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16-12-2019 02:45:20  #1

Key action vs key touch

Hi all,

Since I am not a native English speaker, I was wondering what the exact difference is between key action and key touch. Or are they both used to describe the same?



16-12-2019 15:25:02  #2

Re: Key action vs key touch

Hi Laurenz

Here's the way I understand the difference. The key action of a typewriter is determined by the design of the various linkages between the key and the type bar. The key touch is how the keys feel as you are typing.
The key action is built right into the mechanism and can't be changed. If the machine is properly serviced and everything is adjusted properly according to the manufacturers specifications, that's as good as the machine will get.

The key touch on the other hand can often be adjusted to increase or decrease the resistance as felt by the operator to suite the individual typist. Some typewriters have quite a lively feel to the keys, while others feel almost dead, like you're typing into mud. Of the typewriters I've used, the first generation Hermes 3000 and the 1950's Smith-Corona portables have the liveliest feel to the keys and my 1959 Consul 1511 felt dead and jarred your fingers every time the type slug contacted the platen.

I'm interested to hear how other forum members describe the difference between key action and touch. Hopefully you can draw your conclusion from the answers. Take care and all the best,



17-12-2019 08:44:30  #3

Re: Key action vs key touch

Hi Sky,

thank you for your comprehensive reply. I am too interested in how others describe the difference.

Moreover, since the touch (or action) is such an important aspect of the whole typing experience, I wonder if we can figure out a more detailed way to describe it.
Some brands of beer for instance have a table on the label with some characteristics like bitterness, fruit tones etc.
Maybe we can do the same? I think of travel (distance needed to make the impression), leeway (typical for Olympia SM 8-9 series), force (the power needed to make a nice dark impression) etc.


     Thread Starter

17-12-2019 10:38:20  #4

Re: Key action vs key touch

Laurenz, good idea. If you're going to do it, let me suggest a few parameters:

 * Center-to-center distance between keys (the pitch, between keys)
 * Width x depth measurement of the character keytops
 * Angle of rise of the keyboard  (a different kind of pitch: how steeply the keys rise)
 * Flatness of stroke  (How much does the angle of the keytop with respect to horizontal change during the full stroke? the so-called "piano key" effect that people claim to sense)
 * Height of top row above the desk
 * Height of bottom row above desk
 * Leeway  (? What is this?)
 * Keytop travel  (rest position to the stop? or rest position to the successful impression? This may vary depending on the machine's history of maintenance, etc.)
 * Force  (...required for dark impression. This will definitely vary and may not be reliable or useful.)
 * What else?
 * Perhaps a diagram of the entire keytop-to-typeslug linkag, to scale (since this can have a huge effect on action and is fascinating in its own right)

The first three are what most people are mentioning as concerns. The rest are for completeness; "as long as we're doing this anyway...."

Part of the effort should be to define the methods of taking these measurements so that everybody's numbers can be trustworthy comparisons. Metric or English? What device and technique to measure the force? How detailed a description of the condition of each machine (as found, cleaned [to what degree?], "restored")? Indeed, how detailed a description of the machine (Smith-Corona Sterlings were made over many years and used many unrelated designs, so you can't just say "S-C Sterling"; Remington Streamliners, too. etc.)? Should measurements be averaged, reported as high / low variance, or listed individually by serial number?

Nice Project!


17-12-2019 11:26:33  #5

Re: Key action vs key touch

Wow, that are a lot of parameters! And good thoughts too. Suddenly my idea looks like a giant project
I think we can devide the parameters in to two categories:

1) The metrics (the first part of your list)
2) The behaviour (the rest)

I am personally looking for a simple way to describe a keyboard in a more precise way then 'feels like mud' or 'snappy keys'.
But after seeing your list and notes I am wondering if it is even possible.
On the other hand, should such information be available in a database, then I'm sure we can engineer a formula around the data wich will descibe keyboards efficient.

With Leeway i ment the following: on my SM 8 and SM 9 I can depress the keys and for a short time/distance there is almost nothing happening. Afther a certain point everything comes into action. My Triumphs on the other hand immediately raise a typebar, even if I depress a key very little.


     Thread Starter

29-12-2019 06:57:12  #6

Re: Key action vs key touch

Laurenz van Gaalen wrote:

am personally looking for a simple way to describe a keyboard in a more precise way then 'feels like mud' or 'snappy keys'.
But after seeing your list and notes I am wondering if it is even possible.
On the other hand, should such information be available in a database, then I'm sure we can engineer a formula around the data wich will descibe keyboards efficient.

I find this an interesting idea. Once the data is available in machine-readable format, we could use radar charts to visualise that data. The "TypewriterDatabase" website could be extended to include such a radar chart for each uploaded machine. Additionally, an average diagram could be automatically computed for each model by drawing from all uploads for this model, which would probably give a realistic impression of the model in question.

To have the data be comparable, it however is first required to precisely define how each of the parameters is measured. E.g., keytop travel could be defined as: "distance in millimeters between the space bar's upper edge in resting position to the space bar's upper edge when fully depressed". Because all typewriters have a space bar, this measurement can be taken on all typewriters, and it also is independent from the question of how far to press for a "black" imprint (because depressing the space bar does not cause an imprint at all).

Without precise parameter definitions we'd be comparing apples with pies. Everyone needs to measure with the same steps. Also, I think the database should be available in machnine-readable form publically ("open data"). Maybe some creative individuals can then use it in an unexpected way.

Technically, it's probably best if the collection of the data is conducted via the well-known "Typewriter Database" website. Everyone could upload their measurements there, and the site could generate the radar charts automatically from that data. Every once in a while, the whole measurement value database is made available in machine-readable format for everyone's creativity to fiddle with. Is the administrator of the "Typewriter Database" a member of this forum? Would be good to have his/her opinion on the question.

Here's an example of a radar chart, courtesy of Wikipedia:

I prefer filled surfaces, though.


30-12-2019 05:03:44  #7

Re: Key action vs key touch

Hi sirius,

That's a great way to visualize multiple characteristics.

There are a lot of possibilities with this approach, the most obvious is to compare types, classes and/or brands. But what to think of a search function? Plot your own preferences in a radar chart and find all matching typewriters.

The challenge is not to over engineer this. To many datapoints or characteristics are not fun to enter, we must keep it as easy and simple as possible. So what characteristics are really defining for the type-experience and are (easy) measurable?


     Thread Starter

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