Paper Bails Vs. Paper Fingers

Underwood Typewriter Royal Typewriter
     Some machines have Bail Rollers, some machines have Paper Fingers, and some machines have both.  So which is better?  Paper Fingers or Bail Rollers?  Obviously the machines with both, such as the Smith-Corona Silent series from the 1930s onward, are the best.  But what about the machines with only one or the other?  I prefer Bail Rollers (obviously I’d prefer both together, but that comes later) due to their quiet nature.  Though, many prefer the Paper Fingers.

So what’s the difference?

1930 Royal Portable 1923 Underwood Portable

Bail Rollers make typing quieter, as they press the paper firmly against the platen, eliminating the sound of slapping paper every time a key is hit.  On smaller machines, however, the paper is sometimes susceptible to jamming itself back onto the paper table and crumpling up.  This is due to the Bail rollers being centered on the platen, because the diameter of the platen is too small to allow them to come forward.  Also, each time the page is inserted into the machine, the user must lift the rollers and tuck the paper under.  (This is remedied with the two-position bails, in combination with the Paper fingers.)

Paper fingers allow the user to roll in paper and start typing, without having to worry about tucking anything in.  The downside to this, is sometimes the page bows in the middle, creating a megaphonic shape that amplified the sound of the keystrokes, and the sound of slapping paper.  Even if the paper is perfectly flat, it still slaps and makes a ton of ruckus.

1923 Underwood 3 bank portable typewriter

Underwood typewriter

Having to move the Bail rollers and tuck the paper really is no issue.  Larger machines generally have paper bails, with the exception of a handful of old desktop Underwood’s.  Paper bails hold the page securely in place, preventing unnecessary unevenness in text, and unnecessary noise.
Paper fingers allow the user to load fast and easy, but they happen to create a lot of sound.  The best option by far, is to have a two-position Bail, in combination with the Fingers.  When loading, the Bail comes forward, the knob is turned, and the fingers direct the paper right underneath the bails for you.  Then you snap it down and type.  Flip, roll, snap, type.  It’s quick, easy, and quiet.  So why compare one or the other?? Just get both.

Royal Model 10
Desktop with Bails

Smith Corona Typewriter
Smith-Corona Silent 5 with Two-Position Bail and Paper Fingers

The two position Bail roller allows it to be pulled forwards.  The paper fingers push the page right underneath them.

Quick tip:
According to user manuals dating back to the early 1900s, the proper way to set up bail rollers is in the center of the page, no less than three inches apart.  On a standard 8.5” rule, I place the right side of the left roller on the 3”, and the left side of the right roller on the 5.25”.  This is the perfect width apart, and perfectly centered, for a standard sheet of paper starting at the 0” mark.

Paper fingers can be placed anywhere, and move out of the way if they’re about to be typed on...which makes sense, I’d imagine being typed on must hurt.


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