or something, it might also detract from the look of it... Eventually after everything, we'll scan the paper for safe keeping (combined with Macro's idea of typing on nice pretty paper)...

Well, the colored tape and webcam could be put inside and underneath, if the bottom of the machine is removable (or in the case of some older typewriters.. not even present).

ahhh for some reason my brain was stuck on an overhead webcam... gotta get my mind thinking outside the box... thanks fox!

Happy to offer my thoughts. Hope this project works for you. Wishing you luck. :D

This should certainly be doable, and fairly easily. The first rule you should keep in mind, and do not violate, is do not alter the typewriter. Solder pads, or anything else permanently attached to the typewriter should be rejected out of hand.

Now, having said that, how do you connect a purely mechanical typewriter to a computer? Consider the following idea just as a jumping off point for your own imagination and invention...

You will probably have to unscrew the base of the typewriter, unless it's a classic Underwood with open bottom. You need to have the straight levers under the keycaps visible from below.

Build or buy a nice wooden box (or a shallow drawer, like from an old desk) as a stand on which the typewriter will appear to sit. Inside or under the box, you'll put a small-sized computer keyboard (USB or bluetooth as you prefer) to connect to a hidden CPU. Cut a hole in the lid or base of the wooden box, so that the typewriter can still sit on it securely, but you can see all of the key levers from below through the hole.

Make a bunch of plastic sticks, about 4-5mm diameter (think old-school swizzle sticks from a bar), and a few inches long. You'll trim them to length later in this idea :-) At one end of each stick, make a notch a little narrower than the lever bars on the typewriter. You want a tight friction fit -- no glue, no epoxy, nothing that alters or damages the keys.

Attach a stick to each lever bar so that it extends down through the hole in the box onto the computer keyboard below. Obviously, you want the stick to touch the correct key :-) Trim (and label!) each stick so that it hangs just above the computer key, and when the visible typewriter key is pressed it comes down to hit the computer key.

That's a basic engineering-level idea. You'll probably need to fiddle with it some to make it work reliably, but I don't see any showstoppers. And of course, choosing the right wooden drawer to use as a stand, etc., is part of the aesthetics, not the engineering :-)

Good luck, and best wishes!

Why "reject it out of hand" altering the keyboard ? Its yours !

Either you didn't actually read the original post, or you don't have a very mature sense of respect for the property of other people. Mrsayao was very clear that the typerwriter was not his -- it is his fiancee's, and has "great sentimental value" for her.

If you have a girlfriend yourself, do you generally go and break her precious items for projects of your own? If not, do you go and break up things that belong to your parents or siblings?

"modify not break" implies that minor works are permitted. And I am a married father of two. I don't need lessons in property ownership from you thanks.

(i'm sure you meant typewriter and not keyboard) but as long as it'll still work afterwards, I'm open to ideas...

Married father of one. And she (14 months) is definitely learning about ownership :-) I'm expecting "mine" to be one of her first words ;->

yes yes, I saw the link to the IBM electric mod and I might use this as my output to the computer. I just need to figure out a way to place them. Here's a pic of the typewriter I've got. Turns out it isn't as old as I thought, Smith & Corona Super Sterling circa 1966 http://sevenels.net/typewriters/large/SCMSuperSterling.jpg. There IS space under the keys in which I can use the microswitch idea and Kelseymh's idea with the rods.

What if I use magnetic reed switches and place small magnets on the bottom of the levers? I think that would work as long as I have sufficient space between switches so only one reed switch is activated at a time... and then there's the stupid shift key... gonna do more research. if I can vote best answer for all of you, I really really would...


8 years ago

If you insist, how about micro-switches underneath the levers on the keys? Better yet, just conductive pads between the lever support and the bottoms (or tops) of the levers, all mapped to computer keyboard circuit. You could hide a laptop in a steampunk box, so the text could show up instantly. If I were you, I'd keep it simple. Just get an old typewriter and a stack of cards imprinted with your names and wedding date, with space for people to type. If you use thick, soft-ish stock and a new ribbon, the typed pieces will resemble their cousin, letterpress printing. I would not risk using the beloved machine itself, but see if you can find a reasonable facsimile. I have my grandmother's Underwood Standard Typewriter No. 5, which I used to encourage people to use to leave messages. It somehow lost a screw on the carriage return, and since I haven't gotten around to replacing it, the typewriter no longer works.

That I'ble relies on an old IBM electric, not a mechanical typewriter. It also involves a fair amount of destructive modification, which may not be appropriate for an item with "a great deal of sentimental value."

Just my two cents :-)

It is the parts of the build that output to the PC that may be useful, including the home made switches. L