The Kowal Portable Typewriter’s Spacebar

Oliver spacebar for inspirationAs I mentioned earlier, I wanted to make the spacebar on the Kowal Portable Typewriter and Adding Machine out of something mimicking ebony. I’ve been meaning to do this post for ages, but kept putting it off until I’d had a chance to test it all and make sure there weren’t any surprises. A number of our typewriters have deep black enameled spacebars and on some of them, like this Oliver, you can see the wood underneath it. I love the way it looks. It reminds me of the way the varnish wears down on the neck of a violin with heavy use to something utterly smooth and softer than you can imagine wood being. So, I decided that I would veneer my space bar in actual wood instead of just a wood-grained sticker.
Touchpad buttons patternI used a piece of tracing paper to trace the shape of my touchpad’s keys and then cut them out of a very thin birch veneer designed for model airplanes. For the spacebar, because I need to wrap around the edges, I wanted something thinner and chose PaperWood, which is flexible and really paper thin.
Testing the stainsI picked up a sample PaperWood in Walnut (top), Birch (middle) and Red Cedar (bottom). Now, a real woodworker would use stain, but I’ve used acrylic paint to stain wood for stage in the past and went there now. I really just couldn’t justify buying a can of stain for six inches of wood. I watered my Mars Black way the heck down and painted it on.
Wiping excess stain awayThen I wiped the excess away.
Finished stainI expected to like the walnut best, but to my surprise, the Red Cedar was the winner. I think the natural red in the wood, combined with the black, played better with the warm tones of my ox-blood red enamel work.
Making pattern of space barWith that decided, I made a pattern for the space bar, starting by tracing it onto bristol board, which had a similar weight to the PaperWood.

Hm… I wonder if I could do paper sculpture like Coraline’s face with this stuff.

Spacebar patternAnyway, small darts in each corner allow me to fold the PaperWood around the spacebar’s edges.
The spacebar veneerI cut the pattern out of the PaperWood with an exacto knife and then stained it after it was on the spacebar.
Applying tape to spacebarI used doublestick tape to test the wood on the space bar. Much to my surprise, a month and a half later, it shows absolutely no sign of giving. In fact, it’s hard to pull off so I’m planning on leaving it like this.

I have to say that the tactile sensation of the wood space bar is fantastic. It’s such a pleasure to use.

And here is the finished keyboard of the Kowal Portable Adding Machine and Typewriter.
The finished keyboard

I am modding a friend’s MacBook to be an ivory and gold Kowal Portable. Once I’ve timed myself doing that, I’ll know how much to charge to do other mods. I’m planning to offer a couple of choices.

  1. A DIY pdf template which you can print at schtickers.com
  2. The Kowal Portable, installed on your computer by me in your choice of any Pantone color. That’s right, you could have a British Racing Green Kowal Portable. (pantone 3308u)
  3. Complete custom job — like the Atlantis mod I’ve been asked to do.

If this sounds appealing and you want to know when I figure out my pricing structure, sign up for my Typewriter mailing list. I promise I will only use it for information directly related to the Kowal Portable Typewriter and Adding Machine.

Edited to add: I offered this for a very short time before realizing that every keyboard is sufficiently different that there was no way to make a good template.

Did you know you can support Mary Robinette on Patreon!

7 thoughts on “The Kowal Portable Typewriter’s Spacebar”

  1. Amazing job. Quite possibly the most gorgeous laptop that has ever been viewed on this earth, I salute you for your time and effort – it really did come out beautifully!

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top