A stirring


Pfft Pfft. Is this thing on?

So it’s been a day shy of seven months since my last post. Erm. Sorry about that.

As the blurry cell phone picture above shows, I’ve made some progress in the intervening months, but not nearly as much as I would’ve liked.

Money has been extremely tight. Moving out of your parents basement and insisting on writing for a living will do that to a person. But now I live in Wicker Park (That’s a neighborhood in Chicago, for those who aren’t familiar).  After 22 months of long distance, my girlfriend and I now share a loft I dare say is gnarly.My professional life is going fairly well and I’ve got some very nice clips under my best in recent months.

But enough about me, let’s get down to some hot typewrite action.

Basically, as you can see, the frame is painted the decals are on, and despite my very best efforts, the monitor actually works through that whole mess of wiring previously seen here:

I call it "Son of FrankenCircuit."

From there, it’s only a matter of getting the back on the monitor case. Of course, being ambitious, I’ve devised a way to make the Underwood Logo light up. That is seriously going to happen. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I can make it happen.

Then all I have to do is

1) build a small black box to hold all the circuitry

2) Attach the monitor to the frame (still working on the particulars) and

3) Find a cool way to mount and operate the controls for the monitor (Power switch, menu, contrast etc.)

…. and I do hate to say it, but there was a minor setback in the typewriter end. The circuitry bar on the bottom came lose, and I’ve got to do some reconfiguring there. Also, I’ve got to do some touch up painting on the monitor frame.

Things are going slow because I’m super busy with work and have no money to spend on Underwood even if I had the time to work on it. That being said, I want to accomplish two things in the upcoming winter: Reading every single word of Ulysses by James Joyce and finishing up this typewriter.

Wish me luck. I’ll need plenty.

Frame Fab 2

This turned intersting, and actually somewhat easier than I expected.


It kind of all came together. I still have to carefully mask the thing off and paint it. I intentionally left the aluminum parts showing because I have some brass trim I want to put  along the inside edge of the screen itself. I have a few other brass tweaks that I want to add as well. You’ll just have to wait and see.

This all turned a lot easier than I expected it to when the screws I was using to hold the frame together also held the monitor in place. I had to cut a couple of screws down and grind down on of the nuts.

If you look at the top, you might see a spot or two where PC Metal is holding braces in. I have found that stuff to be absolutely awesome in this whole process. I don’t know where I’d be with out it.

This project is getting so close I can smell it.

I still have to:

1: Build the back plate of the monitor.

2: Paint the monitor housing.

3: Put on the decals

4:Build a cover for all of the circuitry and mount them

5: Build the housing and lever system for the monitor buttons

6: (And this is the part I still have to design) put the monitor assembly on hinges and mount those onto the back of the screen.

Actually, upon further thought, I still have a long ways to go. Wish me luck!


Just in case you were wondering (lord knows I was) just how much I’d poured into this project so far, I decided to start a spreadsheet to tally my expenses.

Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Item vendor Cost
Underwood eBay $45.86
USB conversion kit Jack Zylkin $76.00
Monitor eBay $41.48
Decals Paul Robert $28.49
Angle Iron/Hardware Home Depot $17.56
Misc. Hardware Local Ace $12.21
Soldering Iron, wires Home Depot $23.79
TOTAL $243.39

I’m not expecting that much more in terms of expense. I’m going to need some sheet metal to complete the back of the monitor and some spray paint, but that’s less than $20. I’ve also got an idea for a few pieces of brass trim I’d like to set up. I’d say in total, including a couple tools I had to buy and the unexpected but awesome decal expense, the bottom line will be under $300.

Frame Fab (Part 1)

Well, my decals are in the mail, and I’d like to have the frame done by the time it gets here. I got the right frame and some hardware to put it together at the home depot. I’ve kind of lost track of a couple of expenditures, but that was $17 for the angle iron and hardware. I’ll have to go through later and add it all up.

In any case, I don’t have a metal working shop, so I knew the fab could involve a lot of manual cutting. That being said, I grossly underestimated how difficult it would be to miter the 1 inch by 1/8 inch stock I chose for the frame.

I chose to miter this project simply because it looks better. I have a decent background in trim carpentry. I’ve hung plenty of crown moulding and installed a lot of baseboard. I even did a small amount of cabinetmaking in high school shop class, but that was nearly 10 years ago.

The miter boxes I had lying around are all plastic, and a hack saw is going to cut right into those. I wound up founding this contraption in the shed, and to my surpirse, it work fairly well. 

The guide doesn’t go all the way down, but it did the trick for the most part. I had to file some of the edges down, especially the ones that got slightly off track because the guide doesn’t extend to the bottom of the stock.

Because the metal I was using was L-shaped, I had to make 8 cuts to get everything just right.

But in the end, I got this.

This thing probably represents 3 hours worth of manual sawing. I really should have changed the blades, but I got on a roll at 10:30 on a Saturday night and decided to just pull through.

Now that I have all my frame pieces cut, I can go through and put it together.

Welding this together had crossed my mind, but I’d have to borrow the equipment and grinding down the welds would weaken the final product (which will face repeated stress being pulled up and down on the hinges) and it wouldn’t have looked that good.

There are some very obvious screws on the face of the machine, so I just decided it would be easiest and fit within the period to use some L brackets on the inside and have some flathead screws that somewhat match what’s on the machine on the outside.

Basically, I’m going to take a sharpie, mark the existing holes on the L bracket, and drill at that site.

I need to borrow a drill from my dad, and He’s out running an errand right now. So I’ll get that back tonight and finish the fabrication tonight.

After that, I’ll have to figure out how I’m going to hold the monitor on to the frame. It’s actually going to be a bit trickier than I thought, but I’m sure I’ll find a way to make it work.

Progress! Ridiculously awesome, intangible progress.

In case you haven’t noticed a dearth of posts, Project Underwood fell into a finance-induced hiatus. I just bought a used car and haven’t had a time for fun things. I mean, aside from beer.

In the interim, I’ve been thinking about how I want to design the monitor. The easiest thing to do is to make the monitor frame out of 1 inch angle iron. But I don’t have the paint skills to make anything, and it would be tricky at best to use brass to replicate the design of the rest of the machine.

I thought it would be great to have the underwood decal seen here:

I love the graphic design here

On a whim, I googled “Underwood Typewriter decals” and found a nice page without any ordering information.

So I emailed the man behind the site. He’s a typewriter enthusiast who lives in the Netherlands and runs the virtual typewriter museum.

I was met with one of those amazing serendipitous experiences you can only find on the internet. I really found a kindred spirit: He’s a fellow newsman, a typewriter enthusiast, and a very decent person.

He’s agreed to help me out by printing out decals for the monitor frame.

This is a very rough mock up of what we’ve come up with:


I’m also planning on having this on the top of the monitor frame:

And the logo on the left blown up and put in the middle of the back (think of the apple on a mac).


If I can actually pull this off, it’s going to be amazing, and I can’t thank Paul Robert enough for all of his help.



You can call me Dr. FrankenCircuit

I kind of can’t believe this part actually worked.

You may remember I mentioned buying a monitor on eBay, and that I want to make integrate it into the old typewriter.

Here’s the eBay picture. I didn’t want take any before pictures, so this will have to do.

Boring, isn't it?



As it sat, it was 3 3/8″ thick and would have looked awful, so I decided to rip it all apart into it’s constituent elements.

I'm down to 3 circuit boards and the panel

Now, the monitor is about 5/8 inch thick, and it will look much much better when I get it attached to the typewriter.

I want it to end up looking something like this.

Something like that.



Now, I plan on making a new case for the monitor and mounting it on hinges.

Originally, of course, all of those circuits were stacked up on the back of the monitor.  I want to put those down further so the monitor remains as thing as possible — almost like paper.

There was one problem.

I’m pointing to the place where a wiring harness goes into the back of the model. it extended all of four inches down and was going to muck up my plan to put the circuits down at the back of the typewriter in a nice clean black case.

This left me with a tough choice. I could either reconfigure my vision for this project, or find some way to extend the wires.

I’m sorry I don’t have any process pictures here, but I ended up deciding to extend each of the wires.

So I found a circuit board with paired holes, soldered the lead just before the plastic input piece into the circuit board, then soldering an extension wire out. Then I had another board to input the extension wire and then solder the other end of the wiring harness in there.

Maybe a picture can explain this better…

I call it "Son of FrankenCircuit."

You can see the plastic input bracket or wiring harness  on both sides, and then the two thin plastic circuit boards in between.

Now, as I’m doing this, I’m thinking that I’m pretty much a moron. That having the circuit boards mounted lower on the project is not that big of a deal.

I knew that I bought a used monitor because I would invalidate the warranty as soon as I opened the box. But I’m still thinking that I wasted my money.

This isn’t amazing circuitry work. It’s just pain staking. I had to cut one wire at a time and then go through four solders, and then move on to the next wire. I was terrified that if I cut more than one wire at a time I would lose track  and mess everything up.

In all there were 28 wires and 112 solder joints.

Here’s a picture of half of those….

There are way too many man hours into this, and it's only half.

Here’s another point I find in every project I make. There’s always one little detail I”m not willing to compromise on. In this case, it was the placement of the monitor circuitry. I get maniacal about the bottom of door jambs when I’m installing hardwood floors and I get way overzealous when it comes to patching and sanding drywall joints. I just want everything to be the way I want it to be on these projects, and end up spending way  too many hours on superflous details.

But in this case, I was worried that I had also wasted my money on this monitor.

I finally make the last solder and let it cool, and then rush down stairs to plug everything in and see if it worked. I was careful not to break any solder joints this time.

To my shock, my disbelief, and my amazement at my own abilities, I got this…

It worked! I shit you not.

I guess this project has paid off somewhat. I made 112 solders and got it right on the first try.

I was so excited that this all worked, I was beyond giddy. You should seriously hear the voice message I left my girlfriend. I sound like a little girl who just got her pony.

So! The typewriter part is 99% finished. I still have to get some of those bastardly little feather contacts into just the right spot. And most of the time, when I fix one, the one next to it gets knocked out of line.

That means, with the monitors wires extended, I have to fabricate the new frame and find a way to attach it to the body of the typewriter. Then I’m going to have to connect all the wiring, make black wire looms for anything that’s gangly and sticking out, and make an enclosure so that all of the circuitry is concealed.

I’m finally starting to get to the point where I can see all of the different elements of my vision coming together, and I can’t wait.



I know this is long overdue. I’ve had a setback or two, and spent as much time tinkering and not accomplishing much as making major breakthroughs.

I think the difficulty with these kinds of projects is that you always get new ideas midway through the process and end up redoing things again and again, likely damaging old work in the process.

The first major problem I ran into was that the reed switches that came with the USBtypewriter kit kept breaking on me. Whoever made them decided that glass would be a great encasement for something with steel leads your supposed to bend.  I also needed more then the four I was given and had to come up with something

After breaking 3 of the 4 and having the magnets that are supposed to trigger the switch cause innumerable headaches, I came up with my own idea. Obsewve.

Now this is downright nifty


Now this one I’m pretty proud of… especially because those wires aren’t visible when I button everything up.

You can basically see that I took two feather contacts and wrapped one around a moving piece of the return levers innards and put another one on the back of the casing. Now, in order to hit the enter key, you have to actually hit the return lever on the typewriter.

Check out how this is supposed to work.

With many thanks to http://www.usbtypewriter.com

Having a magnet inside that enclosed space was a hassle. I’d say on in every ten hits, the magnet would find something else to stick to. Now I have solid physical switch contacts in there that aren’t going anywhere. When the two pieces of metal hit, it creates a complete circuit and a signal is sent to the sensors.

With that in place, I moved on to the shift.


Essentially, the piece attached to the lower contact raises up when the shift button is hit, and that comes up and hits the upper switch.

This one was a little bit different because you can’t just attach them to the computer. The metal of the chasis is used as a ground, and it would probably cause some form of heinous interference.

Let me take a moment to express me deep and ardent love for electrical tape. It’s like the best invention since Guinness. It sticks to anything, and can be restuck dozens of times. It’s the best field bandage known to man for a contractor, and it insulates electric current. So I took some electrical tape and super glued the feather leads to it and then taped them into place. I also used some epoxy on the one that’s hanging upside down.

Here’s another thing that I am totally geeked out about.

The USBtypewriter kit has a switch on the circuit board that allows you to assign a key a secondary function. In other words, reach around to the back of the typewriter where the circuit board goes, hold that button down, and hit 1 for F1. I’m going to have to use it for more common keys as well, but this will allow me to have a plethora of functionality I might have missed.

There’s just one problem.

The interface board is supposed to be on the back of the typewriter.

… Now.

I noticed my typewriter has a button on the front that doesn’t appear to do much. In fact, the back end of it isn’t hooked up to anything.

Random button. Just chillin'

My solution was to build a little bracket and epoxy a similar switch to the one given in the kit to the area behind that button. Basically, I hit the button on the front, and the buttons plunger hits the switch for the interface board.



I’m getting achingly close to the point where I can put everything together, hopefully calibrate the machine once and for all, and just sit back and wait for the monitor to show up.


Two steps forward… well, you know the rest.

So, you may have noticed my last post was actually written on Underwood. It was geekily exhilarating, but short lived, and let me show you why.

Not going to cut it

I’ll quote Jack Zylkin, the inventor of the USB Typewriter here:

“Underneath every typewriter (at least, every typewriter I’ve seen) is at least one springloaded crossbar that runs underneath all the keys.  When a key is struck, it pushes on this crossbar, and this causes the carriage to advance, the ink roll to move, and so on.”

Well, my typewriter doesn’t work this way. There is a bar that goes across the bottom, but none of the keys actually hit that bar. They don’t come within an 1/8 inch. I tried to pile layers and layers of electrical tape on there, but it wasn’t going to get there.

So that’s when I got impatient, and had the idea to leave the feather contacts that populate Frankencircuit just kind of float under the keys.

And I was able to wrangle them into place and get them more or less stroking. But the problem I did not anticipate was that the bar I placed them on rotated just a tiny bit every time I hit the space bar, and the solders started to crack.

So, after a whirlwind 12 minutes of semi-functional typing, I had to scrap that plan.

So another trip to the hardware store later, I had myself some 3/16 steel rod and some heavy duty epoxy putty.

That should help!

You can see the second black rod I installed.  I had to figure out how to use two hands as four, but I got it stuck in there just where the keystroke ends.

So now, I was able to create the project as Zylkin intended, and here you have it.

Nice n' Neat

Much better

Now you can see that each feather contact is supported and has backing so that it will stay in place. Each contact can be wrapped and even glued into place. This will ensure that the piece should work for a good while.

But for those of you who thought I might be getting some sleep or doing anything fun… or for those of you who worry about the future of Frankencircuit, worry not!


It's still LIVES!

As I find in all handy projects, whether it’s sanding drywall or laying a hardwood floor, you will atone for your sins. Making the feather contacts without care and soldering them in a sloppy manner is going to cost me twice as much time on the flipside.

The good news is that I got most of that done.

The bad news is that I broke two of the reed switches that allow me to hook up things like the shift key, the repurposed number one, and just wait until you see where I hide the question mark and hyphen keys.

The problem is that the little bastards are very difficult to find without ordering them on the internet, and I DON”T WANT TO WAIT. So we’ll have to see what happens there.

Until then… I kind of think I might be done for a couple of days. I can’t really calibrate the machine any better than I did last time because I don’t have a 1, a question mark or or a shift until I get parts.

That being said, I picked up a cheap monitor on Ebay. I thought about buying a new one, but I’m going to void the warranty within 5 minutes of getting it out of the box to fabricate a new casing for it and put in on hinges. So, once that gets in, I’ll have my hands full with the more interesting design aspects of this project. As much fun as the technical end has been, I can’t wait to be working on the phase that doesn’t involve cauterizing-hot irons and burning most of my fingers.

But fear not! I’m sure I’ll find a way to injure myself.

hello, world. did you just greener?

did you notice anything diferent about this post

im typing this on underwood. clearly im still working out a couple of kinks, like the shift key and the question mark… i cheated above there. but the backspacer works. i also haven;t got the apostrophe calibrated correctly. a couple of keys are also intermittent, but that is likely a soldering or placement  issue. it is also pretty annoying to have to have to look so far over to check my work, as i am still a bit shaky on this key layout. and for some reaason, my a’s like to type twice and my space occasionally declaares itself a u.




and the whole thing just stopped working.

uh…. back to the soldering iron.

Circuitry Assembly: a photo essay

After two 12-plus hour days of work on my beat, I got to work at about 7 tonight with the parts I mentioned in my last post.

To recap



is somehow supposed to equal

A keyboard… the monitor part will have to come later.

Now, before I even got to the first picture of the censor board, I had to insert all of those black pieces in there. You would not believe how long that took. The prongs on the black pieces, seen here

Just didn’t want to fit. So I futzed with that for an hour.

Then I tried a soldering iron that was laying around in the garage on a test piece, and it wasn’t nearly precise enough. So trip to Home Depot 1: Soldering iron and fine electrical solder.

welcome to my Thursday night

If I had to guess, I’d say I made close to 200 tiny little solders tonight. I think I have burns on seven fingers, mostly because I’m a moron.

Now, the one thing http://www.usbtypewriter.com doesn’t tell you, is that the “feather contacts” that you have to make out of resistor leads, are unwieldy little bastards. You basically hammer the resistor leads so that one end is round and will fit into the solder hole,  and the other end is flat so it can make contact with the underside of the key hammer.The problem is, hammering out metal is not an exact science. Sometimes it bends to the right. Others to the left. Sometimes you get weird skinny bits. Other times, you’ll hammer too far down the lead and you won’t be able to insert the thing into the hole on the circuit board. And sometimes, just for fun, the damn thing will break.

I ended up with this monstrosity, I’ve dubbed “Frankencircuit”

If this thing had a neck, there would be bolts sticking out of it.

Then I soldered the interface board together. That didn’t take as long, and I was feeling pretty good about my soldering abilities for about 2 hot minutes. Then gently stabbed my finger with a soldering iron. It didn’t bleed, but I also discovered the joy of instant cauterization.  Sweet.

In the end, it looked something like this.

Circuits united can never be divided, unless you're solders aren't great.

With my circuits complete, I bounded up the stairs like a puppy whose master has just come home… and broke a solder joint. Back downstairs to fix it…

but then! Nearly 5 hours later…  I came upstairs again, plugged it all in and got this:

Victory! I think...

Sorry for the crappy picture, but it means that the board is assembled and communicating with the computer. Next comes creating my reed switches, which I’m still dealing with, and then connecting everything to Underwood.

I think when the time comes and I’m finally calibrating the keys, I might just die of happiness.