Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bargain bin Olivetti Valentine resurrected... sort of

You may remember this post, in which I gleefully described the acquisition of an Olivetti Valentine for only CHF 10. I didn't need one, and this one was not in working condition anyway, but all the parts seemed to be intact and we decided it would make for a good project: fine if it worked, but fine if not. After all, the various spare parts alone would be worth more than what we paid for it.

This weekend, J set to work taking the Valentine apart and tinkering with it. The biggest problem was the carriage: it was clean off its rails when we got it, and it soon became clear that we would have to replace the ball bearings (7/8 inch is the right size), find the thingamabob that retained the ball bearings in the carriage, and wind on a new carriage drawband.

The first and third items might have been easy to find, but the ball bearing retainer seemed impossible to hack. So we acquired a donor machine cheaply - a Yugoslavia-made Olivetti Lettera 35 that was missing its ribbon cover. And then J took the carriage off that as well and proceeded to reassemble the Valentine with the new parts.

I'm afraid this is where it all took a turn for the worse. We're not experts in typewriter repair, as you can imagine, but putting together the carriage turned out to be far more complicated than we could have realized given that other typospherians seem to do it so frequently, and with nary a bead of sweat to show for the effort. Between fitting in the ball bearings, placing everything just so, sliding it in the rail somehow, installing a new drawband.... all of this took the better part of an afternoon, and J still wasn't satisfied with the result. The balls kept falling out, you see...

When he decided he'd just about had it, I took the Valentine for a spin, to see if I could eke out a typecast. As you can see, I didn't get very far before the carriage started teetering precariously on the rails, refusing to advance or in any way glide as it should. The balls had come loose. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, as hours of work were suddenly rendered futile. 

So there you have it. Nice to look at, to be sure, but utterly useless to write with. I'm sure there has to be some way to salvage it: technically, all the parts are there, but we must be doing it wrong. Anyone who has ever taken off and put back an Olivetti carriage have any tips for  us? In what order do the parts go back in? How does one keep the ball bearings safely in place, not having them spill out with each carriage return? Any videos/ pictures/ tutorials we could look at for help?


  1. Sorry things did not or are not working out so good for you Valentine repair. Ball bearing slides can be very finicky. If the outer rails are a bit too wide the balls can fall out again. Too narrow and the slide binds. Worst thing are open race ball bearing slides (an other things like rods). Open races will let the balls fall out since the retention relies on both parts holding the balls at just the correct capture force.

    I do not have any Olivetti typewriters yet to even look at one for comparison.

    I know there are others who read your blog and they are more versed in typewriter repairs than I am.

    Best of everything with your project.

    1. Thanks for your valuable insights, Bill. I was hoping you would chime in since you have done such nice work yourself with disassembly and reassembly (thinking of the Adler J4). What I now realize is that this was dead in the water from the get go, what with the ball bearings absent - it appears they have to be factory-installed to work. Oh, well. Live and learn.

  2. That is one of the funniest typecasts ever!

    I happily take carriages off when the whole thing, rails and all, can be removed without disturbing the ball bearings. But when the bearings drop out, you are faced with a real challenge. Good luck.

    1. Glad I could provide a chuckle :)

      Aha, so that is the secret - keeping the ball bearings in when removing the carriage. I had not realized that. This one is off to the scrap heap then, life is too short to keep fiddling with it.

    2. I don't personally think this is scrap as yet.

      The most likely reason they probably keep falling out, is because of lateral movement as a result of the bearings being a fraction too small, allowing the carriage to move away from the rails.

      Other options are, rail wear, or wear/damage to the rail seating.

      I don't suppose you photographed your rig as your disassembled it? I usually photograph parts so I have an idea where they go back to.

      Most importantly, have you re-packed whatever ball bearings were in this unit? Or had they completely disappeared (fallen out previously) and you used all the bearings from the donor unit.

      if you have any of the originals, I'd hitter' with a micrometer, and compare them to the ones you've placed in it. You have to remember, that 0.25 difference of a millimetre on a spherical object is a difference of 1mm in total. Add that to other undersized units, and you can factor that by the amount of bearings packed in.

      To wit; You will probably need the correct size bearings. If you have one of the originals still, take it to a bearing shop and get them to sell you a bag of replacements. Otherwise, your can measure the bearing seating with an internal micrometer or feeler gauge. Callipers will not be accurate enough.

      But inspect your rails and seating first. Wear points will corrode faster than the original metal if this unit is a bit worse for wear, otherwise the wear on these will either appear as brighter coloured metal, or metal that is 'out of square'.

  3. Well, if it refuses to type, maybe you could hang it on the wall as decoration.

    All snarkiness aside, good luck with repairs. Carriage ball bearings and retainers terrify me.

    1. I'm generally terrified of all typewriter repairs myself, and the more I encounter stubborn fixes like this one, the more I remind myself of my vow to avoid fixer-uppers. No space on my wall for this, I'm afraid. It'll have to be mined for useful bits and then sold for parts.

  4. If you have recovered all the balls and they are the correct diameter there are a few methods you can try to reassemble the carriage. Since you do not have the factory tool one way is to put all the balls into the inside race (the ones under the platen. Then you need to make a retainer that can slide off of the platen as the platen is pushed onto the bottom race. The balls must be aligned with the the mating race and as they move into place when the platen is pushed onto the bottom rail the retainer is backed-off. This takes some knack and if all you have to make a retainer is aluminum foil you can drive yourself insane. I use about 0.010 to 0.020 inch brass hobby shim. It is a real challenge to make a retainer for V-slot bearings such as those on a carriage.

    The other method is to align the slides and use a tweezers to put the balls in one at a time one side at a time as the slides are moved together. This one is also fun.

    Now the real challenge is not on typewriters but recirculating ball bearings on ball screws....

    I have reassembled all kinds of similar slides on automated assembly machines and they are not fun. Captured bearings are fine. The loose ones (used to save the manufacturer money, not help the customer or improve quality or anything) like in typewriters (and other consumer goods) can be a real pain to reassemble if they come apart.

    I thought by now others would have posted some tricks of the trade to make your project go a bit easier.

    Good luck.

    1. Hello Bill - Thanks for your comment, so very helpful! I wasn't really expecting much by way of helpful advice in the comments - especially after Richard wrote that even he does not mess with ball bearings. Who knew they could be so tricky? Thanks for shedding some light here - now we know what typewriter problems can and cannot be fixed. I would love to hear from Tom Furrier, but I think he rarely comments on blogs and he may have a factory tool we don't have access to, in any case.

      I'd be interested in trying your hack for using a brass hobby shim as a retainer to coax the ball bearings in place - I am not sure what that is, though, and Google images is not being very helpful, so I'd be grateful for a link to an image of what you have in mind. We might stop by a DIY shop tomorrow to take a look. We've been trying the tweezers and that has done bupkis, as you can see...

    2. Whoops. Just read this post after writing mine. Bill has clearly looked closer at this unit's design than I (I have never owned an Olivetti (yet). The shim is a good idea.

  5. I am very shy about saying this because I cannot believe J would have taken the Lettera 35 apart without studying it, but was it also lacking the retainer? Was it different enough that it didn't yield clues about reassembly?

    Anyway, if you completely give up and decide to scrap it, what do you think it would cost to ship it to me in the eastern US?

    Thanks for yet another instructive post.
    == Michael Höhne

  6. I am sorry to hear about the failed operation - good luck with Bill's trick! Maybe Valentines were really concepted to resemble of buckets.
    I didn't know about the ball bearings, seems like I am lucky the PATRIA whose carriage I removed didn't have ball bearings, but some less tricky thing with a cog - It was quite a hassle to reinsert, though.

  7. Hi adwoa,

    I'm not sure if u gave up on this machine yet or not since your later post seemed to be relinquishing the machine, but I had the misfortune of accidentally taking the carriage apart this weekend on a lettera 32. I was trying to get to the escapement but ended up dropping all four ball bearings and then the carriage came apart. Anyhow I found a way to do it. It takes a little measuring, a little jimmying, but the key was to place all four balls in at the same time. I will blog about this in detail tomorrow but assuming you have the right size ball bearings, I think it should work for you too because your diagrams match the elements of the 32. I'll send u a link when I'm done with it.

    1. Fascinating! No, this one remains unrepaired. I look forward to reading about your method. Good on you for fixing the L32.

    2. As promised, here's the new blog with how I did it. Not sure if it's the same reason your bearings keep dropping. I assume if you have the right size bearings, it should work.

  8. Sorry to hear about the failed repair... Removing and reassembling carriages is always a headache.


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