Friday, October 18, 2013

Skywriter Tinkering

Bombarded with my typewritten letters, my older relatives (that is to say, my age) eventually start poking around for their old typewriters. And so a few weeks ago when an aunt and uncle arrived for a visit they had brought along their Smith-Corona Skywriter. I liked its compact and solid heft, and even more its typing feel. The clean sound and secure feel of the keys was impressive to me for a travel typewriter. So now I've added a couple of Skywriters to my shelf full of the little guys accumulated during my continuing search for the "just right" RV trip typer.

So you can play the "Guess-What's-In-The-Case" game I'll name them below.
A 1958 version (3Y196399) was the most fun to get back on its feet. I've always loved bringing a fine old whatsit back to life, especially if it was mechanical. This goes back to my teens when I would get first dibs at clocks collected by my mom's group for an annual charity rummage sale (Marin County's Sunny Hills Guild Rummage Sale).
As you can see, I strive for tidiness and organization. I always clear sufficient space on the workbench for the item being worked on, and never have more that four or five other projects on the bench at the same time, with their associated tools, etc.

The Skywriter comes out of its shell (mask, if you will) in tidy fashion after removing just two screws. I'd decided to do this after seeing the deep accumulation of dust bunnies and eraser crumbs. So I also removed the platten and gave the works a bath after first blasting it with compressed air. I'm wondering, though, if the blasting is a good practice - I've dislodged small springs doing this. I then sprayed it with 409 (a fairly potent household degreaser), scrubbed the crannies with a smallish stiffish brush, rinsed it in the kitchen sink filled with warm water, and dried it completely with a hair dryer. 

Although the typewriter was as pleased with itself after this treatment as a high school girl ready for a prom, a couple of the keys were still sticky. One was jamming in the gate until I reformed the typebar, the other freed up after an application of solvent to the segment. In addition, it must have suffered in transit, exhibiting characteristics of a mild concussion. The seller's eBay listing photo showed clear text, but on arrival the upper halves of the letters were absent as a result of the slugs hitting the platten too high. There was insufficient adjustment available on the lower case limit screw, but by trading it with the longer upper case limit screw I was then able to get the lower case letters to hit the platten squarely. I was able to get the upper case lined up after a bit of metal reforming - I'm guessing the machine must have taken a whack in shipment and the carriage had not been secured. 

Once back together the type looked fine. Hurray! Very satisfying. But that pleasure diminished when I discovered the absence of the bell sound. So out of its shell once again to discover that the back plate had been bent in so slightly as to be nearly unnoticeable, but enough to mess with the bell ringer. A bit more careful metal reforming, reassembly, and the result is a clean machine with very few nicks given its age, and a very pleasant looking faux leather soft carry case. Even the zipper runs smoothly once again, after the application of some car wax. 

Now typing pica cleanly and well-aligned with a fancy blue ribbon, 1958 Smith-Corona Skywriter; $59.95 including shipping from eBay
Arriving about the same time, a 1954 Skywriter (2Y258009, below) needed nothing but external cleaning and a new ribbon. No tinkering fun, but a very nice elite typeface, and that wonderful solid feel.

This 1954 elite Smith-Corona Skywriter was purchased on eBay for $54.94 including shipping. This one has the stubby return lever, like the Hermes Baby/Rocket, and a metal case. 
The green and gray color combination and the elite font make me happy. That and the nice overall solid feel and action make this one a keeper. And it might just be the top contender for our next RV excursion.

A typing sample from the 1954 Skywriter:


OK, those typers on the shelf, left to right and top to bottom: Left pile; Royal Royalite, Lettera 32, and Triumph Tippa. Center pile; 1958 Smith-Corona Skywriter on top of two Hermes Rockets. Right hand pile, 1954 Skywriter and Olympia SF.

Oops - forgot at least one. To be revealed soon.




  1. I really like the graygreen color combination on the early 'Riters. very nice contrast. And yes, such a solid feel for such a small typer! Come to think of it, I don't think the bell works on mine, either, though. Hmmmm......

    1. I was going to let it go, but decided that after all that other work to try to fix it - a typewriter isn't a typewriter without a bell, dang it! If you decide to remove the panel on the back of the carriage to get at the problem, note that it is held by two screws that are accessed via holes in the panel. Loosen them, don't remove them all the way. The panel then slides sort of up and off, first popping the right end off from where it snaps over that emerging screw. Same on the left side. Note that the margin stops slide on the bar that you just loosened, so you need to tighten those screws to test the bell.

  2. You almost have me reaching for my Empire Corona to see if I can make it more lovable. Each time we cross paths, it ends in tears. It works OK but eventually I start playing catch with the ribbon and cursing the spindly profile of the platen.

    1. It looks like the Empire-Corona, then, was the British branding for the Skywriter. The case shown in the manual is identical to the one the 1958 Skywriter arrived in. Interestingly, the typewriter has the receptacles in the rear for the metal cover, but there are no marks on the inside front of the body that would indicate it was ever in one. Rather than a bright red fabric liner, though (must be a British thing) my soft case is lined with a color I would have to call puse - although I see Wikipedia defines it as brownish purple, while mine is more like ashes of over-ripe peach. I've written a few pages with both of the Skywriters now, and like them both. I hadn't noticed the small diameter of the platten, actually, but haven't tried cards or heavy paper yet. Definitely worth a loving touch. My tears are reserved for a lovely Underwood Champion, which operates sweetly when sitting on its back, but forgets how to advance the ribbon when tipped onto its feet.

  3. Those are some nice Skyriters. I find them one of the easiest typewriters to work on.
    You should see my workbench. It is a wonder I can see or find the typewriter (or radio) that I work on.

  4. How do you remove the shell? You mentioned it comes off by just two screws? Where are those located?