Typewriters, Coffee, and Amateur Ornithology

tippa at verrado coffee

I took my little creamsicle-orange ’64 Alder Tippa 1 and a few sheets of mini-legal pad paper down to Verrado Coffee this morning to do a little spontaneous writing.  This coffee shop, while a bit generic and corporate from a Pacific Northwest viewpoint, is the closest thing I have to a hometown cafe here in Buckeye Arizona.  To their credit, Starbucks just opened a location across the street, complete with a drive-thru and more convenient entry and exit by car, and they responded with this:

verrado coffee kermitWhich makes them pretty cool in my book!

I ordered my coffee and a cookie and sat down outside to enjoy the view and write whatever came in to my head.

alder tippa yellow pad

The white wing dove is in fact indigenous to the Arizona desert, as is Stevie Nicks, who is from Phoenix.

peterson field guide white wing dove
Roger Tory Peterson’s entry for the White Wing Dove, from his Field Guide To Birds of North America

In another questionably relevant coincidence,  “Alder” translates to “eagle” in English, which is why their logo has an eagle in it.  I discovered this when I traced a vector version of the logo to use for the waterslide decal on my repainted Tippa.

adler logo inkscape

So that’s me: typewriter nerd, bird geek, coffee snob.  I love it when I find overlap in my eclectic interests – it makes me feel like more of a “Renaissance man” than “multifaceted geek.”

Thoughts on a yellow pad of paper

To celebrate finally getting my Antares Parva up and running with with a new spring and drawstring, a tiny little poem written on the only blank piece of paper I had in the house this morning.


On the left, today’s typer, my lovely late 50’s Antares Parva, and to the right, the tobacco-stank-ridden tetanus-encrusted rustbucket from which I grave-robbed a mainspring.

How To De-Yellow Old Plastic Parts

I’m sure you’ve seen old electronic gear that has gotten yellow over time… old Apple Macintosh computers are famous for this.  This is due to a process called Photodegradation, which is explained in great detail in this paper from researchers at Al-Nahrain University in Baghdad: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4320144/ .  To summarize and greatly over-simplify, ultraviolet light destabilizes the plastic and changes it on a molecular level, resulting in yellowing.  Fortunately, this process is reversible by exposing the plastic to ultraviolet light while in the presence of hydrogen peroxide.


I recently acquired a 1964 Adler Tippa 1 which had very yellowed keys that didn’t match the rest of the machine.  I suspected that the keys matched the machine at one time, but had yellowed over time while the ribbon cover, made from a different plastic, had not.  Unfortunately, the keys on this machine seem very difficult to remove, so I decided to try it with the keys in place.  To prevent water and peroxide from dripping down inside, I used some thin craft foam that I bought as a replacement for felt sound-deadening on the floor of the machine.

keys before retrobrite

I used two strips of foam to isolate a row of keys at a time:  one above the row, the other below it, meeting under the keys in sort of a “V” shape, and held the ends together with a couple of binder clips.

cleaning keycaps with toothbrush

The keys themselves were pretty dirty, so first I gave them a good scrubbing with a damp toothbrush.  These particular keys have a fingerprint-like texture molded into the tops of them, and I’ve found the toothbrush is the easiest way to get the dirt out of all the little ridges.

applying developer to keycaps

For hydrogen peroxide, I used 50 Volume Cream Developer from Sally’s Beauty.  It’s a strong concentration, and the cream formula enables it to be painted on and stick to the keys.  Make sure to wear gloves when using this stuff, and don’t get it in your eyes, you’ll regret it!

ready to cover with plastic wrap

Once all the keys were treated with developer, I covered them with a strip of plastic wrap.  The idea here is just to keep the solution from drying out before the de-yellowing is complete, so the plastic wrap doesn’t have to be completely air-tight.

tucking in plastic wrap

I used a table knife to tuck the plastic wrap under the row of keys.

ready for sunshine

All tucked in and ready for some sunshine!  But first…

cleaning lever knobs with toothbrush

…I wanted to de-yellow these lever knobs as well.  This time I just cut a couple of slits in a piece of craft foam for the knobs to poke through.  Then a quick scrub with the toothbrush…

lever knobs ready for sunshine

…I applied some developer with a q-tip and covered with plastic wrap.

While you could use a blacklight or some other source of ultraviolet light, here in Arizona we have an abundance of sunshine and UV available, so outside it goes!

soaking up the sunshine

I left it out in the sun for about two hours, turning once to make sure I got all sides of the keys because the sun wasn’t exactly overhead.

Then I brought it inside, took off the plastic wrap and wiped off the developer with a paper towel.  Then I wiped them down with another damp paper towel before removing the craft foam mask.

after overhead

Ta-da!  The newly de-yellowed keys now match the Tippa’s ribbon cover almost exactly.  I did the “R”, “1/2 1/4”, and “BACK SP” keys earlier as a test before trying a whole row.

lever knobs after

The lever knobs look great too!  I took one from the other side for comparison.

By the way, you’ll notice I said “de-yellowing” instead of “whitening”.  That’s because this process removes the yellow cast caused by photodegradation, it doesn’t “bleach” or “whiten” it.

blue sears portable

This isn’t my typewriter, but it looks exactly like the Sears Portable I found at the local Goodwill.  I didn’t get a good “before” picture of mine, but it had the same two-tone aqua-and-blue look as this one, because the ribbon cover and body are blue plastic that has yellowed while the carriage is blue painted metal.


I did the ribbon cover first as a test, and it came out great!


Here’s what it looked like when I was done!  It didn’t get lighter, just less yellow.  Pretty cool, huh?

Notes on (or at least next to) a Grilled Cheese Sandwich


This afternoon my mom asked me to ride along with her to her dog’s obedience class, since it was in North Scottsdale, a long 45 minute drive each way.  She is working on getting her black lab “Tucker” certified as a qualified service dog, and today class was held at an Albertson’s grocery store, a busy environment with lots of people and delicious smells to serve as distractions for the dogs to overcome.

“Tucker” as Type

“Bring your phone or something to entertain yourself,” she suggested, “You’ll be waiting a while.”  So I packed up my Canon Typestar 7 portable thermal typewriter, and figured I’d get some cafe-writing experience under my belt.  I decided to travel light and just grabbed the typewriter in its case and a few loose sheets of nice  20-lb cotton-blend watermarked paper.  Spoiler alert: This didn’t work very well.  Thermal wax-transfer cartridges work best on nice smooth plain paper, and as you can see my fancy paper yielded some less-than-fancy results.



Canons at Twenty Paces: A Thermal Typewriter Shootout

all three

I wish I could say that this was a three-way comparison review between the three Canon Typestars that I own, but the truth is it’s a 2.5 way review at best. The Typestar 5 (1984) and Typestar 7 (1985) are both pretty good machines, but the Typestar 220 (1992) I found on Goodwill’s online auction site is just plain awful. As Marty McFly observed, in 1985, at least, all the best stuff was made in Japan.

The later 220 had the misfortune of being made in Taiwan, and the quality and construction really shows. Despite having more features on paper, this thing was obviously built down to a price, with corners cut at every opportunity. In fact, mine is totally dead, and I’m pretty sure the fault is in the power supply circuit where the magic smoke seems to have escaped from. But even without turning it on, I can tell that this thing is definitely the Cousin Eddie of the Griswold family. Instead of having its own injection-molded hard case, the 220 has an integrated flip-out handle and a separate keyboard cover. While this might seem like a size and weight-saving measure it is clearly more of a cost-saving measure, as the resulting construction is creaky and fragile feeling.


The Typestar 5 is also a little creaky and fragile-feeling, but at least it comes in its own hardshell case. Every time you set the 220 down it’s essentially sitting on its “platen”. The shell of the typewriter itself is not at all reinforced despite sharing its function as half of the case. Forget dropping it on the sidewalk, I doubt the 220 would survive stubbing your toe on it in the middle of the night.


The Typestar 7, on the other hand, is pure class. Before I even looked inside, it was clear that everything about this one was better. It felt better, it was quieter and smoother, just all around well-sorted-out. While the 5 and the 7 look very similar, the 7 is actually about 1/4″ longer than the 5, and just a little bit thicker.


I picked up the Typestar 5 first, and since they look so similar I was certain that they shared the same case , but nope! They went and injection-molded a unique case for it, at no small expense I’m sure. And while they do have nearly identical SMK-built keyboards, about 95 percent of the plastic and electronic parts are different between the two Japanese models. Everything about the 7 is just a little better than the 5.


The 7 has a matched pair of beefy Canon-branded stepper motors, one for the printhead movement and another for the paper feed, while the 5 has one tiny little motor for the printhead and a bigger but also generic one driving the paper.


The fuses are especially puzzling to me. The Typestar 7 has its fuse in a standard thru-hole-mounted fuse holder on the circuit board but the 5 has its fuse up on top of the battery compartment, with black electrical tape covering the wires. What?! Was the fuse an afterthought? They couldn’t find room for it anywhere else? I am confused.


The 7 uses all top-shelf Japanese electrolytic capacitors (Nichicon, Rubycon, and NEC), while the 5 makes do with no-name generics.


Even the screws holding the case together are miles ahead on the 7: it uses four identical screws, which are all accessible from the top of the machine, while the 5 has six screws in three different sizes, all of which are on the bottom, and one of which is in the battery compartment! The engineers obviously didn’t want the end user to get inside and see how badly they’d botched the fuse holder.


In case you were wondering what the Taiwanese 220’s circuit board looks like, well, it’s bad. Despite being the newest of the three, it uses a cheap single-sided board with jumper wires in place of solder vias, and sprouts a thick tangle black wires making poorly-routed connections. Sigh.


Aah, that’s better! The Typestar 7’s circuit board is a beautiful thing. The big black housing on the left is the font card expansion port, while the optional printer port is hidden away on the right. And what’s that unpopulated IC spot on the bottom left? It’s for an additional ROM chip, most likely for fonts. Since it has one font on board, my guess is perhaps that they had initially planned to include more fonts, but either wanted to sell more font cartridges down the road, or realized that having more fonts onboard would make the expansion slot redundant since there were never that many cartridges available.

Speaking of font cartridges, I was curious as to what was in one. So I opened my Courier 12 card and had a look. What I found was a simple masked ROM chip on a double-sided flexible circuit board. Once I’ve traced and documented all the pinouts I hope to dump this ROM and roll my own custom font cartridges, which could theoretically work on the Typestar 6 also.