How Fax Machines Work

How to Use a Fax Machine

Fax machines are easy to use and resemble dialing a telephone.
Photographer: Bobby Deal | Agency: Dreamstime

Even though traditional fax machines are fast being replaced by e-mail and Internet fax services, it's still important to know how to use this workplace workhorse. Here are some basic instructions for sending and receiving a fax.

Sending a fax:


  1. Make sure the fax machine is plugged into a power source and also plugged into a working phone jack.
  2. Turn the fax machine on.
  3. Obtain the fax number of the destination fax machine.
  4. Gather the documents you want to send and put them in the order you want them to be received.
  5. Fill out a separate piece of paper called a coversheet with the recipient's name, fax number/phone number, your name, your phone number, a short message and number of pages (including coversheet).
  6. Lay the documents face-up in the fax machine feeder tray with the coversheet on top
  7. Dial the recipient's fax number (dialing instructions for international calls)
  8. Press the "fax" or "send" button, depending on the particular fax machine model

Now the fax machine will scan each of the document pages into its memory. After all of the pages have been scanned, you'll hear a series of fax tones. These tones signal the "handshake" between the sending and receiving fax machines, establishing a communications link. Wait for a few minutes as the fax is sent. If the fax machine has a small display screen, look for a confirmation that the fax went through. Some fax machines will also print out a short confirmation report.

Here's how to receive a fax:

  1. Make sure the fax machine is plugged in, powered on and connected to a working phone jack. This phone jack can either be your regular phone line or a dedicated fax line. The important thing is that the sender has the right number.
  2. Make sure that the fax machine has enough ink in its toner cartridge. Toner cartridges usually have some sort of indicator when toner is low. Most modern fax machines will also alert you when toner is low.
  3. Make sure that there's enough printer paper loaded in the fax machine's paper tray. Fan the paper (run your thumb along the bottom, separating the individual pages) to avoid paper jams in the machine.
  4. If there's a phone on the fax machine, the phone will ring. Don't pick it up.
  5. Wait for the "handshake" tones indicating that the fax machine is talking with the sender's machine.
  6. The fax machine will automatically begin to print each page of the fax.
  7. Check the coversheet to make sure you received as many pages as were sent.
  8. If it's an important document, it's office etiquette to call or e-mail the sender to confirm that you received the fax.

On the next page, we'll talk about how to troubleshoot common fax machine problems.