Fascinating Facit

This 1960 Facit T2 required speed and dedication to obtain. Facit desktops of any vintage are rare in the United States. But this one is even rarer. Its features distinguish it as a transitional bridge between the T1 and the final (and much more common) incarnation of the T2. The T1, the first standard typewriter of the fresh new “Facit” brand (previously, the legendary “Halda” brand), made a modernist splash when unveiled in 1958, a marked departure from the staid, traditional-looking machines previously offered by the Swedish manufacturer. This functional and futuristic objet d’art was the brainchild of Swedish prince Count Sigvard Oscar Fredrik Bernadotte of Wisborg, an industrial engineer by profession. The T1 was produced from 1958 to 1960, having been replaced by the T2 in that year. In contrast to its older sibling’s comparatively short production run, the T2’s career spanned more than a decade, finally being retired in 1972.

This particular T2’s serial number dates its manufacture to 1960, and places it among the first 15,000 or so T2s – quite remarkable given the fact that over 550,000 T2s rolled off the assembly line during its 12-year run. This particular machine is so early, that it retains many T1 features that would quickly disappear in later T2s. For example, the tab button and key un-jammer located on either side of the space bar; or the clear plastic paper support; or the tab-setting levers on the right and left sides of the machine. These are the last vestiges of T1 ergonomics and would fall victim to a redesign. Consequently, I feel doubly grateful that I found not only a T2, but an exceedingly early T2. It’s like having both a T1 and a T2!

T1 with distinctive tab button and key un-jammer astride the space bar and clear plastic paper support on the carriage.
By 1962, the T2 had traded its small tab button for a monumental tab bar running above the uppermost row of keys. In addition, gone were the chrome side-mounted tab setting levers, replaced by considerably drabber tab setting buttons, guarding the left and right flanks of the imposing tab bar. Finally, the clear plastic paper support disappeared entirely, giving way to…nothing at all.

Excited by the finding of an early transitional T2, I jumped at the chance to acquire it. Some may know that my hunt for a Facit desktop is not a sudden whim. I’ve been quite actively hunting for one for nearly a year. On three separate occasions, I had a T1 lined up for purchase, only to be foiled by circumstance or a fleet-footed competitor! But, suddenly, this early T2 presented itself, seemingly unnoticed and within driving range! Well, within driving range for a typewriter-collector, whose worldview routinely embraces 8-hour round trips in pursuit of elusive writing iron.

A delightful day for a road trip! The T2 had wiled away its retirement years among the weeping willows of the Old South.
Safe and sound in the back seat, dusty, and with sticky keys.

And, indeed, the mission to collect this Facit T2 involved an 8-hour journey. Well worth it. The day couldn’t have been more perfect for a long drive. On first glance, the T2 appeared solid and complete, with no rust. A thorough cleaning would certainly free the sticky keys. The bell, mysteriously, remained silent. I hoped this would not present a major problem and assumed, rightly as it turned out, that the bell assembly would be intact, if perhaps dirty or otherwise impeded. This project had every indication of being relatively straightforward and quickly completed.

But once the T2 was safely at home, that first impression of smooth sailing quickly gave way to reality. Yes, the bell was not functioning. Moreover, the tab had a serious problem. Indeed, pressing the tab button generated a hair-raising cacophony of gear grinding. This looked like another case of failing mid-century tab brakes. On the other hand, the keys – though sticking – soon swung freely. Application of the tried-and-true lighter fluid-soaked Q-tips made short work of decades-old grime gumming up the keybar segment. Putting the machine through its paces revealed that the mainspring was properly wound, the carriage releases worked, the carriage glided effortlessly from left to right and right to left, the tab set levers functioned properly, and everything just worked. The problems had thus been isolated to the silent bell and the grinding tab mechanism. Another word about that gliding carriage. The mid-century Facits distinguish themselves among their peers in the absolute smoothness of their carriages. The secret: the cylindrical carriage bar runs inside a tube surrounded by ball bearings. There is no squeak, no zip, no ratchet sound, no resistance…nothing. It’s a mechanical marvel to behold. And one of the most satisfying attributes of the Facit T-series standards.

Here is a closeup of the carriage bar riding inside a tube. You can just barely see that the cylindrical bar (centered and deep in the tube) is surrounded by several ball bearings.

Now, back to our troubleshooting. Turning my attention to the bell, I removed the top rear panel of the carriage. Access was easily achieved.

Removing these two screws on the top rear panel of the carriage allowed easy access to the bell mechanism below.
Also visible is the magic by which the carriage ethereally glides.

The bell mechanism seemed to all be there; pulling and releasing the little hammer caused a satisfying “ding.” I went ahead and depressed the carriage release and moved the carriage all the way left and all the way right. No bell ring. Something had to be wrong with the interaction between the carriage and the margin. Indeed, in most machines, the setting of the right margin determines when the bell will ring (thereby alerting the typist to the impending end of the current line of text). Time to investigate the margin setting system.

The Facit T2 has a rather unique margin setting system. It features two levers, on either end of the carriage, marked “M” (presumably for “margin”). The levers are very reminiscent of the famous Royal “Magic Margin” system, but the Facit version works quite differently. Rather than spring-loaded margin stops that jump into position at the touch of a lever, the Facit margin stops wait – immobile – until the typist moves the carriage and “hooks” or captures the margin stop. Once the margin stop is captured, the movement of the carriage carries the margin stop to the desired place. During this whole process, the typist must have the margin lever (left or right) pulled forward. This ensures that the margin stop will be “snagged” and pulled along with the carriage. Oddly, it is the left margin stop (not the right one!) which triggers the ringing of the bell.

And it was the left margin stop that was giving trouble. Upon closer inspection, the left margin stop has a “trigger bar” that is free to move up and down. The bar always wants to stay up, thanks to the force of a small coil spring. It is that perpetually upstanding trigger bar that catches the bell hammer as the carriage moves to the left.

But on this Facit T2, that trigger bar was bent. Uggg. The bend in the trigger bar caused the bar to bind against the rest of the left margin stop. As a result, instead of freely moving up and down and springing back to the up position, the trigger bar remained stuck in the down position. Consequently, the trigger bar remained too low to catch on the bell hammer, leading to a silent bell. Thankfully, with needle-nose pliers and a patient hand, I was abl to form the trigger bar just enough to unbind it. It now is free to move up and down and spring back into the up position! Moving the carriage left and right now consistently produced the familiar “ting” “ting”! The bell had recovered is voice!

But fixing the bell was just the first of several issues that required attention. The tab button problem still loomed large. It was time to investigate further. Thankfully, the Facit T2, like its older sibling the T1, has a quick-remove carriage (often referred to as “demountable”). With a flick of an under-mounted switch on either side of the machine, the carriage could be lifted straight up and off. One must remember, however, to remove the ribbon from the ribbon vibrator before lifting the carriage off, as the ribbon vibrator is part of the carriage! This is quite unique; most demountable typewriters have the ribbon vibrator connected to the base, not the carriage.

The base with carriage demounted.
Carriage demounted! Note the ribbon vibrator – attached to the carriage rather than the base!

Looking into the fascinating inner workings of the Facit, I spotted what I believed to be the tab brake mechanism.

Here’s a closeup of the tab brake mechanism.
The rear of the tab break mechanism. Notice the central gear. This gear interfaces with the toothed circumference of the mainspring drum.
Closeup of the mainspring drum. Notice the toothed edge along the circumference of the drum. This toothed edge interfaces with the gear on the tab brake.

Giving the tab brake mechanism a gentle rotation with my hand, I immediately discovered the problem. The tab brake was seized. It would not rotate, at least not without significant force. By way of clarification, the tab mechanism on the Facit T1 and T2 is somewhat unique. On many standard typewriters, the tab brake interacts with a toothed rail running the length of the carriage. Thus, when the carriage is released by pressing the tab button, the toothed rail on the carriage meshes with the gear on the tab brake and voila, the carriage is slowed down to a gentle crawl. On the Facit, however, the tab brake interacts with the mainspring drum. When the tab button is pressed on the Facit, the carriage is released and, consequently, the mainspring pulls on the cloth band (or string) attached to the carriage. This, in turn causes the carriage to move to the left. At the same time, the mainspring drum begins to rotate, in effect reeling in the cloth band and winding it up. The rotating mainspring drum’s toothed circumference meshes with the gear on the tab break and presto, the carriage is slowed to a less-than-ludicrous speed.

Unfortunately, this orderly sequence of events–from pressing the tab button to gentle leftward motion of the carriage–was interrupted. Indeed, it was interrupted by the ear-splitting grind of gears. With the tab brake seized and unable to rotate, the rapidly rotating toothed circumference of the mainspring drum gnashed violently against the stationary tab brake gear. The whole situation very much resembled the hair-raising cacophony produced by a manual transmission by trying to shift gears with a worn synchro. Uggg.

Midcentury tab brakes. It’s as if they were all designed to fail. Several of my 1960s machines are plagued with seized or otherwise rotten tab brakes. Frustratingly, tab brakes are not just fringe items, like a fouled up margin setter or ribbon color selector. No, tab brakes tend to be integral, baked-in mechanisms that interact with (and inevitably impede) the major moving parts of the typewriter. A seized tab brake not only leads to chaos when indenting; it can cause the whole carriage/keybars/mainspring ecosystem to grind to a halt. Rotten tab brakes cannot be ignored.

So, falling back on prior experience, I felt that the simplest solution–if possible–would be to remove the tab brake mechanism and see what happened. It was simple enough to do. Unscrewing one bolt and unhooking a spring did the trick. Out came the offending tab brake!

In the lower left we see the seized tab brake from the Facit T2. Faithful readers will remember the clump of gears in the upper right–the tab brake from the Underwood Touchmaster Five! My bookshelf has become a tab brake graveyard…

How did the removal of the tab brake affect the Facit T2? Positively, as it turns out. The machine is more fleet of foot and spritely. Pressing the tab button has become an adventure, as it launches the carriage to the left. However, one quickly develops the universally helpful habit of placing a guarding hand in the carriage’s path, or simply holding the carriage as it glides leftward. Frankly, it something I tend to do with every typewriter, just in case. As with the Underwood Touchmaster Five, I wouldn’t want this to happen:

Watch out!

As an aside, tinkering with the tab brake mechanism had a rather unfortunate side effect. Toying with the mainspring drum led to the disintegration of the mainspring drawband.

The 60-year-old drawband just fell apart. An attempt to knot it back together failed, leaving three pieces instead of two.

Thankfully, a remedy was quickly found. Using braided fishing line rated to 100 pounds of tension, I soon had a new and much improved drawband. I simply removed the metal fixtures from the old drawband and re-used them!

Note the new drawband, made from yellow braided fishing line rated for 100 pounds! Should do a marvelous job.

With the bell singing anew and the tab button functioning again, the Facit T2 has been a joy to type on. The smooth carriage return is a pleasure unto itself. The crisp break of the keys as you press them and the satisfying smack of the type bars into the platen invite the typist to sit down for spell of composing. The machine itself, after having the pleasure of dismantling it a bit, is amazingly clean. Not a spot of rust, not a speck of dust. Was it even used? More interestingly, why did a Swedish Facit standard end up in a sleepy Central Florida town? It most certainly would have been fabulously expensive compared to the ubiquitous Royals, Underwoods, and Remingtons–all great typers in the early 1960s and American-made. Why buy the top-of-the-line MacBook of its day and neglect it? Perhaps the small family firm from which I bought the Facit had, in 1960, looked optimistically toward a golden future. When that future never came, they were left, not house poor, but equipment poor. A shuttered tech startup with a gleaming bank of new iPads. Or perhaps, the firm’s owner loved the Facit and wanted one for its own sake, because it was so good. I probably won’t ever know the complex circumstances that brought this rare and beautiful Swedish machine to a rural town in the American Southland. But it’s fun to imagine the T2’s journeys. I think it will become a favorite.


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