Before you do anything: Think about whether you’re willing to live with the consequences if you mess up. Try to make sure that your alterations are reversible, and don’t do anything to a truly rare machine other than gentle dusting and cleaning. The best way to get familiar with restoration techniques is to experiment on an ordinary typewriter first (how about a good old Underwood No. 5?). Whenever possible, test all these techniques on a hidden surface of the typewriter before you attack the main surfaces.
These are happy hours for me, as I get to discover the various parts and features of my new typewriter and I start to uncover the beauty hidden under the filth. The paint on your typewriter may appear cracked and dull, but chances are that you are looking at decades’ worth of tightly compacted dirt, grease, ink, sweat, and cigarette smoke. If you can manage to remove that layer of crud, you may find that the underlying paint job is still smooth and can be made to gleam. If you’re unlucky, the crud will turn out to be a layer of varnish applied at the factory, which has grown wrinkly and brown with age; that can be hard to remove. Of course, if you’re lucky enough to find a typewriter that has been kept in a case, this won’t be an issue — it will just need a little loving care. In any case, you’ll find the following items useful:
- Soft, clean, white cotton rags. You’ll go through a lot of these. The gentlest approach (recommended at first) is to wipe the typewriter with a wet rag, or a rag dipped in water with a few drops of dishwashing liquid.
- Brushes: you can try toothbrushes, nail brushes, brushes for cleaning firearms or dentures, and artist’s paintbrushes. The bristles on brushes can be trimmed to make them stiffer.
- Q-tips are nice for cleaning hard-to-reach areas. (Synthetic-tipped alternative: Tipton’s shooters swabs. One collector has written to me: “Instead of using Q-Tips, you can also roll your own swabs using wooden applicator sticks (6″ long x 1/16″ diameter) and cotton batting. Bamboo skewers work just as well, and they last for days/weeks. One roll of cotton batting will yield about a million swabs. As soon as a swab is dirty, you pull it off and replace it. The most important thing is to use damp–not wet–swabs. You can achieve this by rolling a wet swab on a piece of blotting paper. By doing this, you avoid flooding the surface, and water won’t seep into all the wrong places.”
- For initial dust removal, the vacuum-cleaner hose attachment kits sold in computer and computer supply stores and catalogs work very well. They are especially helpful in cleaning mechanical parts.
- For more precise blasts of compressed air, buy a canister intended for cleaning electronic equipment (these are available at most office supply stores).
- You can also sic your leaf blower on your dusty old typewriter, or take it down to the gas station and take advantage of their compressed air. (Probably not a great idea for rare typewriters!)
- Meghan S. writes: “Hey, I found something a few months back that helped wonders for the initial dust-off when I acquired a new machine — dryer sheets! They collect dust as you wipe, moving it all to one spot, and generally the dust will stick to the sheet — even dust you didn’t know was there. Helps with thin layers of grease that cotton rags will just move around, too. And they’re thin enough that you can get into hard-to-reach spaces (just not the small pieces).”
The following substances can help remove dirt and grease (often old typewriters have been over-oiled at some point in the past, or even dipped in a vat of oil, which in the long term turns into a sticky mess that must be removed).
- Soft Scrub is a gentle liquid cleanser that is easily available. To remove heavy dirt, try applying diluted Soft Scrub with a finger or rag, and removing it with a rag, over and over and over. Careful: some finishes will be scratched even by this cleanser. But my Caligraph required vigorous scrubbing with undiluted Soft Scrub!
- Try Dentucreme: “yes, the toothpaste for dentures. It is very mildly abrasive and extremely effective on surfaces that would show scratches. I use it on mother-of-pearl and other delicate surfaces.” –Lane Welch
- Steve Maloney reports that “Gojo,” a hand cleaner, is excellent for cleaning original lacquer black.
- Scrubbing Bubbles is good for penetrating tiny crevices on wrinkle paint. Use a toothbrush to get it down into the wrinkles. It does have a tendency to remove some paint, and can harm decals, so be careful.
- “For typewriters that have textured finishes, I would not recommend using furniture polish. I have found that the best way to clean these surfaces without buffing down the textured finish is to use a ‘fingernail’ brush and a solution of baking soda and mild dishwashing detergent. I am liberal with the baking soda and conservative with the dishwashing detergent. The dishwashing detergent is mainly there for removing oils. You might be surprised how much dirt gets accumulated in these textured finishes.” — Paul Dobias
- “A very good cleaner that works well with ‘crackle lacquer’ finishes is Dow Scrubbing Bubbles. It is a water based foaming cleaner that lifts out dirt and other grunge from the nooks and crannies in the finish. It also works well on smooth finishes, but is really good if you are trying to get down into the detail. It also is excellent for such things as the oil cloth and simulated leather of portable cases. The current product is made by Johnson, and is not as good in my estimation as the original Dow product, but it is still very good. I have used it on car interiors such as headliners, and or musical instrument cases, as well as music amplifiers with Tolex covering. Using a soft brush like an old tooth brush works well. It is then good, after wiping off the last application, to use plain water to wipe down the surface until clean.” –Tim McCoy
- “Another more aggressive product, but still water based, is “Krud Kutter”; this stuff will clean the grease off of an old engine, but not harm the paint. It, like the Scrubbing Bubbles, should be finished with a clean water wipe down, until all traces of dirt are off. There is another even more aggressive version called Krud Kutter Graffiti Remover. I’ve not tried it, but it might be useful in a watered down form, but test it on something before using it on some collectable.” –Tim McCoy
- “For postwar machines, use a cleaner designed for pots and pans, or even dish soap–it will cut through the grime and make any gray typewriter a little less gray/dull.” –Nick Bodemer
- Oil will improve the functioning of some parts, notably when applied to the carriage rails. Apply very sparingly, with the end of a pin or paper clip. Use a light, high-grade oil. 3-in-1 Oil is an easily available option. Probably a better choice is gun oil, such as Hoppe’s Gun Oil, or a penetrant such as PB Blaster.
- It’s a bad idea to put oil in the segment (the slotted piece that holds the typebars); the oil can get dirty and gummy after a while.
- It’s a bad idea to use WD-40 on a typewriter. It is not a good lubricant for fine machinery and after a little time, it will get gummy and make things worse than ever.
- Gun cleaning solvents can be very useful. I have had good luck with Birchwood Casey Gun Scrubber. Other products I have heard about are M-Pro gun cleaning spray, G-96, and Break Free.
- Liquid Wrench Super Penetrant has worked very well for me in removing old oil and lubricating mechanisms.
- PB Blaster can remove old grease and free up parts. It also can restore shine to dark wrinkle paint, as it seeps into tiny crevices.
- Stronger products (use outdoors, and test inconspicuously on decals and paint) include naphtha (lighter fluid) and carburetor cleaner.
- “Also a good cleaner is equal parts of acetone, automatic transmission fluid, kerosene, and mineral spirits. Be careful of the acetone, however. This is a standard firearms cleaning mixture for cleaning bores, etc. For really gunked up typewriters, it works pretty good.” –Paul Ross
- Mineral spirits (e.g., Varsol or Stoddard Solvent, available at paint stores) have been recommended to me. “Brush the mineral spirits on, using a natural-fiber brush which is bonded onto the handle with metal, not plastic. The machine should then be GENTLY blown out with an air compressor. Then apply a light lubrication to moving parts.”
- “When performing cleaning and lubrication, I would recommend following up after degreasers and lighter oils with a heavier oil. Also, oils used around chipped and delaminating coatings may contribute to further delamination. For instance, for blowing out dusts, removing some grease buildup, and to leave behind a think layer of lubricant, I would recommend using ‘TV Tuner Cleaner,’ and then follow up with a light oil.” — Paul Dobias
- “At 50 cents each, Southern Bloomer cleaning rags may be expensive (after all, they’re going to get dirty quick), but they put out no lint, and they’ve been a big help.” –Robert Neuwirth
- “Automatic transmission fluid, thinned 50% with kerosene, is an excellent rust preventive and general lubricant. Lots of anti-oxidant material in it, so it doesn’t ‘gum up’ with time. As usual, in oiling, apply sparingly.” –Paul Ross
- Instead of lubricating with oil, which can eventually collect dust and make the mechanism stick again, you can try dry, powdered graphite. (This is not recommended for use on anything that has aluminum, since graphite has a high galvanic difference to aluminum and will pit and corrode it.)
- “Tipton’s Metal Magic rust and lead Removing Cloths do a good job rubbing grime, rust, and discoloration off typebars and other naked metal pieces. Leaves a bit of a greasy feel, so you have to rub down with a plain cloth after you’re done”. –Robert Neuwirth
- “Iosso Gunbrite is good at taking off serious surface rust without destroying chromed surfaces, though you have to rub like crazy.” –Robert Neuwirth
- Platen cleaning: after an initial wiping with water and Soft Scrub, several brands of rubber/plastic restorer can remove more dirt. For more on platens, see the next section. “Rubber rejuvenators” will clean platens, but not really rejuvenate the rubber. In my experience, the stuff is also good for dissolving old grease, such as grease stuck in the slots of a segment.
- Fedron Rubber Cleaner Conditioner is a heavy-duty solvent that cleans type and platens. If you can find a dauber (like the type used for liquid shoe polish) spread a thin coating on the type and let it work for about a minute or two, then wipe off with a rag. For the platen, if the platen can be removed, put some Fedron on a rag and wipe the rubber off. It instantly removes dirt, ink, and rust marks. Fedron is harsh: be sure to keep it away from paint, decals, and all delicate parts and materials (such as string and plastic). Use in a well-ventilated area: it stinks!
How do you remove mold from a typewriter?
- “That moldy smell” is a common problem, especially with portables–and if you’re allergic to mold, it can be a real health hazard. Yes, the smell is caused primarily by mold, combined with decades of dust and cigarette smoke. Mold won’t grow on metal, but it will grow on typewriter ribbons and on fabric-covered cases. Take your typewriter out of its case and blow the lint and dust out of it (a compressed air canister for cleaning computer and stereo equipment is handy here). Throw away the ribbon. Look carefully for any surfaces that may have mold on them (the typebars usually rest on fabric or felt; some typewriters also have felt elsewhere, to deaden the noise). Clean and polish the machine using the materials I list on this page. The cases can be cleaned with harsher materials, such as Scrubbing Bubbles, Concrobium mold control, Lysol, window cleaner, or ammonia. Mr. Clean’s Eraser Pads have also been recommended to me for this purpose. Then let everything dry thoroughly, preferably in sunlight. Store typewriters and cases in dry environments with moderate temperatures. You may have to clean the cases again every 6 months or so.
- Paul Panella writes: “I’ve found that the musty smell from the old leatherette cases can be removed by first wiping down with a light disinfectant wipe. I use Clorox disinfecting wipes. Then I generously apply Old English lemon oil furniture polish inside and out. The leatherette just soaks it up and it seems to take care of the strong odor with no residue. These old cases are so dry that the lemon oil disappears almost immediately.”
- Paul Musgrave writes: “Sometimes, the smell of an old typewriter is quite pleasant and should be left as is for the sake of authenticity. Other times, an old typewriter has been left in a basement where a nasty, eye-scorching fungus has staked its claim on the dormant old machine. This is particularly true of higher-end portables (ones with felt soundproofing) that have been left in their wood-shell cases in a damp environment. Some examples are the Smith Corona Silent and Olympia SMs.
“My first experience with a nasty, moldy typewriter was with a Smith Corona Super. I went so far as to remove the felt, but unfortunately, I wasn’t quite able to get the soundproofing to really work after that. I switched tactics after that experience. My next machine was with a Smith Corona Silent (Speedline). It is a beautiful machine, but the musty smell was strong enough to fill the room. This time, I used Concrobium Mold Control. It is sold in spray bottles at Home Depot (among other retailers). I took the shell off the Silent, carefully sprayed the Concrobium on the felt (it leaves a foggy glaze on most parts, so I highly recommend being precise in spraying…even pressing the nozzle directly against the felt and slowly injecting the fluid into the felt). After letting it soak into the felt for a few minutes, I sopped up the excess in a paper towel and let the pieces air dry. Sure enough, the Concrobium killed whatever mold and spores lived in the felt and took the edge off the smell. I’ve tried the same technique with a SC Skyriter with success. From what I understand, Concrobium leaves an anti-fungal and anti-microbial film wherever it is applied to kill whatever fungi is on it and prevent it from returning. Since the felt in a typewriter is almost always hidden and used solely for sound deadening, I can’t imagine the film would be a problem. It’s been nearly a year since I treated my Silent, and I’ve not had any ill effects whatsoever.
“In most cases, the wooden carrying case often absorbs the musty odor. This was true in the case of my Silent. I was able to clean the case (inside and out) using the techniques I learned on your webpage, which helped somewhat. To kill the rest of the smell, I took some fresh pipe tobacco (cheap stuff from the drug store will work, as long as it smells pleasant), wrapped about a silver dollar’s worth up in a coffee filter, tied it into a bundle using a trash bag tie, and set it in the typewriter case. After a few weeks, the slight remains of the old typewriter smell blends with the smell of the fresh pipe tobacco and the typewriter smells quite divine. I normally wouldn’t recommend tobacco use to anybody, but in this case it was put to a really good use!”
Improving Paint, Metal, Rubber, And Other Parts
The typical deep-black color of an early typewriter consists of lacquer, which is quite difficult to restore. Enamel paint was introduced in the 1920s. Typewriters also have many metal parts which are susceptible to rust and discoloration. The shiny metal parts of older typewriters are nickel-plated; some newer machines have chrome-plated parts.
- Rust removal should be attempted by the gentlest method first. In order from gentlest to roughest, I recommend: Mother’s Mag & Aluminum Polish (available at auto supply stores); superfine steel wool (try to avoid getting the steel filings into the mechanism); superfine sandpaper; rougher steel wool; a synthetic scrubbing pad; a rotary tool (such as a Dremel) with a wire brush attachment (I recommend the cup-shaped brush; wear eye protection, as bits of wire will fly off); a rotary tool with a cratex attachment (rubber impregnated with a tough material). The cratex attachments do a great job of removing rust, but they will leave a mark; use them for initial heavy rust removal, then finish with a wire brush to smooth out the finish.
- Evapo-Rust is an excellent product if you need to remove rust from the whole body of a machine, or if you want to de-rust individual parts without using the methods above. You immerse things in this product and only the rust disappears. It is nontoxic and reusable. In order to immerse a whole typewriter, you will need 5 gallons (it can be diluted a bit with water if necessary). Remove the body panels and platen. If there are any remaining paint and decals, protect them with a good coat of wax, as the Evapo-Rust can harm them. After soaking in Evapo-Rust for up to 24 hours, things can be rinsed off in water. Then dry them immediately with a hair dryer or other means. (With some parts you may not mind having a residue of Evapo-Rust on them, which will protect against future rust, so there is no need to rinse.) The Evapo-Rust may leave a dull or dark residue on surfaces, which can easily be polished clean. You may also get acceptable effects by spraying Evapo-Rust repeatedly for about an hour, instead of immersing the machine. Some products chemically identical to Evapo-Rust are also available. They and the original can be found on eBay with a search for “Evapo-Rust.”
- “For minor rust removal, try using an electric eraser (also known as an ‘architect’s eraser’). Koh-I-Noor and Staedtler both make fairly inexpensive models with a variety of eraser refills. The gray, ink erasers are the most aggressive. The soft, white refills are especially good for removing light surface dirt and oxide layers (practice on a tarnished penny!).”
- Here’s a really easy way to touch up small spots of black paint (which is by far the most common color on early typewriters): use a permanent black marker. This is easy to apply, lies flat on the surface, and can make a big difference. Despite the term “permanent,” it is also easier to remove than paint.
- What if you want or need to use real paint? Touch-up paint for cars, which is sold in tiny bottles in auto shops, can be handy here. It dries to a glossy finish and is not thick or clumpy, as long as it’s shaken enough in advance. But take a good look at your typewriter in the sunlight after this paint has dried — you may find that it’s not really as black as the original paint.
- “The paint pen to use is Uni-Paint medium line PX-20 (or fine line if you prefer) Opaque Oil Base marker. You can order them at Staples in just about any color of the rainbow.They only take a day or two to get.” — Robert Nelson
- “For coatings touch up, ensure that surfaces are free of oils, buff exposed substrate materials with an abrasive pad, and recoat with nail polish. The ‘anchor tooth’ from abrading will ensure adhesion, but your requirements probably won’t be higher than a simple visually detected surface profile. Nail polishes come in many shades, so you should be able to get your exact match. Also, they have a tendency to set up a little thicker than some of the automotive paints, which adds to the depth and luster of the color to better simulate the multiple layer effect of lacquers.” — Paul Dobias
- “Goo Gone” can remove unwanted paint that has been added by a previous owner, revealing the original paint and decals below. It also removes Wite-Out.
- To restore faded paint on keys and scales, try Lacquer-Stik Fill-In Paint.
Feet and feed rollers
- Rubber feet on antique typewriters are often damaged or missing. Some replacements can be ordered from Steve Dade, (805) 581-6030 10AM-8PM PST, email@example.com. Steve offers: “1) Rubber Feet for most machines(Desktop and Portable) 2) Paper Feed and Paper Bale Rollers for most machines(Desktop and Portable) 3) Platen Re-Covering for Standard Folding #1&2, Corona #3&4, Remington Portable #1,2&3. (the aforementioned Platens have wood cores of 7/8″ or 1″ diameter and an outside diameter of 1-1/8″ or 1-1/4″, any other makes or models with these dimensions can probably be done). 5) Complete Rubber Packages (Platen,Rollers,Feet) are available for the machines listed above in a price range of $50-$65+shipping. 6) Advice and/or help in the repair or restoration of the above machines is gladly given by telephone free of charge (I love to talk Typewriter).”
- Bob Aubert offers new replacement feet made of black Buna N synthetic rubber, which is far more durable than the original composite material. The feet are sold in sets for the following typewriters: Columbia/Barlock Models 1- 20; Hammond 1 – 12, and the non-folding Multiplex; Harris/Rex Visible 4; LC Smith 1 – 8; Oliver 1 – 11; Smith Premier 1 – 10; Remington Standard 10; Royal Flatbed 1 – 5; early Royal 10; Underwood 1 – 5; Wellington 2 & 3; Williams 1 – 6, Yost 1 – 4, and some portables. Prices vary from $7.50 to $35.00 per set (postpaid) depending on size and whether or not the mounting hardware is included. He does not have any tapered square of rectangular feet. There are two different sizes of stepped bumpers available. They will work any typewriter with 1/2″ or 5/8″ mounting holes. If you require a different stem diameter, these feet can be modified to fit. For more info, Bob’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (856) 461-7080.
- You can also visit your local hardware store in search of rubber parts that will work as feet. Sometimes a rubber stopper will be ideal (tip: squeeze the big end in first, not the small end). Andy McWilliams writes that this item worked perfectly to replace the feet on a Remington portable #5 (and they will probably work on similar Remington portables): 27/32 x 9/32 inch slip joint washers, Home Depot stock number 38809b, made by Danco Co., Concordville, PA 19331. Ryan Long had luck fitting his own Remington portable #5 with “Replacement Aqua-Seal Washers for ‘American Standard,'” size: fits 2k-2h and 2c, made by Danco for faucet repair. They fit into place and lock with an O-Ring.
- One collector writes: “I am writing to you to add a tip regarding typewriter feet. I found this stuff to be most ingenious indeed and very reasonably priced compared to having feet manufactured professionally or even purchasing new old stock. It runs about $9.00 to $12.00 for a packet. The product is called Sugru. It is an air-curing molding glue putty that dries overnight into a soft silicone/ rubber and it comes in a variety of colors that can be mixed into custom colors too. Black, white and gray are also available. You can shape it, mold it or cover things with it and it adheres to the surface you apply it to! It can even be ordered in a magnetized form.”
- Slices of wine corks can make easy replacements for feet, if you don’t feel you need rubber.
- Another possibility is refurbishing the old rubber feet. Carl Strange recommends “a product called Plasti Dip, which is usually thought of as a coating for hand tools; it gives new life (and restored bulk, to say nothing of a rubbery grip) to emaciated typewriter feet. A can costs about $8. I used it on a 1941 Underwood Champion and my dear old Underwood 11 with very satisfactory results.”
- Feed rollers are often hardened or have developed “flats” from being pressed against the platen for decades. Matthieu Théorêt reports that removing the old rubber and replacing it with shrink tubing can be the solution. “For the back rollers, I used about 8 layers of tubing, shrunk and cut to attain a great look. The front rollers took only 4 layers. I used a smaller diameter tube that I loosened with my pliers, so that the shrunk result would be really tight.”
- Bob Aubert suggests using rubber hose for cars to recover your feed rollers. “I’ve done it this way at least a hundred times and it works! Simply take your old rollers to a auto place, ask to see their hose stock, pick something that is close and it will be just fine. Shop for a brand that is smooth on the outside! Cut it roughly to size, slip it on, put the shaft into an electric drill, and trim the excess off with a razor while it’s turning. It will look like it was done in the Remington factory!”
- You may also be able to recover feed rollers with latex tubing, sold by length in some hardware stores.
- Another solution worth trying is pencil grips.
- Black electrical tape may also work, and for this method you don’t need to remove the feed rollers from their housing (which is sometimes difficult). Just cut and scrape off the old rubber and apply the tape, stretching fairly tightly and making it as long as it needs to be to reproduce the original diameter. Put it on in such a way that the normal direction of rotation will tend to keep flattening down the end of the tape.
- One last suggestion for feed rollers: when heated with a hair dryer they may become pliable and you may be able to reshape them. Heat may also help you unstick feed rollers from a platen.
The platen is the printing surface of a typewriter — normally, a rubber-covered cylinder. The rubber on an old platen may get hard and slick, so that it doesn’t grip paper properly and the type hits it with a harsh, loud impact. What to do?
- Vigorous scrubbing with Soft Scrub will remove the dirty and slick exterior layer of the rubber, and improve the grip.
- You can also try roughening the platen by scrubbing it with sandpaper, but I like the results of Soft Scrub better.
- Brake fluid (DOT 3) reacts chemically with rubber and breaks it down. It will soften rubber unacceptably when exposed to it for the long term. A little exposure, however, can add a little flexibility and grip to the outermost layer of a platen. You can wipe a thin layer of brake fluid on with a paper towel, leave it on for about an hour, then wipe off any residue. Avoid skin and eye contact. Allow several hours of drying after this procedure, because at first the platen exterior will be too soft and should not be handled or used.
- Use one or two sheets of backing paper for cushioning if your platen is hard.
- Up until April 2012, the Ames Supply Co. of Illinois provided a platen recovering service. In May 2012 they announced they were going out of business after 110 years.
- In Germany, platens will be recovered by Eveline Theobald Büromaschinen.
- In Italy, contact Domenico Scarzello.
- In the Netherlands, AKB Longs will recover platens.
- In Switzerland, Typ Gummi TGW will do the job.
- In the UK, contact Longs.
- In the USA, J.J. Short recovers platens. Write to Peter at email@example.com to get a quote, providing the following information: the inside diameter of the rubber tube or the outside diameter of the wooden or metal core without the rubber; the current outside diameter of the platen; and the length of the rubber. “For multiple platens in the same size range we will offer discounted pricing for qtys of 2-5 and 6+.”
- Steve Dade, (805) 581-6030 10AM-8PM PST, firstname.lastname@example.org, offers: “1) Rubber Feet for most machines(Desktop and Portable) 2) Paper Feed and Paper Bale Rollers for most machines(Desktop and Portable) 3) Platen Re-Covering for Standard Folding #1&2, Corona #3&4, Remington Portable #1,2&3. (the aforementioned Platens have wood cores of 7/8″ or 1″ diameter and an outside diameter of 1-1/8″ or 1-1/4″, any other makes or models with these dimensions can probably be done). 5) Complete Rubber Packages (Platen,Rollers,Feet) are available for the machines listed above in a price range of $50-$65+shipping. 6) Advice and/or help in the repair or restoration of the above machines is gladly given by telephone free of charge (I love to talk Typewriter).”
- West Coast Platen, http://www.platen.com/, had some spare platens in stock as of June 2012. You may e-mail email@example.com.
- Rino Breebart has illustrated on his blog how he recovered a Hermes platen using a bicycle inner tube. For a diameter and smoothness matching the original specifications, you probably want to get a professionally installed new platen, but this is an interesting possibility.
- I have used colored shrink tubing to give a platen a new surface and a new color (purple!). Like using a bicycle tube, this is not the most professional and precise solution, but it is at least fun. You need tubing that is big enough to fit easily over the platen. You can heat it over a gas stove burner, turning frequently and rolling the platen on a counter every so often to smooth out the wrinkles. After 5-10 minutes the tubing will fit tightly onto the platen.
- Many early typewriters are decorated with pinstripes — often these are thin parallel lines of blue and yellow. Beugler offers a kit for precision pinstriping with paint. Other pinstriping supplies are available from Finesse Pinstriping. You can also find pinstriping decals at many hobby shops, or order them from The Antique Phonograph Supply Co., Route 23, Box 123, Davenport Center, NY 13751-0123, phone 607-278-6218.
- Bits of gold may be missing from the decals or lettering. One amateurish solution is to touch them up with a fine-point metallic gold marker. This is easily scratched off, but for the beginner that’s probably a virtue. The metallic marker really can improve the neatness of your typewriter if it’s used wisely.
- Replacement decals for many antique typewriters are offered by Paul Robert. Visit his Etsy shop here. A longer list of his decals is here.
- It’s possible to get nickel parts replated. You may want to consult a professional (such as Rayco Metal Finishing), but a home replating kit is made by Vigor-Bestfit, 320 Thornton Road, Lithia Springs, GA 30057. Phone 770-944-2733, fax 770-944-2765. The kit is available at Zak Jewelry Tools, 55 West 47th Street, New York, NY, phone 212-768-8122.
- Replacement leather handle straps (for cases) can be cut from used leather belts. Nice replacement leather handles are also available at some music stores, as they are used on instrument cases.
- If the key legends (the letters, numbers, etc.) on your keys are stained or faded, you can replace them. It helps a lot to have special tools for removing and replacing the metal key rings. I have prepared a PDF of key legends that you can download here. Print it on a laser printer at actual size (not “shrink to fit”). The PDF is high-resolution (1200dpi), but the quality of your printout will depend on your printer, the print settings, and the paper used. You may also prefer this black-and-white (bitmap) version.
Here’s the sensuous phase. Loving applications and re-applications of polishing agents will leave your typewriter looking glossy, fresh and grateful. You’ll be amazed at the difference!
- For a safe, effective finish used by museums, I recommend Renaissance brand microcrystalline wax. It can be found on eBay and at various online suppliers. Apply and buff the wax with clean cotton cloth.
- A good alternative is a commercial blend of microcrystalline waxes, in paste form, such as Johnson’s “Klear” or “AeroWax.”
- Mother’s Carnauba Cleaner Wax (available in auto supply stores) works nicely. Other car finishes, such as Turtle Wax, can also work well.
- Wax can be removed with a cloth dampened in mineral spirits (such as Varsol and Stoddard Solvent). Use in a well-ventilated area.
- Pledge is an easily available polish that I have often used as a cleaning and polishing agent. Spray it on a clean rag, wipe the part you’re polishing thoroughly with the rag, repeat until the rag doesn’t look brownish at all. However, I have been warned that overuse of Pledge can leave a sticky residue. It also contains silicone, which may be impossible to remove later; do not spray it on the mechanism, and do not use Pledge on a rare machine. Endust claims that it contains no silicone. Nick Bodemer reports, “For prewar typewriters, I use Old English Lemon Furniture Polish–it works very well, and does not remove decals (even on a 1930s Royal).”
- I’ve also heard that Fantastick works well as a polish and cleaner.
- Other effective polishes include Armor All and Klasse All-in-One Polish.
- Elaine Golladay suggests Klasse All in One Acrylic Protectant. Note that this car polish will leave a strong and shiny acrylic layer on the typewriter.
- Mother’s Mag & Aluminum Polish (available at auto supply stores) is an excellent cleaner and polish for metal parts both large and small. On machines with a lot of aluminum (such as the Blick 6 or Hammond Folding) this stuff can work a miraculous transformation.
- Other metal polishes include Flyt (available at gun shops) and Simichrome (which has been highly recommended to me for aluminum — ask at auto supply shops).
Manual typewriters operate on relatively simple principles, and you can usually fix a problem using patient investigation and some screwdrivers. But don’t underestimate the need to keep track of all the parts you remove! You can easily find yourself with a pile of parts that you can’t fit together again. Check Online Typewriter Support, by Will Davis, for further advice on operating, maintaining, and repairing a manual typewriter. As for typewriter repair shops,
- Chapman Mfg. Co. has put together a nice screwdriver kit with bits designed especially for typewriter repair.
- You may want to invest in a set of gunsmith’s screwdrivers. They are available in boxed sets with up to 58 interchangeable bits, as well as ultrathin sets. This allows you to find a perfect fit for every slotted screwhead, so damage is less likely to occur. (Note that older screws tend to have much narrower slots than modern ones.) “The best source for these screwdrivers is Brownell’s, Inc., 200 South Front Street, Montezuma, Iowa 50171; tel. 515-623-5401; fax 515-623-3896. Check out their ‘Magna-Tip Super-Sets.’ You’ll wonder how you managed without them. About $82.00, but they’ll last a lifetime.”
- Magnetic screwdrivers are helpful for holding on to screws.
- Sears sells very useful sets of Craftsman tools meant for repairing computers and other electronic equipment. The tools are hard steel, many have fine tips, and an ample variety of screwdrivers is included.
- Dental picks are helpful as a means of reaching and manipulating interior areas.
- A common problem is a broken carriage drawband (cord or strap). The basic principle is simple: attach a new drawband to the barrel (containing the mainspring) and one end of the carriage. The mainspring normally does not have to be wound up while you are doing this; it can be tightened later. But this is all easier said than done, and this repair can be frustrating. The method will vary based on the model of typewriter. You may want to use or create a long, thin wire with a hook at the end which can be pushed under the carriage and used to pull the cord through.
- Kite string or strong fishing line can be a helpful replacement for broken drawbands. Rob Bowker writes, “In the absence of fine waxed string I have at one time used baler twine, but more poetically I have used ‘cat-gut’ – a nice organic replacement. A 1950s, warped and unplayable tennis racket was the donor.”
- Flat shoelaces can replace carriage pull straps.
- Sometimes the mainspring itself is broken. Usually one end of it has snapped off. Open up the barrel to take a look. You can usually make a new hole in the end of the spring using a Dremel wheel, and reattach the spring to the barrel.
- Rob Blickensderfer (firstname.lastname@example.org) makes parts for various antique typewriters, such as Hammond ribbon spool covers, Blickensderfer paper supports and release bails, and cranks for the Smith Premier brush cleaner. Very reasonably priced.
- Jim Donahue (770-714-0556, email@example.com) runs “Oliverservices,” with many parts for Olivers as well as several products to service them: ribbons, touch-up paint, stainless return cable, replated parts, etc. Visit his eBay store here.
- David Randall shows us how to make new ribbon covers for a Remington noiseless portable on his blog as well as how to make new tab stops.
So now you’re ready to do some actual typing with your machine! Even if you’re not going to use it for everyday correspondence, it’s nice to know that it’s functioning and “alive” once again. You need to deal with a few issues such as inking, clean type, and alignment.
- Ribbons for most typewriters can sometimes still be found as close as your nearest office supply shop. The standard width is half an inch, and you’ll find that this will work on almost all typewriters made after 1920 or so. If your typewriter can type in two colors (and most can), buy a black-and-red ribbon: it looks nice! For suggestions on ribbon sources, see my FAQ.
- Ribbon spools must be appropriate to your machine. The most common are the kind that fit Underwoods, Smith-Coronas, and Royal portables; German typewriters usually use a type called DIN 2103 which has a larger central hole. Olivetti spools need to be held down with a particular kind of nut (type DIN 466 M3); you can find new ones online.
- Odd-size ribbons: try ribbons made for computer printers, printing calculators, time clocks, and cash registers.
- How to re-ink a ribbon: “Once a ribbon has run out of ink, and the typewriter has wound it all up onto one spool, remove the ribbon from the typewriter. Get a bottle of STAMP-PAD INK, the same colour as the ribbon (this works best with single-colour ribbons). Keeping the ribbon wound up onto one spool, coat the outermost part of the ribbon with stamp-pad ink, and allow it to saturate through to the interior layers of ribbon, wound around the spool. You should really only have to do this rather sparingly. No more than 2-3 drops here and there. Let the ink soak into the ribbon, and then rethread the whole thing back into the typewriter. It’ll run like new 🙂 A bottle of stamp-pad ink is like $5, and one little bottle will last you for many re-inkings. Stamp-pad ink is ideal, because like typewriter ink, it doesn’t readily dry out in open air, so that means the ribbon won’t dry out overnight, but will stay moist…well…until it runs out of ink again!” –Shahan Cheong
- It may be worthwhile to treat a ribbon that still has ink, but has dried out, by spraying it with WD-40. Lay it out yard by yard / meter by meter and spray lightly and quickly. (Reminder: do not use WD-40 to lubricate the typewriter itself.)
- Ink rollers for Blickensderfers and other ink-roller machines can be procured at a good office supply shop. Buy rollers made for printing calculators. You’ll have to cut them out of their plastic housing, and the price is a little steep ($3 or $4 for one roller — the original Blickensderfer price was 25 cents a dozen!). Your fingers will get filthy. But it’ll all be worthwhile when you see what nice work your old typewheel machine can do.
- Hammonds originally came with a rubberized cloth impression strip that came between the hammer and the paper. It is usually missing or broken, but it is necessary in order to get good typing. Paul Robert recommends: “If there is a bicycle shop in your area, go there and buy one of those narrow rubber protection strips that go around the wheel to protect the inner tube from being punctured by the spokes. Cut off a piece one half inch shorter than the full length of the carriage, punch two holes on each side and you have the perfect impression strip.”
- Ink pads for machines like the Williams: I want to look into this, but haven’t done research yet. Don’t replace an ink pad unless you really want to use the machine, as in the long run the chemicals in the ink can corrode the type! A piece of black felt cut to the right size will look very nice.
- To make sure your types will print clearly, you’ll probably need to clean out the crevices of letters like “e” and “s.” Use the tip of a pin. Be gentle, so you won’t harm the type.
- For heavy-duty type cleaning, try Fedron (see above under “Initial Cleanup”) or denatured alcohol (don’t get it on paint).
- Old products such as Star Type Cleaner were intended to fit into the type and lift out some ink. For a modern replacement, Matthieu Théorêt reports: “the Staedtler art eraser is malleable enough and lifts the old caked ink like a charm.” Elaine Hadden Golladay recommends Dap BlueStik (a reusable adhesive putty).
- Alignment may be a big problem in an old typewriter. The typebars may stick at the printing point, because they’re too far to the right or left. The Oliver may produce especially wacky-looking work because of the nature of its typebars. The only solution is to bend the typebars back into position, using guesswork and experimentation and care. If you’re lucky, you can find some specialized tools for gently bending typebars; otherwise, try needle-nosed pliers.