Frankly, I'm no restoration expert. I do simple things to make my
typewriters look good and function, but shy away from the most
Here are a few tips I've discovered myself and learned from
friends. (Thanks especially to Rob Bowker, Gregory Fischer, Paul
Dobias, Tim McCoy, Jared Mogensen, Jett Morton, Paul Musgrave, Lynn
Pierson, George Prytulak, Paul Ross, Matthieu Théorêt,
Lane Welch, and Peter Weil.)
Everybody, if you have more tips, send them in! (E-mail
Richard Polt, firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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.
Typewriter Support, by Will Davis, provides further advice on
operating, maintaining, and repairing a manual typewriter.
For more good ideas about restoration, check out
Names of some products below are linked to Google Products so you can
compare prices online.
Initial cleanup and lubrication
Click here for a basic
illustrated guide to cleaning and lubrication from a 1977 Reader's
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
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
In any case, you'll find the following items useful:
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, clean, white cotton rags. You'll go through a lot
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
- Brushes: you can try toothbrushes, nail brushes, brushes
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
- 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)."
How do you remove mold from a typewriter?
- Soft Scrub is a gentle liquid cleanser that is easily
To remove heavy dirt, try applying diluted Soft Scrub with a finger or
and removing it with a rag, over and over and over. Careful: some
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
mildly abrasive and extremely effective on surfaces that would show
scratches. I use it on mother-of-pearl and other delicate surfaces."
- Steve Maloney reports that "Gojo," a
is excellent for cleaning original lacquer black.
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
using furniture polish. I have found that the best way to clean these
without buffing down the textured finish is to use a 'fingernail' brush
solution of baking soda and mild dishwashing detergent. I am liberal
baking soda and conservative with the dishwashing detergent. The
detergent is mainly there for removing oils. You might be surprised how
dirt gets accumulated in these textured finishes." -- Paul Dobias
very good cleaner that works well with 'crackle lacquer' finishes
Dow Scrubbing Bubbles. It is a water based foaming cleaner that
out dirt and other grunge from the nooks and crannies in the
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.
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
like an old tooth brush works well. It is then good, after wiping
the last application, to use plain water to wipe down the surface until
clean." --Tim McCoy
more aggressive product, but still water based, is “Krud Kutter”;
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
water wipe down, until all traces of dirt are off. There is
even more aggressive version called Krud Kutter Graffiti Remover.
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
- It's a bad idea to
put oil in the segment (the slotted piece that holds the typebars);
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
Casey Gun Scrubber. Other products I have heard about
gun cleaning spray, G-96, and Break Free.
Wrench Super Penetrant has worked very well for
me in removing old oil and lubricating mechanisms.
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
- "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
Solvent, available at paint stores) have been recommended
"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
up after degreasers and lighter oils with a heavier
oil. Also, oils used around chipped and delaminating coatings may
to further delamination. For instance, for blowing out dusts, removing
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
pit and corrode it.)
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
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
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.
Rubber Cleaner Conditioner is a heavy-duty solvent that cleans type and
If you can find a dauber
(like the type used for liquid shoe polish) spread a thin coating on
type and let it work for about a minute or two, then wipe off with a
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!
- "That moldy smell" is a common problem, especially with
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 Lysol, window cleaner, or
ammonia. Then let everything dry thoroughly, preferably in sunlight.
Store typewriters and cases in dry environments with moderate
You may have to clean the cases again every 6 months or so.
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
quite pleasant and should be left as is for the sake of
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
felt soundproofing) that have been left in their wood-shell cases in a
damp environment. Some examples are the Smith Corona Silent and
"My first experience with a nasty, moldy typewriter was with a Smith
Corona Super. I went so far as to remove the felt, but
I wasn't quite able to get the soundproofing to really work after
that. I switched tactics after that experience. My next
with a Smith Corona Silent (Speedline). It is a beautiful
the musty smell was strong enough to fill the room. This time, I
Concrobium Mold Control. It is sold in spray bottles at Home
(among other retailers). I took the shell off the Silent,
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
I sopped up the excess in a paper towel and let the pieces air
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
Concrobium leaves an anti-fungal and anti-microbial film wherever it is
applied to kill whatever fungi is on it and prevent it from
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.
been nearly a year since I treated my Silent, and I've not had any ill
"In most cases, the wooden carrying case often absorbs the musty
This was true in the case of my Silent. I was able to clean the
(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
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
Improving paint, metal, and rubber
The typical deep-black color of an early typewriter consists of
which is quite difficult to restore. Enamel paint was introduced
in the 1920s.
Typewriters also have many metal parts which are susceptible to rust
discoloration. The shiny metal parts of older typewriters are
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
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
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.
- "For minor rust removal, try using an electric eraser (also known
'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
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
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,
exposed substrate materials with an abrasive pad, and recoat with nail
The 'anchor tooth' from abrading will ensure adhesion, but your
probably won't be higher than a simple visually detected surface
polishes come in many shades, so you should be able to get your exact
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
simulate the multiple layer effect of lacquers." -- Paul Dobias
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.
- 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, but a home replating kit is made by
320 Thornton Road,
Lithia Springs, GA 30057. Phone
The kit is available at
Zak Jewelry Tools,
55 West 47th Street,
New York, NY,
- Rubber feet on antique typewriters are often damaged or missing.
Bob Aubert offers new replacements 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 email@example.com 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
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.
- 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."
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
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
- 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
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
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
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
- In France (Bourges),
can recover platens with a diameter from 22 mm (Rooy portable) to 44.5
mm (Underwood standard), and length up to 450mm. Cost for platens up to
300mm long: €50 + shipping; for platens from 300mm to 450 mm long: €70
- In Germany, platens will
be recovered by Eveline
Büromaschinen or P. Röhlig.
- In Italy, contact Domenico
- In the Netherlands, AKB
Longs will recover platens.
- In Switzerland, Typ Gummi TGW
will do the job.
- In the USA, J.J. Short
recently (2012) gotten into the platen recovering business and is eager
to fill the need. Write to Peter at firstname.lastname@example.org 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+."
- Robert E. De Barth Co.
will also recover platens. "We recover all platen cores with new rubber
compound and high speed grind the surface to conform to original
specifications. The cost for this procedure is US $ 95.00 plus US $
13.00 S&H in the continental USA. Turn around is usually one or two
days. We accept Phone Checks, Money Orders, International Money Orders,
Bank Transfers, personal, and business checks. We will also ship C.O.D.
for an additional US $ 20.00 continental USA only. If you remit by
check, please draw and send payment to: Robert E. De Barth, 1337 North
Broad Street, Lansdale, PA 19446 USA. If you decide to use a Phone
Check, please call 215-855-6851 Tuesday through Saturday 9:00AM to
4:00PM Eastern Time for information. We will ship your order when we
receive your payment. Shipments to Canada are billed an additional US $
4.00 handling fee per shipment. International orders are subject to any
VAT, import and customs duties, or other fees in country of destination
payable in the country of destination by the customer. S&H outside
of the continental USA is US $ 16.95. For larger orders, please E-mail
with complete shipping address and order information for total S&H
- 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.
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
buff the wax with clean cotton cloth.
- A good alternative is a commercial blend of microcrystalline
in paste form, such as Johnson's "Klear" or "AeroWax."
Carnauba Cleaner Wax (available in auto supply stores)
Other car finishes, such as Turtle Wax, can also work
- 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
and polishing agent. Spray it on a clean rag, wipe the part you're
thoroughly with the rag, repeat until the rag doesn't look brownish at
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
- 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.
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
- 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).
Click here for a basic
illustrated guide to simple repairs from a 1977 Reader's Digest book.
Web version of Clarence LeRoy Jones' Typewriter
Mechanical Training Manual, published by the U.S. War Department
Click here for a PDF version of the
original text (40 MB, searchable, with chapter bookmarks)
Click here for the 1968 Ames Basic Training Manual for Standard
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, visit my list
of them here.
- You may want to invest in a set of gunsmith's screwdrivers.
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
- 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 pull string or pull cord.
The basic principle is simple: attach a new cord 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
- Fishing line can be a helpful replacement for
carriage pull strings. 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)
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
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
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
For suggestions on ribbon sources, see my FAQ.
- 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
- 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
- Ink rollers for Blickensderfers and other ink-roller
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
shorter than the full length of the carriage, punch two holes on each
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
- 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
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
work because of the nature of its typebars. The only solution is to
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.