Easily Re-Ink Typewriter Ribbons




Introduction: Easily Re-Ink Typewriter Ribbons

About: Performer, Tinkerer, Builder. Focused on functional and simple to produce projects.


Having used up my last typewriter ribbon; I turned to the internet to source some replacements. Though they are available online, (Average Price $10 CAD each.)

I have manually re-inked ribbons in the past but found the process time consuming, delicate and worst of all, incredibly messy.

I fully expect I'll need more than three or four ribbons in my lifetime, and a bottle of Black Stamp Pad ink, is approximately $8 CAD. Making it more economical to build a reusable device to re-apply ink as necessary, than to continually buy more reels and ribbons as the ink dries up.

This will serve more as a general overview of the build process, rather than a detailed set of instructions. And It will be broken down as follows.





The video shows the jig in use. And may give a more thorough view.

Step 1: Parts: Scrounging the Parts Bin.


  1. Wood scrap
  2. Drawer pulls
  3. Drawer pull screws
  4. Beads
  5. Craft wooden dowels (I found these at the Dollar store.)
  6. Washers
  7. Screws
  8. Sponge
  9. "E"clip


  1. Saw
  2. Craft knife
  3. Drill / twist drill bits
  4. Hot melt glue gun / glue sticks
  5. Measuring tape / speed square
  6. Pliers

Step 2: Assembly:

As I was prototyping and building at the same time; I used hot melt glue and screws to allow for adjustment and repair as the project progressed. A more permanent glue / fasteners may be used.

For the base and structure of the jig, I used some hardwood scraps I had on hand. (Foam-core, or a double layer of cardboard would also work, but will be less durable.)

Using my current ribbon and reels as a gauge I laid out the centres for the spools and an aproximate locations for the "tension" pulley's.

Having marked my centres I cut my hardwood scraps to size. It will be far easier to drill all the appropriate holes before assembling the base.

We're using the drawer pull screws as axles in the top section, so they have to be drilled slightly oversized to allow the screws to turn freely.

The lower set of holes will be drilled to friction fit the wooden dowel.

Drive / Take up spools:

To hold and drive the spools, we're creating two "axles".

To save time and produce a nicer final result, I decided to use drawer pulls and the matching screws, for handles. The cabinet screws that "snap" break away, have a relief cut into them.

To retain the axle in the housing, I glued a bead to the screw, as a sort of thrust bearing.

To drive the spool, we need to provide backing on the screw, that will allow the drawer pull to cinch the spool as it tightens down. In my case, the cabinet screws have a relief in them (for break away) that is the proper size for an E-Clip / washer combo. Which I glued into place.

The Photograph of the axle / handle is probably clearer than the description.

Tensioner / Idler pulley.

I rattled around a few different ideas about how to tension the ribbon across the sponge. Eventually I landed on the idea it was simplest to use the idler pulley's passively, but to keep the centre line of the pulley, below the top of the sponge, and to use the spring of the sponge as the "tensioner".

To build the idlers, simply, and without too much machining, I set the dowels friction fit into the structure. Then overdrilled the centres of some beads, so they would spin freely on the dowel. (shaft) Stacking three or four beads on the shaft will give us 3/4" to 1" of bearing.

To retain the beads, I glued a washer to the end of the dowel.

Keeping the spools on aproximately the same plane will help the ribbon run "true"-ish.


The sponge and holder are a dollar store stamp pad, that is glued into place. Fast and easy.

Step 3: Get Ink

Load up the ribbon threading it around the tensioners and over the sponge.

As for ink, I'm using Black stamp pad ink, a few drops should be enough to load the ribbon. It might not be ideal, or proper, but it is readily available and inexpensive.

As you can see by the end of the video, and looking at the impression on the paper. It is messy, and smeary. I applied too much ink, it saturated the ribbon entirely. In my next application, I will use a little less ink, and let the inked ribbon rest and allow the ink to wick through the ribbon evenly before putting it into use in the typewriter.

Step 4: Conclusion

That's the build. I was happy to have something creative to work on, and was satisfied by the result.

The ribbon is (so far) working. And I'll keep the jig around for the next time.


As I used the jig for the first time, I discovered that there wasn't quite enough tension in the ribbon to really press it into the sponge. I added a "spring" by notching a dowel and placing a small piece of plastic in the dowel. By friction fitting the dowel into a hole in the frame, I was able to adjust the tension of the ribbon by turning the dowel. Pressing the ribbon into the sponge.

This pressure resulted in too much ink on the ribbon, but I know for the next run. I would also apply less ink to the sponge.

That's it. I was happy to have something creative to work on, and having spent some time working on something useful that I am going to use again, and was satisfied by the result.

Thanks for checking out the build.

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    4 Discussions


    2 years ago

    In the dot-matrix printer days, we would rejuvenate a ribbon by removing the cover, spraying with wd40 and leaving it overnight. worked a treat!


    Reply 2 years ago

    Yes! I have tried this in the past as well, it does work.


    2 years ago

    That's an awesome idea! I wish we had that setup for my moms' old typewriter when I was little.


    Reply 2 years ago

    Thanks! I think it's mostly inspired by scarcity. Of course I'm picturing, in my mind, a past time where you could pick up a ribbon anywhere locally, and we wouldn't need a jig like this.