A Typewriter Service Tech's Review on the LEGO Typewriter

Nobody asked for this, yet I shall deliver nonetheless.  Lego announced their new set, the Lego Typewriter, last month.  It first became available for sale July 1st, and as a typewriter service technician by profession, it was not a set I could pass up.  I placed an order on their website early on July 1st, and patiently waited a mere 5 days until it arrived.  Honestly, I didn't have the time to be playing with Legos, but it was a procrastination temptation I couldn't resist.

The set itself was much larger than I anticipated, and it included a very large instruction manual (which I will address later), plus a booklet of a letter by Thomas Kristensen, the current Lego head, printed in over 40 languages.  That was a cool touch.  The sand green colored exterior was also a lovely touch.  A unique retro-looking color that seems to harken back to a handful of actual typewriter models I feel this relates to a lot--mainly the Royal Signet of the Great Depression.  

photo courtesy of Mr. & Mrs. Vintage Typewriters

In fact, most of the machine seemed to draw from Royal, and perhaps a few elements from mid-century Smith Coronas too, like the carriage return leaver shape, platen knobs, and type guide.  Despite its classic design, this is the newest machine I have ever laid hands on, manufactured in 2021, certainly newer then the 2019/20 Royal Classic.

it gives me a lot of Royal vibes

The typewriter itself is advertised as functioning, which it does, if you typed Morse Code.  Each key is pressable, but only actuates a single type bar.  The typing space only consists of about 25-30 characters per line, not very generous, but not altogether underwhelming.  As far as weight, it is a featherlight.  It certainly fits into the lightweight ultraportable category of machines for that alone.  Also placing it among the ultraportables is its three bank construction, however it lacks a numerical keyset, as well as a figure key for access to punctuation.  That may come as a drawback to some users.  In addition to that, it appears the shift keys, backspace, and even spacebar are merely decretive elements.  No doubt cost saving methods in addition to the lack of a margin system, line spacing, or even a bell.  I won't hold that against the integrity of the machine though, seeing as those same features were commonly lacking on machines during the Great Depression.

The key action of the machine can only be described as spongey.  It has a very short throw, much like the Underwood 3 banks of the late 1910s and early 1920s, and an action like a Lettera 22.  The rebound is very slow, so don't expect to set any typing land speed records with this machine.  The lack of a usable spacebar is also an unusual detriment, and feels more blocked off than anything.  Though it is not uncommon for ultraportables to have some of these very same issues.

Construction wise, the machine is entirely made from plastic.  No joke, there is hardly a dot of metal save for some springs deep inside.  Despite this, the machine itself feels decently rigid, and not overtly delicate, yet care should be taken when handling.  Service-wise, with the machine being so new, there shouldn't really be any issues with finding resources or replacement parts.

The machine does ship with a ribbon, but it seems the user once again gets cheated, as it is all together far under the standard length of 12 yards, sitting at just over 7 inches.  Normally that wouldn't be a massive headache, but the one that shipped with mine was completely dry, and as I talk to others who have purchased the Lego Typewriter, theirs seem to all be dry too.  Nothing that can't be replaced, but it should be mentioned that Lego either forgot to ink them, or stored them horrendously.  At the end of the day, the ribbon really doesn't matter since the ring and cylinder alignment is so bad, the type slug doesn't actually strike the platen.  Though I can't really say it has a poor type impression if it never imprints to begin with, now can I? 

Black over Red, Coarse Weave, Standard 1/2 Inch

the color selector, with stencil

doesn't look like a typewriter...

And finally, I think I should mention the shipping.  I have never ever encountered shipping this bad on a typewriter ever.  It was fast, but at what cost?  The entire machine arrived to me in PIECES.  Not a single part was joined with another, over 2000 parts all in disarray.  It seems that Lego's shipping methods are inherently and knowingly flawed, as they have seen fit to include a lengthy booklet on how to reassemble the machine should it get damaged in shipping.  At the end of the day, or three days, the machine came together alright.  So with the specs out of the way, let's talk mechanics. 

key leavers

The key leaver construction is very odd.  They are situated on a row of three bearing rods in a staggered pattern, rather than along a single bearing rod all in a row, with curves at the end to accommodate key pitch.  In fact, the entire pitch of the layout is solely determined by the placement of the key levers.  This causes some discrepancy with the evenness of each key press, but it is nothing too noticeable.  I did want to point out the rubber bumper bits on each lever that acts sort of like a Universal Bar Spring (UBS not to be confused with USB).  The idea is ingenious in its space saving capacity, but not so much in the realm of mechanical tolerance.  But hey, it works.  "Good enough" is the story of my life.  


can be configured to QWERTZ, AZERTY, DVORAK, etc

The keytops themselves are quite wonderful.  The caps are single printed pieces which means there will be no legend wrinkling or discoloration over time.  They also feature the black backgrounds favored by early Smith Coronas.  The shift keys are a bit large, but they work well with the overall design.  Spacing is also excellent, the keys fit the fingers very well.  My only gripe is the steep keyboard pitch, but such is common in several machines from Coronas to Olivettis.  


The other notable thing I wanted to talk about was the escapement.  As you can see, the star wheel itself is quite interesting.  It is more fanned than a traditional wheel, and features an 8 pitch character setup.  Not a common pitch, but not unheard of.  It is a larger type that relates to the 6cpi types of machines for the visually impaired.  8cpi was generally more intended for things like headers or large notices.



The star wheel, of course, is only part of the escapement mechanism.  It features a vertical rocker that functions most akin to a clock escapement, where one dog engages the curvature of a tooth, whose curvature in turn allows the wheel to index the opposite tooth for the second dog to engage.  By virtue of moving the rocker, the star wheel is able to spin on its own without power from a mainspring.  Which is the other part to examine.

examine the orange rods

Very weird is it to omit the tried and true mainspring and draw band method of pulling along the carriage.  Instead, this machine uses the push method, much like the Blickensderfer typewriters of the late 19th and early 20th century.  However, instead of driving the carriage merely by force of the keyboard as on the Blick, the Lego uses springy pneumatic rods to help push it along.  



The carriage base itself runs on a wheeled truck, and is passively attached to the escapement.  Rather than being direct geared to the starwheel as on most machines, the Lego carriage is advanced via an actuator rod that attaches to the gear drive which in turn is powered by the star wheel.  An action essentially twice removed.  The 4 wheeled truck gives the carriage a nice frictionless ride, so the lack of direct contact with the heart of the escapement isn't quite so heavily loaded.  When tuned right, there is virtually no binding.

Note the two large rubber sections on a 
mostly bare platen

The carriage itself has a number of issues.  First being no way to adjust the paper once it is in, due to a lack of a paper release mechanism.  That's also not unheard of, as some of the late 19th century Remington Standards did not have this either.  The Lego is also restricted to size, much like the early Remington, it is not set up to accommodate standard letter sized paper.  My other two concerns is the lack of contact that the feed rollers have with the platen.  The feed rollers themselves are two miniscule wheels under the platen at the base of the carriage.  They are essentially the appendix of the typewriter, serving minimal purpose.  The platen itself is another issue all together.  The core of the platen is only rubber coated in two small sections.  This will prove disastrous for the impression quality of the type.  Above the platen is the paper bail, stationary and non rolling, similar to the corona ultraportables such as the Skyriter and the Zephyr, and the Hermes Baby/Rocket.  No rollers in sight.

no bail rollers on this Hermes!

At the end of the day, a retail price of $200 on a problematic typing machine with a poor shipping track record may seem like a total rip off.  And you'd be right, it's probably a scam, but then again, it's made of freaking Legos.  So remember that and don't get too carried away or bogged down in the details.  With the limitations presented by these small plastic bricks, the design is altogether quite impressive.  I did have an issue with the studs showing on the front above the keys, the overly exposed rear of the machine, and the roundabout way of the feed system, but the ingenuity of that escapement more than makes up for it.  At the end of the day, it is fun.  Lego is meant to be fun, and I had fun.  This machine will sit proudly among many of my own typewriters from the 1890s to the 1980s.  While there are minor details I'd personally change, that would likely only be me and my obsession for perfection.

These black keys are reminiscent of not just of the Smith
Corona keytops, but some of the black Royal keys as well

Size wise, very similar to most pre war typewriters


You can clearly see the narrow and tall carriage design
vs. the well balance design of an early 1927 Royal

I think it is wholly important to be getting the newer generations into these older machines.  They are not dead and gone quite yet, and have played such a pivotal role in shaping the world as we know it today.  The typewriter is in a way, immortal.  Much like Lego, it is a single purpose tool used to channel creativity into a means to show the world.  As long as there are people, there will be creativity; and as long as there is creativity, there will be Legos and typewriters.





the return leaver does feel flimsy, but it is
easy to repair should it break.

That one slug...

All in all, it's not a bad looking machine.  Maybe it
gets a YouTube video soon?







Comments

  1. Should've typed the review on the machine:
    "oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo" :D

    ReplyDelete
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  2. The Royal Signet! I didn’t see that until you made the comparison and I quite agree. A YouTube video to music would be fun.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Very entertaining review. The return lever reminds me of Olivettis. There are already competing "Lego" typewriters:
    https://writingball.blogspot.com/2021/07/a-fake-lego-fake-typewriter.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah yes, I'll need to check that out! I know Herman makes some excellent ones

      Delete

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