The Classic Typewriter Page

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Basic Typewriter Restoration


Frankly, I'm no restoration expert. I do simple things to make my typewriters look good and function, but shy away from the most complicated tasks. 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 Myers, Robert Neuwirth, Paul Panella, Joseph Pierson, George Prytulak, Paul Ross, Matthieu Théorêt, Lane Welch, and Peter Weil.) Everybody, if you have more tips, send them in!

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.

Online Typewriter Support, by Will Davis, provides further advice on operating, maintaining, and repairing a manual typewriter.

For more good ideas about restoration, check out The Typewriter Restoration Site.

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 Digest book.

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: 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). How do you remove mold from a typewriter?

Improving paint, metal, and rubber

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.
PLATENS

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?

Polishing

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!

Mechanical repairs

Click here for a basic illustrated guide to simple repairs from a 1977 Reader's Digest book.

Click here for a Web version of Clarence LeRoy Jones' Typewriter Mechanical Training Manual, published by the U.S. War Department in 1944.
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 Typewriters.


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.

Typing

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.

Happy typing!


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