IBM Selectric II

IBM Selectric II

I recently purchased an IBM Selectric II typewriter off Trademe.

Naked, and ready for work
Cover off, tinkering time.

It really is a marvel of engineering. It's completely mechanical, besides a single electric motor supplying torque. In other words, you could hook up a hand-crank or foot pedal, and the whole thing would work exactly the same. And for something mechanical, it manages to do quite a lot. You can set and clear an unlimited number of tab stops, correct text without taking your hands off the keyboard, do super- and sub-script, adjust the striking distance and impression strength, etc. It's just amazing to see it in operation.

In fact, it's quite easily the most complex piece of mechanical equiptment I've ever seen. And, after my tinkering, it's in perfect working condition - not a single problem with it - which is fantastic for something this intricate and this old (it was built in the mid to late 1970s). If you open up a typewriter only a few years more recent, all you'll find is some dusty circuit boards and stepper motors. The Selectric, on the other hand, is filled with crank shafts, gears, bars, hooks, cams and springs.

Paper loaded
The platen is a full 15", meaning it can accomodate A3 easily. In fact, it can accomodate something 25% wider than A3, as shown here.

It's a "golf-ball" typewriter, meaning it has a single, round type element that is rotated to the correct position and then pressed against the page. Why? Well, with a single typing element it's impossible to have more than one piece of type in the same place at the same time: using a golf-ball completely eliminates overstriking and typebar clashing.

I've spent the last couple of days tinkering around with it, and fixed a lot of minor problems. Quite a few of them were to do with the angle of the margin rail - if it's slightly out, you end up with all sorts of problems, from the carriage getting stuck to the right of the right margin, to the right margin warning bell ringing only a couple of characters before the keyboard lockout (annoying).

Cover on, finished tinkering
It's sky blue. Not that you can tell by these photos.

But now, it's my favourite piece of hardware, even ahead of my beloved IBM Model M. They share a very similar key weight, which is very nice.



i just bought the same typewriter and i have a couple questions.

first of all with the correcting tape, i notice that it rotates with every letter i type, even if i dont use the correcting tape. This means that it winds itself more often than i use it. when it gets to the end, i will have have a very small amount of the correcting tape. is there a way to stop the rotating, or is there a way to rewind the correcting tape (which would be rediculously hard manually)????

second of all you were talking about straightening the margin rail, any pointers or tips?

oh and one last thing. I can not for the life of me figure out hwo to use the exclamation point. IT must have to do with some kind of different Shift option..??

The correcting tape shouldn't wind with every letter you type; mine doesn't.

When there's different characters on the same key (as there is for the 1/! key) it's because different typeballs produce a different letter for that key; there's no alternate shift key. Check if your typeball has an exclamation mark. If it doesn't, you're out of luck!

As for the margin rail, I've jammed a piece of paper under the bit that needed adjusting temporarily. Once I get some time, I'm going to go through the service manual and make the adjustment properly.

If you have any questions about fixing your typewriter, I'd recommend this mailing list:

That group also has links, on their website, to the service manual and even to training resources (so you can learn to fix Selectrics properly).
my sel II's carraige is stuck to the far left. I hit the mar rel key and it moved left, and seems permanently locked in position

is there a simple fix for this? thanks